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Bay Boats and Flats Boats

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Bay Boats versus Flats Boats
Article of Comparison
By Capt. Steven Lamp

Updated April 2018

Bay boats versus flats boats is a real discussion these days. In the 90's if you would have told me that I would own a bay boat for my fishing charter services here in Key West, I may have looked at you funny and snickered as I walked away surely knowing you were not well informed or even knew a damn thing about the fishing charter business.

flats boat fishing. fishing the flats for permit in Key West fishing guide releases permitAs a Key West fishing guide I have now owned well over 20 bay boats since 2005, currently own 8 of them and just now getting ready to order one more new ones to replace one that I have had in service. They have not replaced my flats fishing boat but definitely added to the fleet.

Are bay Boats better? Were flats boats a flash in the pan, a fad? Am I saying every one should trade in the push pole and get a bay boat with electric trolling motors and live the dream in a waterman's version of a Pickup truck? Well, yes, and no. Let me explain

Flats Fishing Boats are Fantastic fishing tools. For the angler and his buddy who likes to pole a boat. The flats fishing boat is a great way to fish the flats. Shallow, pole-able, stealthy, agile, swift and technical are some of the words you will hear describing a flats boat. What do they mean? The Flats are typically shallow so the boat needs to float in less than 12 inches of water (an industry standard)some even go as shallow as 5 inches. The boat should be quiet as it moves along in shallow waters otherwise you may spook the fish that are being stalked. Agile is describing the ability the boat has to maneuver into position quickly as the guide poles for that awesome shot at a tailing fish. Technical is the nature of fishing from a Flats Boat..

bay boats for fishing the flats and backcountry waters of Key West a Yellowfin 2 bay boatComing in all shapes and sizes flats boats have many faces from many manufacturers. which one is the best is not the point of this article and certainly not a place I would like to go, as it is reminiscent of speaking about Religion and Politics. Easily stated flats boats by and large are a give and take in qualities, probably more than any other type of boat on the market today. So, I think it is a matter of taste. Me, I like comfort, pole-ability, Speed, less than 10 inch draft and because I am a large person and so are many of my clients stability. In the height of my career I chose the Lake and Bay 20 Ft Boca Grand. In my opinion it is the fastest, driest shallowest, pole-able 2 client "guiding" boat I have ever been in. Oh, and yes, I have been in them all. There are shallower and more pole-able boats out there, however, there are trade offs.

These days with the advent and technology advancement of my bay boats. My choice of flats fishing skiff is current a 17' long, super light technical skiff Beavertail Elite. What we in the industry call a technical poling skiff. I went to a smaller skiff because it can do what my bay boats cannot and visa versa. My Lake and Bays were fine boats but frankly I can fish better in a bay boat all the way around. So, I got a smaller flats skiff for contrast.

Bay Boats - These to come in all shapes but generally range in size from 19-24 ft. all the same players you see in the flats arena are also making bay boats. Good thing too otherwise their market is very limited. As with flats boats there are descriptions used for a good one. We trade in all those terms we used for a good flats boat for things like; Roomy, Plenty of Storage, Powerful, rides well in the chop, Stereo sounds great, console has lots of Rod holders, Cooler is big, Shallow as heck, these seats are Comfortable. as you can see, it is less about what the boat can do in the environment that it is in than what it can do for the angler with in the boat. As you can see, another world or dimension of fishing boat.

Yes we have all heard of the stories of using a flats Fishing boat off shore or in extreme locations but not practically speaking with out a flat calm day and a couple guys who just want to try it. In all actuality it's not the safest thing to take a traditional flats boat to your local reef. Although it is fun to see shots like I did last year with Greg Poland of Islamorada holding up a sailfish he caught in 120 ft of water off the reef proudly standing in his Mercury powered Hells Bay Marquesas. Should I put a disclaimer here. (don't try that at home). But seriously. flats boats are made for the flats and light bay fishing with a guy poling and a guy fishing.

OK, you saw the part where I said Bay Boats can go flats fishing. Yes, they can and very well I might add also with more people and I will even go on further to say better, if catching fish is more important that fishing the flats traditionally. If poling down a permit that is tailing, then flats boats are your thing. but if you would like to slide up on him effortlessly with trolling motors and fish with your partner to throw a crab or a fly his way, then you may like to consider a bay boat. Yes, the holy grail of Key West Flats fishing, the tailing permit, you can chase them too with a bay boat in fact, I bet you can even bring more friends to enjoy the experience with you.

My clients now enjoy the best of both worlds in my charter company. If they wish to fish the flats and fish traditionally then I have my Beavertail Elite flats fishing skiff. If They care to fish the flats with a possibility of going out to a wreck or the reef OR they wish to carry more than 2 persons OR they want a bathroom for the wife.. Then they Select one of our bay boats built by Yellowfin Yachts or Action Craft Coastal Bay. Either way, we have them covered for backcountry fishing here in Key West.

My personal choice.. Depends on my use and the people I have to fish that day. The flats boats is limited to the flats, the Bay Boats can go just about everywhere..

We still offer flats fishing boats here at Dream Catcher Charters We will continue to have them on line as long as we haver skilled poling captains to fish them. Seems to be a trend... We are trying to get more out of our boat buying dollar..

Capt. Steven Lamp (DrCatcher)
Veteran Key West Fishing Guide, Boating enthusiast and Entrepreneur
Pro Staff - Mercury Marine - Yellowfin Yachts - Garmin Marine

My Personal Web Site - Key West Fishing Guide

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