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Best Flats Boats for Shallow Water Fishing

Flats boats are specifically designed to allow anglers to access shallower flats, marshes, streams, bays, and rivers.

person pushing a flats boat with a pole

The best flats boats can tackle shallow, medium, and deep water without a noticeable fall-off in capabilities, comfort, or performance. 

While many boats claim to be flatboats, few stand up to scrutiny. Many shallow water fishing boats sacrifice size or comfort, and sometimes even safety, to get to shallower water. Or, they have outboards that are too big or too small to do a good job.

There are, however, a few flats boats that meet the criteria above. Their draft is minimal, and their engines are powerful but not too powerful.

anglers in a flats boat going fishing

They are quiet when drifting and silent when poling. Best of all, they can get an angler access to waters inches deep.

Here is a rundown of those boats.

Top 13 Flats Boats

  1. Maverick 18 HPX-V
  2. Hewes Redfisher 18
  3. Sterling TR7
  4. Chittum Islamorada 18 Legacy
  5. Beavertail 18 Air
  6. Bay Craft Bone Skiff
  7. Xplor X7
  8. East Cape Evo
  9. East Cape Vantage
  10. Hell’s Bay Marquesa
  11. Action Craft 1600 FlatsPro
  12. Hewes Redfisher 16
  13. Yellowfin 17CE

Maverick 18 HPX-V

It is difficult to top the 18 HPX-V in terms of versatility. For shallow water fishing, this boat does it all.

Apart from putting bait in front of fish, Maverick’s 18 HPX-V is an effective pole boat. The motor puts out 150 HP, making it effective in almost any type of chop. If you would rather cast a net, ample deck room makes that easy.

The 18 HPX-V has a foam insulated fish box, fishing rod tubes that let you store 9 rods at the bow (four portside and three starboard,) and a 30-gallon livewell keeps your catch in good shape.

All hardware is recessed, which reduces snags. The center console is simple but has room to expand if you want to add electronics. 

However, the greatest attribute of the 18 HPX-V is its maneuverability, allowing the boat to function in less than a foot of water.

Hewes Redfisher 18

Immensely popular with anglers and guides, the Redfisher 18 is known for getting into very tight spaces with no degradation of performance.

It also has a reputation for speed, and it has a range that borders on the amazing. The boat is one of the most popular skiffs ever created and is perfect for an angler that spends a lot of time plying marshes or working flats.

The Redfisher 18 can safely handle up to four people or 550 pounds with exceptional fishing space.

A 24-gallon livewell preserves your catch, and the bow has several lockdown dry storage compartments. The boat also has a console rod rack that holds five rods.

For tying up to structure, there are 8 flush-mount cleats. If you do encounter weather, the cockpit is self-bailing. A cooler for bait, food or drink is located in the front of the console. 

Sterling TR7

With a classic look, the center console Sterling TR7 incorporates two hulls and a low draft to access some of the shallowest flats in existence.

The boat is powered by a 115 HP engine and has a fuel capacity of 22 gallons. For trolling, there are two transom rod holders. 

Features include an anchor storage box and several dry storage options, front, and aft. The boat has a cast net box and a 10-gallon baitwell. A 25-gallon livewell lets you cycle through catches to make sure you can take home the largest fish you caught. 

More than most skiffs, the TR7 has a lot of bow deck area. Sit or stand, the space can be used for cast netting, poling, and even fly fishing. With a draft between 6 and 8 inches, the boat is maneuverable in any scenario. 

Chittum Islamorada 18 Legacy

Chittum’s Islamorada 18 Legacy skiff set the bar for elite fishing skiffs. The company advertises it as a boat that will last several lifetimes if cared for properly.

Powered by a Yamaha F70, 115 HP outboard, and fueled by a 25-gallon aluminum tank, the Islamorada 18 Legacy can get you where you want to go in a hurry. 

The boat has a “floating” center console with a wraparound toe kick and a front seat that doubles as an ice cooler.

There are two large dry storage boxes on each side and lockable hatches accessible from the boat and a trailer. There is also an anchor compartment that can be used for dry or trash storage.

