Florida Sportsman Best Boat – Choosing the Right Type of Fishing Boat

When it comes to choosing your best boat, the first two things you need to consider are what category of boat best fits your needs and what class of boat within that category is the right size. To choose the category simply ask yourself, “What am I going to do with the boat the majority of the time? And what do I want to fish for out of that boat?” To pick the class of boat, decide on how many anglers or passengers you want to take along and where do you want to fish.

Today on Florida Sportsman Best Boat, we’re going to look at a group of boats that represents the most popular categories of fishing boats that can gain you access to the skinniest shallow water flats, the far reaches of the backcountry, the choppy waters of the open bays, and out to the blue water of the Gulf Stream.

Join our hosts, Dave East and Rick Ryals as they feature four boats that have very different capabilities for stocking bonefish on the flats, casting to a tailing redfish, battling a tarpon at the inlet, or trolling a weed line for dolphin. The boats they’ll be looking at for each category will be the Maverick Mirage HPX technical poling skiff, the Hewes Redfisher 18 flats boat, the Pathfinder 2600 TRS bay boat, and the Cobia 277 center console. They’ll be conducting test drives and reviewing key features, all to help you decide which is the best boat for you.

Welcome to the season of Best Boat. I’m Dave East, boating editor of Florida Sportsman Magazine.

And I’m Rick Ryals, program director of Florida Sportsman Radio.

What we’re trying to do with Best Boat is help somebody pick the right boat, and really that starts with picking the right category of boat.

How many times did you get stopped since we did season one and asked, “Help me pick out the right boat?” The first question I always ask them, why do you want a boat?

Exactly. And what we mean when we say category, what we’re talking about is the style of boat. I mean, you’ve got technical poling skiffs, you’ve got flats boats, you have bay boats, you have center console boats. All of these boats are designed to do a specific mission. So that’s what you’ve got to decide the first thing is, what do you want to do with your boat.

My favorite question is what do you do 80% of the time on the water, because people say, “Well, I want to inshore fish, but I like to offshore fish.” But if you pin them down a little bit, they’ll find out that they pretty much do the same thing 80% of the time. That starts to put them into the right category.

I’m a sailfish nut. I’d rather sailfish than anything else. That makes the boat that I look at, that puts me right in the category I know I want a true offshore boat. But everybody’s not me. What if you got four kids? What if all you’ve got it’s a buddy and the two of you want a tournament fish? That’s how you start to get into the right category.

Well, it really is. And what we’re going to do in today’s show is we’ve got one boat of all four categories that we’re going to be talking about. We have a technical poling skiff. This little Maverick is designed for one thing, to get up in really, really skinny water. We’re going to go through and we’re going to show you what that boat’s mission is all about. Then we’re going to go to the Hewes which is like the grandfather of flats boats. That boat is built for a little bit deeper water, a little bit longer mission. We’ll go through that boat and kind of tell you what that’s all about.

Then when you can move out of the flats category, we’re going to go into the bay boat world. And that is the fastest-growing segment of the saltwater boat market right now. Bay boats are very, very versatile. Yeah, they can go offshore. Yeah, they can go inshore. But if you need one boat that can kind of do it all, a bay boat really might be a good boat to look at. So that’s why that category right now is so popular.

And then we go into the offshore class. When you look at center console boats, god, I mean, you can go from a 16-foot center console all the way up to the new 53-foot SueƱos. That category of boat is really, really big.

And you’re talking about a lot more factors. What’s your tow vehicle like? Where are you going to park the boat? How many people are you going to have with you? What can you afford? How much fuel are you going to want to burn? All these things have to work into the process to help you pick the best boat.

So anyway, we’re going to take the four boats out one at a time. We’re going to get a little bit more specific on each individual category, and then help you pick the right class within that category. By class, we’re talking about the length in both the sides.

That’s one thing about Maverick Boat Company, they’re in just about all classes. We got everything here to start with. Let’s start with a little Maverick technical poling skiff. It’s about as far away from my big sport fish as you can get, but it’s a rush getting in six inches of water. Show me how this thing works.

Don’t go away. We’ll be right back with more Florida Sportsman Best Boat. This segment brought to you by Yamaha. Reliability starts here.

