One of the most important attributes of a flats boat is how much it drafts. Most flats fishing is done in water four feet deep or less and most flats boats will draft 13 inches or less which is probably just fine for the majority of fishermen. However, sometimes anglers need to go much shallower to chase the tailing redfish, bonefish, or permit that are cruising around in 6 inches of water or less. Having a boat with an optimal draft, that fits your particular needs, may be the difference between getting to the fish or not.
What is the average draft of a flats boat? The average draft of a flats boat is 7.5 inches with a range of 3.5 inches to 14 inches. These values are based on draft measurements of 74 flats boats from 16 flats boat manufacturers.
Even with all the flats boats on the market today it is hard to find one that fits all your needs perfectly. What is considered “the best flats boat” may be one that drafts 9 inches which may be way too much for your fishing needs. In this article, we will list our favorite flats boats within three different ranges of draft, skinny water flats boats drafting 6 inches or less, midrange flats boats drafting 6 to 10 inches, and large flats boats which draft 11 inches or more.
Top 5 Flats Boats That Draft Under 6 inches
The flats boats in this range of draft is where the money is. These boats are typically small, super light weight, and bare bones when it comes to features and creature comforts. These boats are poling machines that are built to deliver fishermen to the most secluded areas once only accessible by canoes or kayaks.
As with anything, there will be tradeoffs with these boats. What makes these boats so great for super skinny waters also make them less appealing for spending much time out in open choppy waters as they tend to ride rougher than the larger boats. If you are planning on spending a lot of time in wide open waters or spending a good amount of time offshore it may be a wiser decision to step it up a little. However, if you are one of those fishermen who spend most of their time in a foot or less of water, a flats boat in this category may be just right.
The list below shows 5 of the top flats boats on the market today that have a draft of 6 inches or less. Click on any of the links below to navigate to the manufacturers website to lean more about each.
|Make and Model||Draft||Length||Beam|
|Hells Bay Professional||4.5″||17′ 8″||73″|
|Maverick 17 HPX-S||6″||17′ 8″||76″|
|Chittum Skiff Laguna Madre||5″||18′ 0″||80″|
|Beavertail 18 Mosquito||6″||18′ 2″||70″|
|Hells Bay Guide||4.5″||18′ 4″||79″|
Best Flats Boat With Less Than 6” Draft
The #1 spot for best flats boat with a sub 6” draft is the Hells Bay Professional. With 4.5 inches of draft fully rigged, this boat not only can pole around in stupid skinny waters but is also a dry and comfortable riding boat. Coming from an old 1991 2120 Robalo to a 2018 Professional was like switching from a Suburban to a Ferrari.
Why does this boat get my top spot? Recently I was fishing the north east side of the lagoon and, while running around, noticed a little cut had water over it that opened up into a big flooded mud flat. This particular spot is normally mostly exposed mud and grass during the dry season but now is covered with water and expands about 100 yards East to West and 50 yards North to South. This was a prime spot for hungry redfish chasing all the bait normally safe from predators. We just needed to be able to get through the entrance which was only a few inches deep.
Enter the Hells Bay Professional rigged with a 90 HP Yamaha, a Minn Kota Rip Tide 80 trolling motor, and stripped of anything else that wasn’t absolutely essential. With this boat we were able to hop on the pole and push ourselves through the entrance, still bumping bottom a little as we passed through, to get into the mud flat. While we were in there, we saw dozens of feeding redfish that we casted to. They were hungry and aggressive and it was one of the most exciting experiences I've had. Not only was it fun because our lines were tight the entire time, but also the idea of knowing we were one of only a few that would dare creep up in there was also something special. If we were were in any other boat, we would have had to pass this up in search for deeper waters.
Top 5 Mid Range Flats Boats Drafting 6 to 10 inches
The most common draft advertised by flats manufacturers are in the range of 6 inches to 10 inches. Flats boats drafting in this range will be plenty for most anglers who are in waters deeper than this 90% of the time. Even though the story above talks about needing to get into sub 6 inches of water in Mosquito Lagoon, boats in the 6 to 10 inch range will still get you into the vast majority of the lagoon.