For fishing, high-capacity rod racks rest under the gunnels. You can keep your catch in a 30-gallon livewell, and when things get super shallow, a poling platform will let you get around. 

Beavertail 18 Air

Power output up to 115 HP help propel the Beavertail 18 Air skiff across shallow flats and deeper water equally fast.

2 men on a beavertail 18 air flats boat

The hull is made of fully cored carbon Kevlar, which helps create an incredibly tough foundation for the boat. A draft around 8 inches means the boat can access most waterways with little worry about hitting the bottom.

The 18 Air has two storage compartments that can be converted to release wells. The surface on deck and throughout the boat is non-stick to ensure everyone keeps their footing. Fish can be kept in a 30-gallon insulated livewell.

Forward, there is a large casting deck and anchor locker. Separate rod racks provide storage for fishing rods up to 10′ in length. 

people driving a beavertail 18 air flats boat

A poling platform allows boat positioning, and a forward platform elevates the angler to provide a better view. The 18 Air can easily seat two people and handle up to four.

Bay Craft Bone Skiff

If you want an authentic-looking skiff, the Bay Craft Bone Skiff is the skiff you want. It was designed to address storage, fishing space, and ease of maintenance and transportation.

A 50 HP Suzuki 4-stroke powers the boat, and the fuel tank holds 24 gallons. At 16.2 feet with a draft of 5.5 – 6 inches, the Bay Craft Bone Skiff can go anywhere there is water.

Features include a diamond grip and non-skid surfacing on deck, which makes it easy to clean high traffic areas and safe to walk on. The boat also has lockable compartments and a self-bailing cockpit.

Both bow and stern have storage compartments, and there is easy starboard access to pumps, the battery, and wiring. 

For fishing, the Bay Craft Bone Skiff has a 28-gallon livewell, rod storage under the gunwales, and LED cockpit lights for night fishing. There are wide gunwales for 360-degree fishing and navigating the boat while engaged with a fish.  

Xplor X7

There is a lot to like about the Xplor X7, including an incredibly tiny draft (reported to be less than 6 inches at 70 HP and 8.5 inches at 115 HP).

With a fuel capacity of 28 gallons, the 60 or 90 HP Suzuki or the 60 or 115 HP Mercury engines move the 650-pound vessel with ease. Between draft, engine, and tank capacity, staying out all day is not just possible, it is expected.

Standard features include tons of bow storage and easy access to bilge pumps, hydraulic steering, and the Xplor Boatworks side entry console.

In addition, the boat can be outfitted with Simrad fishfinder technology, Garmin ECHOMAP, and VHF radio. Passengers can sit on a cushioned rear bench, front console seat, and livewell seat.

For fishing, there is a 28-gallon livewell and under gunwale rod holders, a vertical rod rack, and poling platform with rod holders.  

East Cape Evo

The East Cape Evo is a fishing and poling boat specifically designed to remain silent whenever you are fishing ghosts on the flats. Its draft is an impressive 7 to 9 inches, and it can hold four anglers comfortably. The recommended engine size is 40 to 115 HP. 

Features include massive amounts of dry storage, rod holders and storage, a very large livewell, bait station, and bait storage.

Keeping bait fresh throughout the day is not an issue, nor is taking the boat into incredibly shallow water. The polling station is wide and solid, making it easy to maintain balance, even in a moderate chop.

EVO boats are customized to suit your fishing needs. You can have anything from a side console to a tower with an elevated helm, bench-style seating, additional storage, or rod holders. You decide how you want your fishing boat to be appointed.

East Cape Vantage

The Vantage is a lightweight hybrid, highly maneuverable, and able to go into places other boats would bog down. The draft is 7 to 9 inches, which at 19.2 feet long, is very impressive. The manufacturer suggested outboard ranges from 90 to 115 HP. 

Vantage boats comfortably hold four anglers and their gear. The for and aft casting decks are roomy, and there is a lot of storage space fore and aft.

The East Cape Vantage has a huge livewell and deep gutters to quickly reduce any water. Like all East Cape boats, the Vantage is highly customizable.

