So you have a nice new flats boat that you are ready to gear up for some much needed days on the water. One of the first things you now have to do is outfit it with all the essentials that you will need while out searching for trophy fish. One common mistake people make is going overboard with too much gear that will likely go un-utilized and is more likely to get in the way as opposed to helping you stay comfortable or catch fish. This article will go over some of the essential items that every flats boat should have onboard as well as some recommendations on when to pack what and how to use the available space on your boat efficiently.
Here is a list of essential items that you should have on your flats boat:
- Coast Guard Required Safety Equipment
- First Aid Kit
- Emergency survival kit
- VHF Radio
- Dry Storage Box
- “Go Bag”
- Push Pole and/or Trolling Motor
- GPS/Chart Plotter
First and foremost, when going through the process of outfitting your flats boat with the essentials, we need to be legal. This means we need to make sure we have on board all the safety equipment outlined by coastguard regulations.
According to US Coastguard Regulation, any boat over 16′ in length operating in state or federal waters must have the following minimum set of safety equipment on board at all times. This list is in addition to the general boat requirements such as navigation lighting and running lights that are typically built into the boat.
- Life Jackets
- Throwable Flotation Device
- Visual Signaling Device
- Audible Signaling Device
- Fire Extinguisher
First Aid Kit
When it comes to first aid kits you can either build your own or buy a prebuilt kit. The important thing is to make sure it has the essential first aid care to take care of bumps, cuts, and burns as well as medication for pain relief, stomach aches, allergic reactions, and motion sickness. If you are building your own kit, make sure you store it all in a small water proof container that can be stored long term on your boat. Better yet if there is room in your Boat Box, which we will talk about a little later, just drop your first aid it in a nice small zippable container such as the Stasher Bag and throw it in there. The important thing is to make sure your kit is organized and easily accessible.
If you don't want to go through the hassle of putting together a piecemeal kit yourself, there are a number of first aid kits that you can buy already put together. I recommend the Surviveware Large Waterproof First Aid Kit. This kit will come with everything you need to provide first aid for all occupants on your flats boat and it comes in a nice compact waterproof container. You can pick this product up from Amazon by clicking here.
Each boat should have a “boat box” which is a dry storage container used to carry some of the most essential gear that you should never leave the dock without. This boat box should be left with the boat all times so you don't have to worry about forgetting something when you hit the water.
The nice thing about putting everything in the boat box is that, when something is needed, it is easily accessible and you have much less clutter around your boat. The most common need to access your boat box is when you are approached by the coast guard or marine police to make sure you are compliant with the law. Having a boat box with most of the gear needed for inspection makes this already stressful experience much easier for you and the police. Just pull out the box that includes the required safety equipment plus registration, all required flotation devices, and your fire extinguisher and you are done. Not to mention, in the case of an actual emergency, having quick access to everything you need could be a life saver.
I have found the best dry storage box for the flats boat is the Plano XL Marine Dry Box. This box is compact enough to fit into onboard storage of most boats, such as under console or in other storage hatches, but also large enough to fit all the essentials. Additionally it is ruggedized to handle the rough nature of life on a boat while also being water tight to keep the contents safe and long lasting.
What to pack in the Boat Box:
- Boat registration
- Insect Repellent
- Toilet Paper (folded in a plastic bag)
- Flare Gun/ Flares
- Small Emergency Survival Kit
Though not technically required, the VHF radio is one of the most important pieces of equipment you should have onboard your boat at all times. The VHF radio is a great piece of communication equipment that can be used to communicate with other boats, land based stations, and emergency agencies. Additionally, your VHF radio is a great way to listen in to the marine weather forecast for an up-to-date report on local sea conditions.
VHF radios come in two basic form factors, the fixed mounted VHF and the handheld. The fixed mounted are larger units that attach to your boat either as a flush mounted system or a surface mounted system. These radios are powered by your boat's battery and usually required an external antenna to operate. Handheld VHF radios on the other hand are small, compact, and battery operated.
In my Robalo, I have a fixed mounted VHF radio that lives on the boat. There was plenty of space on the center console and I was not worried about it getting in the way of navigating around the boat. You could do this same thing in some flats skiffs, but typically the console layout would not easily fit a fixed mounted VHF radio. This is why I opt to go for a handheld VHF radio such as the Standard Horizon HX300 Handheld VHF.
I also like to bring this along when I am paddle boarding just in case I get in trouble somewhere and need to call for help. This is why one of the items in my “go bag” is the Standard Horizon HX300 so it is with me at all times no matter what vessel I am fishing from. The extra perk this has with the Robalo is that I now have a backup radio when I am offshore fishing.