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Welcome back to Florida Sportsman Best Boat. This week we’re featuring four boats that represent the most popular categories of fishing boats.

All right, this category of boat is known as a technical poling skiff. And what they do very, very well is get into really, really shallow water.

I’ve got to be honest. I’m blown away. One thing about it, we won’t have to worry about sinking. We could walk home.

Oh yeah. I mean we’re literally in ankle deep water and we’re floating. What’s nice about this boat is there’s areas on the flats that you can go where other boats just can’t get. I mean, you take a typical flats boat and that boat draws a lot more water than what people think. A technical poling skiff, they are built specific to get up into really, really, really shallow water where the fish try and get refuge and get away from all the boats. Well, you can chase them down in this boat.

In my home waters we have got redfish that cruise around with their backs out of the water in areas where we can’t reach them. It drives me crazy. You can reach them in this boat.

Oh, very easily. It’s a Maverick Mirage HPX. What I like about this particular technical poling skiff, and there’s a lot of other ones on the market, but typically a technical poling skiff is very, very basic. It’s a hull, it’s a deck, it’s poling platform, and really that’s about it.

They’ve gone a little bit more with this boat. It’s got a livewell. It’s got some built-in storage. You got more storage under where you’re standing. It’s got storage under the center console. Typically, you don’t find this in a true technical poling skiff. But there’s times when you may want to take live bait with you, or you want to take some extra gear. I like the fact that they’ve added a little bit more amenities to this boat than you normally find in this kind of boat.

Yeah, don’t forget the old guys. We can sit. This has actually got a very comfortable bed seat across the back that you don’t see in a lot of technical skiffs. I’m past the age where I want to stand up and tilt or steer. This boat is a comfortable technical poling skiff.

Well, it really is. They’ve got the console height just right too because you can stand and you can drive or you can sit.

This boat has long been held as being the standard for technical poling skiffs. I understand why now. I understand the great attraction to this boat. For one thing, when you get ready to move it, just pick it up and move it. It doesn’t weigh anything.

Now, the hull is super, super light. And if anyone’s watching that’s not really, really familiar with what a flat’s boat is all about. Any good quality flats boat or any flats boat at all, especially a technical poling skiff is going to have a poling platform. And that’s what I’m standing up on now. The push pole, what this allows you to do, it allows you to maneuver the boat and push the boat in this really, really skinny water where a troller motor won’t even work. And you’re really silent. You take the push pole, you can maneuver the boat around. I can put Rick exactly where he needs to be to make that perfect cast, because face it, when fish get in water this shallow, they are weary. I mean just the pressure wake of the boat going across the flat will spook them and you can spend 20 minutes sneaking up on a fish and spooking just by rocking the boat like this. So having the poling platform in a push-pull that you get that boat really, really stealthy which is important in shallow water.

You could run up on a flat 30 years ago with a trolling motor. You can forget that now. You’ve got to pull your way up. But I was just thinking. The planets had to align right for this boat to happen. Think about the differences that carbon fiber have made. Think about the difference that decreased weight in the outboards have made. You’re not putting a wooden boat up in water fish shallow. You’ve got to have a boat that’s built very specifically to get this skinny, and it takes today’s technology to build such a boat.

It really does. And you notice it’s a really small motor that’s all this boat needs. It’s so light. It performs really, really well with this little 70. You don’t have to put a bigger motor than that on this boat to get good performance.

Very little planing surface is another key to what makes this boat ride so good on small horsepower. The secret to being successful in catching today’s shallow water fish which have gotten sophisticated enough to understand motors and sounds and things like that is to be able to get where other boats can’t reach.

I tell you what. The Hewes Redfisher 18, somehow I think Bob Hewes is looking down and smiling on this year’s version.

Well, I mean, like we had said earlier, this is absolutely the granddaddy of the flats boats that are out there. This boat is what really started the big push into the flats boat category of boats. I mean before the Hewes Redfisher, what was there?

Oh my gosh. There was boats that wouldn’t get shallow enough. How would you like to have been on the first one and been the first guy to get up on shallow water? Think the bone fish were stupid?

