Tricked Out

Customize Your Flats Vessel

Capt. Steve Dougherty April 1, 2009

A brand new flats skiff is sure to pique any shallow water anglers’ interests, but lets think for a moment that you had a blank check and the ability to customize your new skiff with the latest and greatest must-have accessories and technical gadgets. The thought of this fantasy makes my heart skip a beat, and after surveying numerous inshore addicts from around the great state of Florida, the following are the state-of-the-art options that were the most talked about. While not all of these add-ons will make you a more successful angler, they will surely make your experience on the water more enjoyable.

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Shallow Water Anchoring System Photo: Mercury

1. Shallow Water Anchoring System
Of all the optional accessories available to shallow water skiff owners, many would agree that a Power-Pole® Shallow Water Anchor is the most desired aftermarket addition. Educated anglers know that stalking spooky and finicky game fish often requires a lot of repositioning from spot-to-spot. Long gone are the days of deploying noisy and inconvenient anchors or staking out your skiff with a push pole (which is nearly impossible in sand). Power-Pole Shallow Water Anchors are available in six and eight-foot lengths and can be operated with either a rocker switch or wireless remote. When targeting areas with swift wind or tidal driven currents, Power-Pole enables boaters to hold their position with little to no negative environmental impacts and focus on fishing and not about anchoring. It can be safely stated that Power-Pole gives inshore anglers an unfair advantage and that this unique product has forever changed the inshore angling community. For near silent operation and the ultimate in boat control, Power-Pole is an essential addition to any inshore skiffs arsenal.

2. Jack-Plate & Trim Tabs
An outboard transom plate, commonly referred to as a jack-plate, serves many beneficial purposes and is another must-have for skinny-water enthusiasts. The benefits of a jack-plate are straightforward. First and foremost, a jack-plate will increase your prop clearance and enable your skiff to plane faster and shallower. Jack-plates can also increase your overall top speed as well as improve your fuel efficiency. The principal behind jack-plate efficiency and performance is that when elevated, less of your motor’s lower unit will be in the water, therefore reducing overall drag. Because there is less drag, your motor won’t have to kick out as many RPMs to plane.

An essential addition that should be used in conjunction with your jack-plate is a quality pair of trim tabs. Trim tabs enable greater balancing of weight and quicker hole shots by preventing bow lift. With the proper trim, you can expect your skiff to get up and boogey in only inches of water.

3. Non-Skid
SeaDek® is a nonabsorbent, closed cell EVA foam specifically manufactured for marine applications. SeaDek not only provides non-skid attributes, but critical sound-deadening benefits as well. Another great reason to install SeaDek on your flats skiff is because it servers as a shock absorber and will lessen the fatigue from prolonged days on the water. SeaDek will also protect your skiff’s gelcoat from incidental scratches, dings and chips.

The latest addition to the SeaDek lineup is their Faux-Teak, which provides the same level of comfort, protection and noise reducing properties as the original version, with the look of beautiful teak. SeaDek can be custom tailored to fit any skiff or bay boat, and their computer aided manufacturing process provides ultimate quality and durability for years of maintenance-free use.

4. Swing Tongue Trailers
So you’ve broke the bank customizing your skiff with the most technologically advanced gadgets. You just got home from a long day on the water and you’ve already soaped and cleaned your most prized possession. If your trailer is outfitted with a swing tongue, you won’t lose sleep worrying about your skiff because your entire package will snugly fit in your standard garage. Most swing tongue trailers shorten the trailer’s frame by up to 24-inches, enabling protection from weather, burglary and vandalism. An innovative variation to the swing tongue is a removable tongue, where the tongue can be separated from the trailer by removing a pin and disconnecting the brake and electrical wiring. In today’s day and age, city and county codes restrict many boat owners from parking their skiffs in the street or alongside their house. Because of this, swing tongue and removable tongue trailers have become a hot commodity.

