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Ultimate Guide • Updated Mon, Apr 8, 2024

The History of the Flats Skiff

Skiffs have ingrained themselves within fishing as we know it. These agile vessels are the top choice for flats fishing enthusiasts, allowing them to silently maneuver through shallow waters in search of elusive game fish. But this specific boat has a fascinating history in American angling. From primitive designs to cutting-edge boat technologies, we'll examine how flats skiffs have adjusted and transformed throughout history.

This article covers:

  • Origins of flats skiffs
  • The legacy of Hewes Boats
  • Advancements in flats skiff technology
  • Modern flats skiffs
  • Embark on your next flats fishing trip
  • Frequently asked questions about flats skiffs

Origins of flats skiffs

Fly fishing the shallow flats of Islamorada, Florida. Courtesy of The Seahunter Fishing Group.

The history of flats fishing skiffs is closely connected to ancient fishing techniques where precision and stealth were essential. Let's look back at the practices that laid the groundwork for these boats.

Early boat designs

Before modern materials were available, early skiffs were basic yet practical — either carved from local woods, forged scrap aluminum, or built using whatever materials were on hand in the early 20th century. These boats had to be light enough to float in very shallow water but strong enough to handle occasional encounters with hidden underwater objects. Early flats fishing skiffs were often custom-built by local boatbuilders to meet the specific needs of anglers navigating shallow waters. These custom skiffs were typically constructed from wood and featured shallow drafts, allowing anglers to pole or drift silently across the flats in pursuit of fish.

In the early to mid-20th century, anglers in Florida and along the Gulf Coast began to explore the expansive shallow water habitats for species like bonefishtarpon, and redfish. These regions, with their extensive flats and marshes, provided ideal environments for flats fishing.

Influential pioneers

The transition from crude materials to more durable synthetics paved the way for the modern skiffs we know today. Innovation in skiff design has largely been led by a key handful of forward thinkers. They recognized the limitations of existing boats and came up with new ideas, creating skiffs that offered better control, improved visibility for spotting fish, and increased comfort during long hours on the water. It is argued that Bob Hewes pioneered the flats skiff, creating a more nimble, applicable boat for the nuances of inshore flats fishing.

Additional notable pioneers include Hal Chittum and Flip Pallot, who have made significant contributions to both the sport of flats fishing and the development of skiffs.

The legacy of Hewes Boats

Hewes Boats has a long history of producing flats fishing skiffs, dating back to the 1950s. Founded by Bob Hewes in Miami, Florida, the company initially focused on building wooden skiffs before transitioning to fiberglass construction. Notable flats skiffs stand out for their innovative designs — leaving a lasting impact on the sport of flats fishing. One such skiff is the Hewes Bonefisher, which holds a special place in the history of these nimble watercraft. Its design and functionality set new standards for what anglers could expect from a flats skiff. The Bonefisher — which was designed and produced in 1970 — was one of the first boats designed specifically for shallow-water anglers. Its name has become synonymous with stealthy and effective flats fishing, serving as an inspiration for many other skiff builders.

The use of fiberglass in the hull was a game-changer at that time. It provided greater durability and a lighter weight compared to traditional wooden boats. Before the Hewes Bonefisher, there was no such thing as a poling platform; this craft ingrained the poling platform as an essential part of skiff design. The addition of a poling platform in further development gave anglers a higher and better view for spotting fish while sight fishing.

Advancements in flats skiff technology

Docked after an inshore adventure in Charleston, SC. Courtesy of Ace Outdoors.

The evolution of flats skiffs continues to unfold through constant innovation. Modern materials, electronics, and propulsion systems have all played key roles in this era of skiff design.

Materials in flats skiffs

Traditional wooden skiffs have been replaced by advanced composite materials, which offer unmatched strength-to-weight ratios. Carbon fiber and Kevlar composites, for example, have made it possible to construct extremely lightweight yet sturdy flats skiffs. This allows for higher speed and maneuverability without sacrificing durability. This comes in very handy when navigating the oyster beds of South Carolina’s Lowcountry.


The integration of state-of-the-art electronics has transformed the on-board experience. GPS systems, fish finders, and even electric trolling motors have brought a new level of efficiency and convenience to flats fishing. The addition of these new tools not only enhances your fishing experience, but your guide’s as well.

Propulsion systems

The introduction of more powerful outboard motors has expanded the capabilities of flats skiffs beyond shallow waters. With improved power delivery and fuel efficiency, these modern engines have enabled longer trips and faster travel times, allowing you to be on the water longer. In locations like the Florida Keys, or Georgia’s inshore waters this makes all the difference.

Modern flats skiffs

Advancements in skiff technology has supplied anglers today with some truly enhanced skiff boats. Here are some of our favorite skiff boat manufacturers who are changing the game.

Hell’s Bay

Revolutionizing designs meant for shallow flats in the Florida Keys and beyond, Hell’s Bay skiffs are some of the best available for anglers and guides today. Designer Chris Morejohn and pro angler Flip Pallot collaborated to develop these specialized skiffs. Founded in 1997, Hell's Bay Boatworks quickly established itself as a leading manufacturer of flats fishing skiffs. Their skiffs, such as the Hell's Bay Whipray and the Hell's Bay Waterman, are known for their exceptional performance and craftsmanship. For a deeper dive into Hell’s Bay skiffs, check out our Skiff Talks.


Maverick Boat Group is another prominent manufacturer of flats fishing skiffs based in Florida. Founded in 1985, the company produces several brands of skiffs, including Maverick, Hewes, and Pathfinder. Known for their durability, Maverick skiffs are reinforced with Kevlar and can withstand the beatings the Lowcountry will take when poling through the flats. Check out our Skiff Talk of Capt. Cleve Hancock’s Maverick HPX-S here.

Delta Boatworks

Delta Boatworks, a Florida-based boat manufacturer, was founded by Captain Mark Castlow in the early 2000s, specializing in producing high-quality flats fishing skiffs. Renowned for innovative designs and superior craftsmanship, Delta Boatworks quickly gained recognition among anglers for their Dragonfly series skiffs, known for sleek hulls, shallow drafts, and stability, ideal for sight fishing in shallow waters. Today, Delta Boatworks remains a respected name in the flats fishing community, offering top-of-the-line skiffs tailored to meet the demands of serious anglers. Check out our Skiff Talk with the Delta 18.

Embark on your next flats fishing trip

The labrynth of inshore flats Key West is known for. Courtesy of Tailing Water Expeditions.

Now it's time for your own adventure. Whether you're stalking bonefish in crystalline waters or casting for tarpon in the heat of summer, let your skiff be both a guide and companion on your next fishing trip. Let an AnyCreek expert guide show you how to fish properly from a skiff boat.

Frequently asked questions about flats skiffs

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