That means you can choose configurations that provide unique consoles, seating, rod racks and holders, towers, electronics, and poling stages.

If you think you want or need a piece of equipment or configuration on your boat, the Vantage basic model can be configured to accommodate your desires.  

Hell’s Bay Marquesa

This boat is named after the Marquesas Keys, which sit across the Boca Grande channel, renowned for producing bad weather in a heartbeat and out of nowhere.

The Marquesa provides a smooth ride with plenty of speed while maintaining its nimble maneuverability. The boat can hold four anglers and gear and has lots of storage space.

Equipped with a livewell, bait station capabilities, rod holders, and under gunwale rod storage, the Marquesa lets you relax to and from the fishing grounds. It also has an aluminum poling platform and plenty of fore and aft tackle storage. The aft deck has seating with cushions.

Technically, the Marquesa is a solid, reliable boat with nothing too fancy but lacking for nothing either.

Bilge pumps help keep water out, the gas tank holds 28 gallons, and all storage space and hatches are watertight and sealed by rubber gaskets. The console can easily accommodate your choice of electronics.

Action Craft 1600 FlatsPro

The Action Craft 1600 FlatsPro is known as a stable craft. So stable, the United States Coast Guard had rated it for five people, a rarity among skiffs.

The skiff is also rated by the manufacturer to be able to handle 40 to 115 HP and has a fuel tank that holds 26 gallons. The draft is 7 to 9 inches, letting it get into shallow water that many other boats cannot.

Fishing features include a 20-gallon livewell, elevated fore and aft casting decks, under gunwale rod storage, and lots of storage for tackle and bait. The fishing area on the 1600 FlatsPro is large and easily accommodates several anglers at once. 

The console can be outfitted with weather, GPS, and fish finder electronics. There are over 38 cubic feet of non-fishing equipment-related storage. There is an aft bench for seating as well as console seating. 

Hewes Redfisher 16

For decades, the Redfisher series of boats have been the choice of guides and anglers for fresh and saltwater fishing.

The Redfisher 16 is known for exceptional speed and range and for providing an incredibly smooth ride. With a CAD-designed hull, this lightweight but incredibly durable skiff can get you on the fish no matter where they are.

The maximum HP recommended for the Redfisher 16 is 150 HP. The fuel cell capacity is 31 gallons, and the boat’s draft is 10 inches. Steering is hydraulic, and a Yamaha 6YC information station manages operations. 

The Redfisher comes with expansive and flush fore and aft casting decks for fishing. Two-rod racks store up to 6 rods and rod tubes for tip protection.

There is also under gunwale rod storage and walk-around space running the boat’s length. The livewell is 20 gallons and located in the aft-center. 

Yellowfin 17CE

Draft on the Yellowfin 17CE is a little under 7 inches, which allows the boat to get into extremely shallow water and still function.

The boat is rated for 115 HP, and the fuel cell is 22 gallons. Combined, draft, maximum HP, and larger fuel cell mean you can get into much shallower water than most boats, faster and safer. 

There is plenty of room in the cockpit for maneuvering and storage so you can bring your fishing A-game.

The frame sports several holders on the platforms (though these are optional). There are even three decently-sized dry storage compartments as well as plenty of room for life jackets and other gear. 

The little boat can cruise at a pretty consistent 22 mph though it could be pushed a little more. The overall agility of the Yellowfin is pretty great as turns and corrections were made effectively with little struggle.

It even has a flip-up backrest for a little bit of convenience and comfort while out on the water. The Yellowfin will keep up with you on your day out on the lake.

Final Thoughts

Shallow water fishing is unlike any other type of fishing, and shallow water fishing boats are just as unique.

The vessels covered here are the best flats boats on the market. If you choose to go with one, you guarantee access to fishing locations other boats cannot get into easily.

The lack of restriction might just allow you to get to some troublesome underbrush or find that new favorite fishing spot you’ve been eyeing for years. The possibilities open up when you invest in a flats boat, but there are lots of other types of boats to look at as well!

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