The reason these boats are higher drafting is because they have a steeper deadrise (deeper V), have a little more size and weight, and often times a few more creature comforts and features. While these attributes might take away draft, they also come with benefits such as smoother ride and more fishing space.
If you absolutely need a boat that drafts sub 6 inches of water you will probably not find one that comfortably fits more than 3 anglers and will handle chop as well as a larger boat. If you value space and comfort over the getting to that sub 10% of fishing spots, but still want to be able to pole around the flats, a boat with a draft in the 6 to 10 inches is probably ideal.
The list below shows 5 of the top flats boats on the market today that has a draft of 6 to 10 inches. Click on any of the links below to navigate to the manufacturers website to lean more about each.
|Make and Model||Draft||Length||Beam|
|Hells Bay Marquesa||7″||18′ 1″||79″|
|Chittum Islamorada 18 Snake Bite||8″||18′ 0″||80″|
|Maverick 18 HPX-V||9″||18′ 4″||80″|
|East Cape EVO X||7″||17′ 9″||79″|
|Beavertail Air||9″||18′ 3″||77″|
Best Mid Range Flats Boat
Hells Bay takes it with this size range as well with the 7 inch draft, fully rigged, Marquesa 18. Such a beautiful boat that rides like a dream. This is one of the smoothest and driest riding boats on the market today.
I was lucky enough to fish a marquesa out of the Indian River Lagoon where a couple friends and I were going after Tarpon during the annual mullet run. With the Marquesa, we were able to troll around the mangrove coast and land a few big snook to get the juices flowing, then just as the sun got a little higher we poled around some shallow flats hunting some redfish before we hit the beaches. When the tide was right we made our way out a pretty choppy inlet, but the marquesa handled it with ease. We then rode up and down the beaches looking for our shot at some silver king to finish off our day.
To sum it up, the Marquesa could do it all. This is a technical poling skiff that can get in shallow enough water for 90% of the fishing most would do, but can also take a little chop to deliver you to more spots comfortably and dry.
Top 5 Large Flats Boats Drafting of 10 Inches or More
If you are primarily an inshore or nearshore angler who doesn’t need a boat to get in super shallow waters, but you still want a wide open fishing platform, perhaps a larger flats boat is right for you.
The larger flats boats will open you up to more open water fishing opportunities, can handle rougher seas, and could even take you offshore a bit on good weather days. These boats generally have more features, storage, and seating to make your on-the-water experience more enjoyable. Additionally, these larger platforms will usually have a higher occupancy rating which will open some options up for anglers who enjoy bringing along friends and family.
The negative of a larger, higher drafting flats boat is that they need more water to float and are slightly more difficult to pole. Additionally these boats are typically more expensive. Most of the larger flats boats are rigged with trolling motors and automatic anchoring systems such as the Power Pole.
Here is my top 5 list of flats boats that draft 11” or more. Click on any of the links below to navigate to the manufacturer’s website to lean more about each.
|Make and Model||Draft||Length||Beam|
|Hewes 21 Redfisher||14″||21′ 6″||73″|
|Beavertail Lightning||11″||20′ 0″||82″|
|East Cape Vantage||11″||19′ 2″||79″|
|Sterling 220 XS||12″||21′ 8″||98″|
|Action Craft 2020 FlatsMaster||11″||20′ 2″||96″|
Best Large Flats Boat
The top spot in this category has to go to the Hewes Redfisher 21. The Hewes Redfisher is probably one of the most recognized boat on the water for its versatility and amazing ride. With a 14” draft, the Redfisher 21 boat will get you into most spots needed for flats fishing but, rigged with a maximum 350HP engine (holy cow!!) it will get you there fast and with a fully loaded weight of 2900 lbs and a 15 deg dead rise it will get you there with comfort.
With a 6 person capacity, this boat will comfortably fish multiple anglers thanks to its huge casting decks and walk around gunwales. This is actually one of the only flats boats out there that I would call an affordable family fishing boat that can fit my family of 5 for a day of just fun on the water.
Read more about skiffs and flats boats in our article here.