Unless you’re an avid angler who works the flats of the Gulf Coast, Florida Keys or the Caribbean, you may have never seen a technical flats skiff. These compact, ultra-light boats are designed to get a light-tackle angler into the skinniest water, where bonefish and permit may be lurking. In this world of flats fishing a technical skiff – from builders including Hell’s Bay Boatworks, Yellowfin Yachts, Ranger, and Beavertail Skiffs – is truly a high-performance machine, not in the traditional sense of performance gauged by high speed, but rather in terms of the extreme focus of its design. The new Mercury Racing 60R outboard was developed to complement the absolute functionality of the technical skiff by offering strong hole-shot acceleration in a compact and lightweight package. The Mercury Racing 60R is also the first outboard in this class to be offered with a 15-inch length that is a perfect fit on the low transom found on the most-compact technical flats skiffs.
Capt. Steven Lamp of Dream Catchers Charters in Key West, Fla., has been guiding on the flats since 1994 and consulted on the development of the Mercury Racing 60R. His 17-foot Elite skiff is typical of the breed.
“My boat weighs just 590 pounds without the motor,” says Lamp. “With a Mercury 90-hp outboard on the transom and a customer in the bow, I draw about 8 to 9 inches of water. With this new Mercury Racing 60R I’ll draw 6 to 8 inches.”
Lamp is a big guy for a flats guide, at 6 feet 5 inches tall and over 200 pounds, and he often puts diving ballast in the bow of his boat to offset his weight in the stern, and keep the boat resting flat in the water.
“The hull of a technical skiff has no rocker,” said Lamp. “It’s designed to lie level in the water at rest, with the bow deep so that it’s easier to control in the wind and also easier to spin quickly so I can get the customer in the best position to make a nice presentation.”
Technical skiffs range in size from 16 feet to 18 feet in length and every element of the design influences its shallow draft. The bottom has little or no deadrise at the transom, the interior is quite Spartan, and most examples are built using the latest in sophisticated, ultra-light/ultra-strong composite materials.
“You’ll never see a trolling motor a technical skiff,” said Lamp. “And I’ve seen owners remove the rub rail to make the boat 20 pounds lighter.”
The shape and attitude of the hull limits the top speed of Lamp’s skiff.
“My boat will run about 41 mph with a 90-hp outboard, and it will run about 41 mph with a 60-hp outboard,” said Lamp. “The 60 is a lot lighter, but the 90 had the torque to get me quickly on plane. A key advantage of the Mercury Racing 60R is its 4.25-inch gearcase and the new Spitfire XP propeller, both of which contribute to strong hole shot.”
Lamp explains that while he may be fishing in less than a foot of water, when it’s time to move he’ll pole to a deeper hole.
“We are all very concerned with preserving the flats and never want to tear up the bottom,” said Lamp. “I want about three feet of water to get the boat on plane, but that deeper hole might only be six to 10 feet long. So we need to plane off almost instantly.”
Stealth is key to approaching fish in very skinny water, and technical flats boats are designed to be very quiet at rest. To minimize the sound of water slapping the hull, chines and strakes are positioned to be either well below the water line or above it when the boat is at rest.
The guide or one angler poles the boat from a platform over the outboard. Motor height on the transom dictates the height of that platform, and until the debut of the Mercury Racing 60R the platform had to clear a 20-inch outboard. By designing the 60R with a 15-inch midsection, Mercury Racing has achieved a number of benefits, according to Lamp.
“These boats have very low freeboard to reduce windage as much as possible, and they really have a 15-inch transom,” explains Lamp. “So to mount a 20-inch, 60-hp motor, for example, requires either designing a raised transom or rigging with a jack plate, both solutions that add weight to the boat. If I can ditch the jack plate I’ve saved 30 or 40 pounds. The lower motor also lowers the boat’s center of gravity, which improves handling when running. And I can use a lower poling platform, saving more weight and making the boat a little more stable at rest.”
The popularity of the technical skiff is growing, according to Heath Daughtry of Yellowfin Yachts, and that growth is spurring further development of the boat type.
“Customers still want to fish shallow water but they also want to get across longer stretches of big water to get there,” said Daughtry. “Our next designs will seek to preserve the boat’s poling performance while shaping the entry to improve the ride so the angler can run 20 or 30 miles across Florida Bay, for example.”
Yellowfin Yachts helped found the Florida Skiff Challenge, a 40-hour, 1,300-mile non-stop race around Florida from Pensacola to Jacksonville in specially prepared technical skiffs. Daughtry says the Challenge has been a valuable exercise for Yellowfin, which has built boats for the event to test new laminate concepts and to demonstrate the endurance of its 17 Skiff model. The sixth annual event is scheduled for April 2-5, 2020, and benefits Captains for Clean Water and its efforts to restore the flow of clean, fresh water to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.
It seems even technical skiff owners can’t resist the temptation to run Wide Open.