Oh, in those glory days down in the Keys especially, oh yeah, the Willy Roberts that ruled the Keys. It was a wooden boat. It was heavy. It was big. The Hewes was really the first fiberglass boat that just really took over the Keys. I mean, many of guys have made their living out of a Hewes.

Oh, the first one I ever saw, and that’s why they came from. The first one I ever saw in Jacksonville, I thought, “Well, that guy’s lost.” Now you see him up every creek.

Oh absolutely. And in this size flats boat we’ve migrated now out of the technical poling skiff, and then now this is what they would consider a true flats boat. We’re going to give up a little bit of draft. It’s going to draw a little bit more water, but now we’re in a much bigger boat. We can carry an extra couple of fishing buddies. We can carry a little bit more gear. And we can put more ponies on the back. So that way if we want to run further across a choppy bay or if we want to even sneak and fish the inlet, a little bit extra room and extra displacement of the hull allow us to do that.

Don’t go away. We’ll be right back with more Florida Sportsman Best Boat. This segment brought to you by Garmin, fight your fish, not your fish finder.

Pan objects, I mean, the thing that I think Garmin is going to give me a huge advantage of is actually seeing things real time. What I see in my screen is what I’m casting at. What we always do with traditional sonar, is we’re looking straight down. And so basically then as we move forward, we’re seeing what’s in the past. Well now actually what you’re looking at is what you can throw at and fish. I think it’s even going to get better. I mean, they’re making a push forward in the marine bass fishing world that’s really second to none.

Welcome back to Florida Sportsman Best Boat. This week we’re featuring four boats that represent the most popular categories of fishing boats. Let’s get back to Dave and Rick as they continue their discussion on the flats category.

This boat can take more people than what a technical poling skiff can do. And you’re not so nervous when you look across that bay and there’s a squall coming. This boat can handle a lot more water too.

Oh it can. And you know what? I’m seeing more and more of these in freshwater. A lot of people that want to buy one boat to do a little bit of everything, a flats boat works out pretty good. With the trolling motor on the front it works just like a bass boat. You can work and you can hit a stump field, and you can work the boat just as you would a bass boat. But you wouldn’t dream about putting your ranger bass boat or your Triton bass boat in salt water. You can obviously in this. You still have your poling platform where you can take it and get on the flat. So it is very versatile.

So much more stability. My wife loves to take the boat to dinner. Let’s get the boat across the river and go to dinner. She’s going to be a little more nervous in a chop in that technical poling skiff than she is in this boat. This boat being wider, being heavier, gives you a better ride in that situation.

Just look at the hull design. You’re going to get a little bit better ride having the V entry in the front, but you’re going to give up a little bit with the flat back. It’s not going to ride like an offshore deep V center console. By the same token, you’re not going to take an offshore deep V center console and get it up into skinny water.

Oh, of course you’re not. This boat becomes a little bit more versatile as it takes on a little bit more draft. You can do more things with it. You can still get plenty skinny. It’s an awfully good entry into the flats boat market.

It is. And if you look at the storage they’ve got on this boat, a lot of storage in the front, you’ve got another livewell here in the back and a release well because a lot of guys that are fishing out of this boat are tournament fishers. And if you’ve got to keep a couple of … big redfish alive, you need a big release well to do that.

You’ve spent time poling this boat, which I haven’t done. How does it do poling compared to the technical poling skiff?

Well, obviously it’s going to take a little more effort because it’s big. It’s got more displacement. You’re pushing, you’re displacing more water so you’re pushing a little bit harder. But yet it’s not so big that you can’t pull it. It’s still agile and that’s not going to be what a technical poling skiff is. It’s going to draw a little bit more water, be a little harder to push, but it’s still plenty easy to get up onto the flats pushing this boat with a push pole. So if you need to carry a little bit more gear, a few more fishing buddies, or you want to go a little bit further distance, a larger flats boat might be your best boat.

All right, when you’re ready to step up to a little bit larger boat, you still want some shallow water capability, but you’d like to sneak out here in a half-decent day, that’s where a bay boat comes in, and that’s why this market has just exploded in the saltwater industry.

I tell you what. I’ve got to be out here Dave. You know what I love out here? You never know. When that rod goes off, you’ve got no idea. Is it a Spanish mackerel? Is it a Blue Marlin? For a boat like this to be comfortable out in the ocean it’s just such a benefit to me because I just got to be out here. I get the fever.