The Go Bag/Box
What I like to do is have a small “go bag” that is always filled and ready to go with all the essentials needed for a day on the water. Just grab the bag, throw in some snacks for the day, and head out the door. By having this go bag I save time as well as the stress from worrying if I forgot something important.
For my go bag I use the Yeti Camino 35 Carryall which is an awesome compact and waterproof bag that safely holds all my gear. I can easily throw this bag in a compartment somewhere on the boat or even leave it out on the deck out as long as it is out of the way.
What is really nice about having this go bag is that it isn't tied to a particular boat. I grab the same bag no matter where I am heading out for the day. Redfish fishing from the flats skiff in Mosquito Lagoon, Dolphin fishing out of Port Canaveral from the Robalo, or snook fishing in the mangroves from my Bote HD paddle board all starts with the same action, grab the go bag.
Essential to pack in your Go Bag:
- Insect repellent
- toilet paper (folded in plastic bag)
- Fishing license
- Compact (Small) first aid kit
I also like to pack a small amount of snacks like nuts and crackers as well as my cameras, maps, cell phone, and some tackle. This bag isn't the largest, but I only like to carry the bare essentials for my day out on the water.
I grew up cruising the bays and river systems around the Alabama Gulf Coast in my 2120 Robalo without once needing a GPS chart plotter or a fish finder. I knew where to go because my Dad taught me where to drive and how to navigate the waters. This was like second nature to me and I never once thought about hitting bottom or getting lost. However, when I moved down to the east coast of Florida, this was a whole new ballgame. I no longer knew my surroundings or the waters and new that the shallow waters of Mosquito Lagoon as well as the Indian River claimed the foot of many boats. So, the first upgrade I made to my boat when moving it down here was to install a nice chart plotter/fish finder combo.
With the recommendation of Captain Avery Gillet, a charter captain from out of the Mosquito Lagoon, I went and picked up the Florida Marine Track which provides all the best routes to navigate shallow waters of the lagoon. He said he uses these same maps when he heads down to the keys and the everglades when he is trying out new waters. With this set of charts and my Simrad I was able to get up and quickly move around new waters without once worrying about messing up my boat even when I was in unmarked areas. To pick these maps up yourself head on over to the Florida marine tracks website, select your preferred map coverage, and pick from the available GPS band options.
If you are headed out on your flats boat for the day you need a place to keep your water and food cold as well as a place to keep your catch. However, flats boats are relatively small and deck space is precious. An oversized cooler can quickly take away this valuable fishing and create unneeded obstacles for you and your fly line while fishing.
Integrated (built in) cooler
Most of the flats boats will have an onboard cooler available for your food and beverages or your fish. In order to keep the clutter on the boat to a minimum and fishing space to a maximum, I would recommend using the cooler onboard if at all possible. Many flats boats will have a cooler in front of the console which doubles as a seat as well as a livewell that will double as a cooler. Just keep your beverages and food in the front and your fish in the livewell.
Cooler as a seat
Some boats don't come with a built in cooler and instead might have an empty space in front of the console. If this is the case, a good option is to make your removable cooler one that doubles as a seat. I don't like to go too big so I like the Yeti 45 for this option. There is plenty of storage for ice, water, and snacks for 4 or 5 people and it isn't so big that it eats up all your deck space. To make it even better for those longer rides I would throw on a nice Tundra Seat Cushion.
Cooler as a casting platform
I always like to be as efficient with space as possible which is why I like the cooler as a casting platform option if the boat isn't already fitted with a casting platform. This is a great way to have more cooler storage on the boat while also giving yourself a better vantage point for sight fishing by elevating yourself further above the water. I and a lot of other fishermen really like the Yeti 35 or the Yeti 45 cooler as a nice casting platform option. Just make sure it is weighted down so it doesn't get tippy and toss you off while casting. If you are running fast and long distances, it is probably best to pull the cooler down off the bow so you don't lose it.
In order to give myself some extra traction and cushion I added a Yeti Cooler Pad from Castaway Customs fitted just for the Yetis. These pads come in various colors, designs, and textures that will make a great looking upgrade to your cooler. If you are doubling the cooler as a seat and casting platform (just using 1 cooler for both) I would recommend you stick with the Castaway Customs Yeti Cooler Pad vs the Yeti Tundra Seat cushion. the cushion isn't great to stand on and can get in the way of your fly line.
Push Pole and/or Trolling Motor
So depending on the size of flats boat you are in and how you are using it will determine if you need a troling motor, a push pole, or perhaps even both. The general consensus is that when fishing in really shallow waters or targeting fish in areas where they are extremely skittish, poling is preferred. However, if you are fishing in deeper waters, battling significant current and/or wind, or traveling long distances across open waters a trolling motor is preferred.
