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Flat's Boat On A Budget




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Carolina Skiff J16 rigged and ready for the marsh.

How  To Fish Skinny Without Breaking The Bank


Recently I have been getting quite a few questions about a dilemma that faces many anglers with shallow water ambitions  "What kind of boat do I need?".  A statement of not wanting to spend the family fortune on what for all intents and purposes is a small boat usually predicates this question.  While there are a number of practical means to reaching very skinny water, including canoes, kayaks, johnboats, and pirogues, for the purposes of this article, we are going to focus on flat-bottomed johnboats.  While I will make no claims that you can achieve the kind of performance and comfort that you get from high end skiffs such as those made by Hells Bay, Maverick, and other top manufacturers with a simple John Boat, I can share with you my personal experience that with a little planning and ingenuity, you can rig a john boat to fish exceptionally well in skinny water without breaking the bank.


Any time you are in the market for a boat, the primary concern after budget is what you will be using the boat for.  There is an adage that you should follow the 90/10 rule for purchasing a boat.  Get a boat that is suited for the type of fishing you do 90% of the time, not a boat designed to do what you only do occasionally.  There is no one boat that handles all situations well.  Most boats are designed for specific uses at the expense of performance in other areas.  Most skinny water boats are relatively flat and light, and as such aren't great in rough water.  Bay boats can take a chop, but can't follow a flats boat into 6 inches of water.


If you decide that you want to spend your time fishing in skinny water, and are directing your boat purchase in that direction, you have several options.  There are of course the high end and even mid ranged flats boats, that come pre rigged with just about everything a fisherman could want in a flats boat, including dry storage, cushioned seats, walk around gunnels, electronics, poling and casting platforms and more.  Then there is the budget rout.  There are very few craft that can actually be poled in shallower water than a flat-bottomed johnboat.  Johnboats are light, often proportionally wide and, by nature of their flat bottom, draft very little water at rest.


Often, after having gazed lovingly at a high end flats boat, an angler may return home wanting to throw rocks at his aluminum or fiberglass flat bottomed boat.  Don't fall into this trap; there are a few simple steps you can take to convert that old johnboat into an awesome fishing machine. 


First you need to consider some of the options available to you in flat bottomed Johnboats.  There are many manufacturers offering well built, inexpensive boats in a variety of lengths, in both fiberglass and aluminum.  For the purposes of illustrating this article we have pictures of 2 such options.  Ty Southerland's 14" aluminum Johnboat that he has rigged for the flats.  And my fiberglass Carolina Skiff J16.  Surprisingly enough, when I was shopping boats, I found there to be very little difference in weight and cost of the Carolina Skiff J16 I ended up purchasing, and most quality welded aluminum boats of a similar size.  So which to choose?  Each material offers it's advantages.  Fiberglass tends to be a little quieter in the water, while a flat bottomed Johnboat will have some hull slap regardless of what it's made of, the fiberglass reverberates less than aluminum.  A light colored fiberglass boat is also much cooler and less likely to fry your thighs when you sit on the seat after a day in the hot sun.  Aluminum on the other hand tends to be rugged, and is more easily and affordably repaired than fiberglass. 


Perhaps the most important thing to bear in mind when rigging a boat for shallow water is weight.  If you don't need it, don't add it.  If you do need it, ad the lightest one you can find.  There are several other important factors to keep in mind when rigging your flats boat, one of which is layout.  When rigging a boat for fly-fishing large decks are a plus.  You want a decent sized casting deck that is clean with nothing protruding up from it that your fly line can foul on.  Several things that aid in keeping the deck clean are lights, cleats, and push pole holders that pop up, and trolling motor mounts, and other accessories that are removable or flush mounted.   Unfortunately most accessories of the "Pop Up" type aren't cheap, but they may be well worth the money.  Often if accessories are located far enough to the sides or back of the deck they may be less likely to encounter your fly line.  If you think that most people fishing in your boat will be right handed, moving objects to the right side of the deck make them less likely to catch your line because right handers strip line to their left side.  A large rear deck can also come in handy if you are fishing by yourself from the poling platform, or for those times when 2 people are fishing and using a trolling motor.   