We’ve got a lot more displacement in this boat over a flats boat. That’s why it’ll take to heavier water. But yet, it’s still not a deep V all the way down, so we still have gained our shallow water capability. We haven’t really lost anything.

You’re absolutely right. You may give up a few inches of draft but not very many. This boat is at home inshore and is at home 25 miles offshore, which is where the whole bay boat concept came from.

If you’re looking for a boat that can do inshore and some light offshore but just still take a lot more people than what a typical flats boat can, that’s where bay boat shines.

You know what the bay boats have done? They’ve eliminated second boats. Think about it. For years guys had 28, 30-foot center consoles and then they had a skiff at a home, a Carolina Skiff they could play around in the river port. They have found if they go to something like this Pathfinder 26, that’s the only boat they need.

What Pathfinder has done, they’ve taken that evolution even a little step further with this TRS. This 2600 TRS really has more family-oriented features that you’ve ever seen come out of Maverick than anything else that they’ve produced.

Yeah, there’s a lot of things that this elegant, elegant seating. A lot of this came from high-end luxury automobile market if you think about it. This boat is flat-out comfortable. A lot of guys bringing their wives now. I love to take my wife. She’s not going to find anything that’s not comfortable on this boat.

Well, for years Maverick has been known for building fishing boats that you could take the family. This really is a family boat that you could fish. You’ve got seating across the back, you’ve got seating in the front that has retractable backrest that flip up out of the seats. You’ve got a big console in here you can put ahead. And see we got a little place for a cocktail table in the front.

Don’t go away. We’ll be right back with more Florida Sportsman Best Boat. This segment brought to you by Birdsall Marine Design, quality marine and sport fishing products.

Birdsall Marine Design has been a leader in aftermarket and custom boating accessories for over 35 years. Based in West Palm Beach, our facility specializes in the manufacturing of custom t-tops, leaning posts, consoles, rod holders, marine canvas and upholstery products, and a wide variety of anodized aluminum hardware. Come visit our spacious West Palm Beach facility anytime, or visit us on the web at birdsallmarine.com to learn more about our most innovative products.

When filming for Florida Sportsman Best Boat, the cast and crew stayed at Pirate’s Cove Resort and Marina in Stuart, Florida, family-owned and operated, featuring 50 renovated rooms with an outstanding restaurant and a full-service 50 slip marina.

Welcome back to Florida Sportsman Best Boat. This week we’re featuring four boats that represent the most popular categories of fishing boats. Let’s get back to Dave and Rick as they continue their discussion on the bay boat category.

This is not a family boat that can fish. This is also a high level fishing boat. Now what I mean by that is you can not only fish. I mean, face it. You can fish from anything, but you can fish the highest level. You can blue marlin fish. You can kite fish for sales. You can throw it a school a trout in the river. You can fish 90% of what you’re going to do, you can do on this boat.

Another thing that Maverick did is this hull is not new. The interior deck layout certainly is. But this 2600 stepped hull it’s actually a double step tall, it’s proven. So they really didn’t have to tweak anything or make any changes there. So they took their proven hull that’s got great performance, and they just made a new cap that’s more family friendly. This boat even has a ski pylon. So if you want to take the kids out in the sandbar, you want to pull a tube, you can. So if someone needs one boat that is really, really versatile and probably the best definition of versatile, a bay boat is it.

All right, we looked at technical poling skiffs. We’ve looked at flats boats. And we’ve looked at bay boats. But you know what? If the shallow water just isn’t your thing, maybe you need to consider a category of offshore center consoles.

Like my wife says, I only dream in shades of blue. That’s where this boat excels. Anywhere you find blue water.

Well, when you’re looking at an offshore center console, you really need to start in that 20 to 23-foot bracket. Anything smaller than that, you’re really going to have to pick your day and it’s really not much better than what a bay boat would be.

Yeah, you’re right. The bigger you get, now this is the case where the bigger you get, a lot of cases you’re better off. But there’s limits to that. As you get bigger, you need more towing capacity. You may need a second engine. You may need a bigger crew. There’s a lot of things to consider. Bigger is not always better.