Sometimes anglers will stick to one or the other and will tailor their fishing strategies to accommodate their preference. Other anglers will set up their boat for either or both so they can keep their options open depending on what they are doing on the day.
My personal preference is to have a boat rigged for a trolling motor that can be quickly and easily installed/uninstalled. When I am out targeting redfish on the fly around Mosquito Lagoon I take off the trolling motor in order to give me a wide open deck. However, when I want to cruise around the mangroves for some snook in slightly deeper water using spinning tackle, I might drop on the trolling motor to allow me to cover more ground and lighten the workload.
If you are navigating in waters too shallow for a trolling motor to operate, are in waters with a lot of turtle grass, or maybe just trying to target fish that are very easy to spook, then a push pole is a must. I personally prefer poling over trolling, but each have their place.
There are several poling manufacturers out there that can get the job done. They are constructed from composite materials such as fiberglass or carbon fiber. When you are out on the water poling for any amount of time, ounces mean a lot so lighter weight push poles can really make a difference. However, with light weight also comes cost and sometimes durability. We recommend the YakAttack Park n Pole Push Pole.
Push Pole Holder
Your flats boat will need a way to securely store your push pole while you are running from spot to spot. There are a number of brands out there that offer decent push pole holders but I think most of the flats fishermen out there ether go with the V-Marine or Accon Marine.
V-Marine offers several options of push pole holders to include the spool design, classic/guide design, and the original design. I really like the spool and original design for a couple reasons; they are removable for those days I don't need to pole; and they are really sharp looking. If you really want to dress your boat up you can even get these with a custom laser engraving that can be added to them. You can purchase a set of these push pole holders directly from V-Marine by clicking here to navigate to their sales page.
Accon Marine also offers some really nice push pole holders that are popular around the skiff market. These holders can either be purchased as a fold down option or a flush mounted option. Both of these are permanent mounted systems but have the added benefit of being able to fold or push down out of the way when the pole isn't actively being held. One note, the flush mounted option will require a decent size hole in your gunwale. You can purchase either of these holders directly from Accon Marine by going to their sales page here.
Push Pole Caddie
If you are doing any poling you are absolutely going to need a push pole holder for your poling platform. This holder is critical when you need to set down the pole to cast for fish and/or land fish. Without one of these you are either left with leaning the pole somewhere on the deck which gets in the way.
V-Marine makes a great functioning and attractive looking push pole holder that mounts to the poling platform. They offer it either in a fixed mount, quick detach, and a locking base plate set-up. Both the quick detach and locking base plate set-up can quickly be detached from the skiff if there is a need to remove. You can purchase these push pole holders directly from V-Marine store by clicking here and scrolling down to the poling platform holders.
Another popular option in the flats fishing industry is the Push Pole Caddy by Tibor. The Tibor Push Pole caddy comes in a fixed mount option or a quick release option, both of which have full 360 deg rotation as well as lateral movement to securely hold you push pole in strong current and rough seas. I think if you were to survey all the flats fishermen out there who regularly pole, there will be about pretty close race between the Tibor and the V-Marine on the best push pole holder on the market.
When it comes to trolling motors there it is hard to look past the 24V Minn Kota Terrova with the I-Pilot link. This troller motor has plenty of thrust to pull you around quickly but is also dead quiets and able to sneak up up close your target. This is a great option when you want to be completely hands free so you can concentrate on casting up and down a shoreline. All you have to do is set the speed, set the baring, and fish away. When you come across a spot that you want to work a little more, or perhaps you are trying to stand still in a swift current, the anchor lock feature will lock you right in a spot and will stay there all day (or at least until your battery runs out).
Sometimes you will want or need a trolling motor and sometimes you may not. In this case I highly recommend you purchase a quick release trolling motor puck so you can quickly and easily remove the trolling motor. This is especially nice if you are switching between fly fishing and poling and spin tackle fishing on the open flats. For the Minn Kota Terrova, I recommend the PowerDrive quick release plate.
One great product that can really clean up your boat is the Power Pux quick release trolling motor puck. This product makes it really easy to put on and take off your trolling motor depending on what you are doing that day but also removes all the wires that normally would be cluttering up your casting platform. This is especially important if you are fly fishing where you need as clean of a casting platform as possible. To lean more about and purchase the Power Pux, navigate to the manufacturer's website by clicking here.
In this article we recommended a number of products that are what I call must haves for your flats boats. These products are only recommended only after thorough research and review. The below table provides all products recommended in this article in an easy to navigate table. Just click on the links below to purchase from the available online sources.
Read more about flats boats on our site, here.