The one feature that defines the classic look of a flats boat is the Poling Platform.  While not an absolute necessity, once you get comfortable and adept at poling a boat from a platform, you'll never want to do without.  The first and most obvious of advantage of the poling platform is visibility.  You can see much more of the marsh you are fishing from the elevated vantage point.  You can also see into the water better because your elevated position cuts down on glare.  Poling from a platform is also easier than from on the deck.  When you are elevated on the platform, you are much less likely to knock or bang the engine or rear of the boat with your push pole, potentially scarring fish.  Your elevated position on the platform also reduces the leverage of the poles length working against you so it is less tiring than poling from the rear seat or deck.  Many manufacturers offer platforms for the boats they make, in fact Carolina Skiff makes one that is designed to fit the transom of my boat.  After doing a little research however I found a good welder who was able to build me a platform for about half of what Carolina Skiff wanted for theirs, and I prefer the design of the one I had built.  On Ty's aluminum boat, he was able to get a welder to build one out of scrap materials for only $150, that's about a fourth of what pre-manufactured platforms sell for.



My platform is built out of 11/4 inch aluminum pipe with a platform of 1/8 inch aluminum plate with the edges folded up for extra rigidity.  My platform bolts onto the rolled edges of my boat, with the bolts going through pieces of aluminum plate placed under the rolled edges for strength.

Rigging Details of my Carolina Skiff J16


 1. Bow light-pop up stainless steel by Accon


                  see the bow light on line here


2.   Removable trolling motor bracket by 

    Birdsall Marine

    see the trolling motor mount on line here


3.  Rod holders from Bass Pro Shops, mounted

    to the inside of boat with 3m marine 

    adhesive.  1" PVC tubes mounted into rear

    face of front deck serve as rod tubes.    

    see the rod holders on line here


4.  Poling Platform - Custon Built out of 11/4

     inch aluminum.  Email me and I'll be  

     happy to send you the design.


5.  Adjustable Jack Plate by Cajun Jacker -

     Note, this jack plate adjust with just one

     bolt, making it easy to adjust on the 


     see cajun jacker jack plates here


Ty Southerland's platform is built of 11/4"

aluminum pipe, and the platform deck is

made of 1/4 inch aluminum plate.  The 

bases of Ty's platform bolt to the rear 

corner braces of the boat, and the rear

seat.  The front legs of Ty's platform are

slightly closer together than the rear.


You can also provide yourself with a decent perch from which to pole without the trouble or expense of building or buying a poling platform.  For years I fished out of a 14 foot Monarch, standing on an ice chest placed on the back seat, and held down with shock cord.


A few other useful additions to a budget flats boat, are an ice chest mounted amid ship to act as a center seat. I screwed some stainless eyes to the bottom of the boat, and secured the ice chest with shock cord. I also have a very large rear deck on my boat, which combined with the setback of the jack plate I have, has me sitting a long way in front of the engine. I made an extension for the outboards tiller out of pvc pipe. I installed rod holders onto the sides of the boat and made rod tubes out of pvc that extend well under the front deck of the boat.  To install the rod tubes, I used a drill mounted hole saw to cut appropriate sized holes in the dropdown face at the rear of the front deck.  I then drilled corresponding holes into a piece of marine 2x4, and hung the 2x4 down under the deck about a foot and a half back.  The pieces of PVC were then run through the holes in the face of the deck and through the holes in the 2x4 and secured with marine adhesive.





The final touches for achieving good fishing performance on the water can often be in simple accessories.  For example, having a convenient place to quickly put your push pole if you are fishing by yourself and need to cast, or if you need to get down of the platform to assist another angler.  I have a push pole holder mounted to the top of my platform that the pole snaps into.  I also wear a push pole holster on my belt.  Keeping your rod at ready when you are poling the boat and alone is another challenge.  A good tall stripping basket is a great solution here.  Before getting up on my platform I strip a good bit of line off my reel, make a cast and strip the line back into my line tamer stripping basket.  I then stand my rod up in the stripping basket and place it in the center of my rear deck right in front of the poling platform.  If I'm poling and see a fish, I just hook the push pole in my belt holster, grab my rod and cast.   Another thing I learned when I used to run my little Mon Ark boat was that if you don't have a lot of front deck space, a stripping basket that can be worn around the waist can keep your line under control. 


                                           The push pole holster holds the 

                                           push pole while I cast. is owned and maintained by Ron Begnaud 725 Iberville St, Lake Charles, La 70607