You’re right because just as in Best Boat, we’re trying to show you as much information to choose your right boat. When you get into center consoles, especially offshore arena, here again you got to go back and just and make a lot of choices to pick the right boat. Do you have a truck big enough to tow it? Where you’re going to store it? How fast you want to go? How far do you want to go? Most the time if you’re going to be on the weekends and you’re going to be just barely out of the side of land, a 23-foot center console with a single engine is plenty.

Yeah, and on the other end of the spectrum, if you go bigger than 27-feet, Dave, it almost requires a change of lifestyle. You understand what I’m saying?


You’re going to need a dedicated tow vehicle. You’re going to need almost constant maintenance. You’re getting into more engines, more boat, more everything. I love this size boat. I can take this boat anywhere. I can cross any ocean. But I can still keep it at home. I can still tow it with my 1500 class truck.

Yeah, well you got to look at, like I said, where you’re going to store it, what you’re going to tow it with. Look at your engine choices. Smaller center consoles, you can go with a single larger outboard. As you get larger, you need to go with at least twin power. If you get up to 32-foot range, now you’re talking triples. And when you get over 32, we see a lot of those boats run in quads. By the same token, you’re talking about a boat that can run 65, 75 miles an hour, and do it in three-foot-seas. So when you get into that larger class, that has an application also.

It does have an application, but it’s a different lifestyle than a family guy that wants to fish offshore. He can fish anywhere he wants to in a 27-footer. He has to change a lot of what he does if he moves up into some of these mega center consoles like you’re talking about.

All right, basically you need to make a few decisions. How many people you’re putting on board? How far do you want to go out from land? And where are you going to store the boat? What you’re going to tow it with? That’s really going to define what size offshore center console you settle on.

Well wait, you better stop and think about who’s going to go with you. First off, your wife is going to need to be comfortable. If you’ve got small kids, bay boat’s pretty sporty. You don’t want them running up on that casting platform. You don’t want them in a smaller center console. You want a boat where they feel secure and they’re comfortable joining you on the water.

Well, they are. One thing that we’ve seen over the last two seasons of Best Boat, a lot of the center consoles now have incorporated a lot of family features. You see a lot of bow seating, a lot of stern seating, even the console itself, the helm seat is much more comfortable than just a little bland leaning post.

Sure it is. And the head. You and I know they put heads in bay boats now. But they’re not very comfortable and there’s a lot of people that aren’t going to go inside that console in a bay boat when they’re out on the ocean. A boat like this, you’re a lot more comfortable if you have to go inside the console. You can also go inside the console, get out of the weather. If you want your wife not to get rained on, it’s comfortable for her in there.

Well, like you’ve heard many times before, there’s no replacement for displacement. So if you want to get far offshore and you’re looking at an offshore center console, the size it’s going to be dictated by a lot of things, but if you want to head out into blue water, this is the type of boat you’re going to need.

All right, well that wraps up this episode of Best Boat. Hopefully we’ve helped you pick the right category of boat.

Well, it all depends on what you’re going to do. Certainly what one of these boats is good at, the other one may not be. But if you look at the category as a whole, there’s a lot to choose from.

It’s like we said earlier. Start off by saying what are you going to be doing with the boat, how are you going to be using it, where are you going to be storing it, how much money do you have to spend, what do you want to fish for? If you want to catch a bone fish as opposed to a dolphin, those are two different boats.

Two completely different boats. Two completely different categories. That’s the beauty of Maverick Boat Company. They build boats in every category. And that’s what made today’s show so special for me. I loved being on the technical poling skiff. I’d never been on one before.

For more information on the boats that you’ve seen today or that we’ll be covering through the entire season of Best Boat, go to our website, floridasportsman.com, click on the Boating page. There also we put up a new boat every week that you can get more details on.

Or we’ll see you next week on another episode of Florida Sportsman Best Boat.

If you’re in the market for a new boat and want to make the best buying decision possible, start off by asking yourself what do you want to do with your new boat 90% of the time, and you’ll be on the right track to find the best boat for you.

Be sure to join us next week as we cover the first part of a two-part series on 24 to 27-foot bay boats on Florida Sportsman Best Boat.

Each month turn to Florida Sportsman for the best in boating and fishing coverage.