5. Platforms
Poling platforms are often standard equipment on flats skiffs, but if your boat is not equipped with one, this should without a doubt be your very first addition. One of the limitations of sight-fishing is that if you cannot see your intended quarry, you will have an extremely challenging day on the water. Early mornings and late afternoons offer low light conditions that make it difficult to peer through the surface, and in order to be successful in this endeavor, you must be able to see which way your target is moving so you can place your offering in the proper position. Sight-fishing is greatly enhanced by the added height advantage poling platforms offer. Having a vantage point that is elevated 48-inches higher than the deck greatly reduces glare and enhances visibility. To be able to see your target, make a cast and watch as the fish turns and eats your artificial or natural offering is the name of the game in this fishery, and a poling platform will greatly enhance your chance for success.

You’re stalking a school of trophy bonefish and your guide whispers that there’s a mudding bone just 20-yards off the bow. He points towards 11 o’clock and tells you to land your fly on the nose of the fish. This could be a problem because without your guide’s vantage point high up on the poling platform, you can’t see anything but a blinding shimmer on the water’s surface. If your skiff was outfitted with a forward casting platform, then you, too, would be elevated 18 to 24-inches, enabling you to see a much greater area while dramatically reducing glare.

6. Trolling Motors
While poling a shallow flat is without a doubt the purist form of inshore angling, some days the conditions aren’t ideal and poling simply isn’t an option. This is when it’s a good idea to have a trolling motor to help maneuver along drop-offs and deeper flat edges. Trolling motors also enable anglers the ability to hold position or slow their rate of drift against wind, waves or currents. When it comes to flats skiffs, bow mounted trolling motors are the best option because these units require less thrust and power and in turn, provide anglers great control, fast response times and precise positioning. In the ever expanding world of trolling motors, some of the newest features worth investigating include built-in battery gauges, digital displays, wireless operation and self directional autopilot features that maintain direction with the push of a button. Another notable feature is a quick release mount for days when you don’t need mechanical assistance. When you can’t pole your favorite shoreline, don’t count out trolling motors for a near silent and stealthy presentation.

7. LED Lights
Some of you may be thinking that LED lights are an unnecessary addition, but if you routinely spend time on the water during dawn and dusk, this practical option enables you to peer into your livewell, rummage through hatches and even tie knots with ease. LED lights are taking over the marine industry and whether they are mounted under the gunnel, in a livewell, below a poling platform, in the water or as navigational aides, these ultra-bright, long lasting light emitting diodes have revolutionized the marine industry. Plus, they look really cool!

8. Smart Consoles
While many skiff owners enjoy the simplicity of a tiller motor, you can’t deny the benefits of owning a flats skiff outfitted with a center or side console. Most skiffs tend to have small consoles that are equipped with only the most basic of essentials, but manufacturers are beginning to incorporate space-saving integrated tackle centers, stylish features such as Faria gauges and Livorsi controls, and anodized stainless steel accessories.

9. Electronics
Shallow water success often requires venturing off the beaten path. An exciting world awaits adventurous anglers who explore the fish rich waters throughout the dense maze of mangroves, spoil islands and feeder creeks that abound around the Sunshine State. If you’re unfamiliar with a particular area and don’t have the best sense of direction, a GPS may be a very valuable addition. Other than providing your exact location and helping you locate productive fishing spots, many of the latest GPS systems also offer depth and temperature readings – two essential attributes that will surely aide in your quest for shallow water angling success.

10. Pop-Ups
Pop-up cleats and push pole holders provide anglers with anti-snagging benefits. If you enjoy fly-fishing but are tired of your errant casts snagging on your skiffs protruding features, then pop-up accessories will streamline your senses.

Another aftermarket product that will help tame your fly-line is a toe-rail around the forward casting deck which is designed to prevent fly-line from dragging. The result is quicker more accurate casts.

Today, shallow water skiff manufacturers are listening carefully to what potential buyers are looking for, and are therefore offering more standard and optional fishing-friendly features then ever before. Regardless if you’re a potential new boat buyer or currently own a skiff, customizing it will surely enhance your shallow water experiences and will distinguish it as your own. A word of caution: it’s easy to get carried away and end up spending more than you wanted to or adding unnecessary weight. Purchase what you need not what you want, and if you are not mechanically inclined and do not own the right tools for the job, have the optional equipment installed by a professional. You’ll be happy you did.

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