Testing the solo skiff: Punta Rassa, West Florida, 03/16/2013
By Serge Thomas
When I first arrived in the US, I had very little money and could not afford a boat. I thus bought a used Wilderness Systems kayak called the ride. This kayak was one of the first fishing kayak with built in pontoons that allowed me to flyfish the flats the way one would fish from a skiff. Mockery was in the air and no one took me seriously. Heck, even on the flats, flatsboats would not show respect and cut my priority several times. I however have to say that I have been very successful catching fish and especially the big three on the flats of Miami and the Keys.
Mentalities seem to have evolved nowadays. With oil prices on the rise, an economic crisis and, with more conscientious fishermen, fishing kayaks sales are exploding. Kayaks really morphed into different machines with modifications including e.g. a more open cockpit allowing more flat room to stand, the addition of a lean bar, storage for rods, built in pontoons or sponsoons and a seat allowing standing higher above the water. Some of the newest kayaks also now include mounts for an electric or even a small combustion engine. All of these modifications led to additional weight and some kayak brands offer kayaks close to the 120lbs mark. That is a lot of plastic!
So, why not build a kayak on steroids that could be as heavy as these aforementioned new kayak fishing machines, yet, be more stable, seaworthy, built with infused fiberglass/epoxy materials and allow the addition of a 5HP outboard engine?
Such a nanoskiff would offer the paddler an option to better fish as well as extend his range and the boater, a way to be more ecological friendly by lowering its carbon footprint, save some money, yet be able to get to some of his usual fishing spots and to reach very shallow flats. This sounds like a sweet niche that is currently being filled since kayaks went a size up whilst skiffs went a size down.
Three major companies currently offer nanoskiffs and seem to have co-evolved in this area. This interestingly leads to different concepts that are drastically different (the pricing seems to not have adjusted yet too as companies seem to test the market to see what people are willing to pay). By alphabetical order, the ambush”, the Solokiff and the Xfishsup. The Xfishsup is built by a company called rigid boats while the ambush and the solo skiff are built by two reputable regular size skiff makers: Pelican Flats boats and Mitzlaff boat works.
On 03/16/13, Tom Mitzlaff, designer of the Mitzi Skiff line of boats, and the Inshore Power boat 16, made his way to Ft Myers to demo his new skiff, the “solo skiff” on a beach adjacent to the causeway leading to Sanibel.
That day, the weather was less than ideal since a stiff 15-20mph wind was blowing towards the demo beach, the tide was high and a slight wind driven swell was present. Tom has an unmistakable truck which carries the solo skiff on the back of his truck bed using a bed extension. A small trailer is also an option and topping that boat on a car should also be doable using one of these contraptions. I especially like the Rhino Rack T loader paired with a hitch.
The solo skiff could be called a “kayak on steroids” but, as shown by its specs, it really is not. The skiff weighs as much as a Hobie angler pro 14 because of the infused fiberglass/epoxy construction.
The solo skiff is however roomier, more stable, and can reach very decent speeds (at least for me) when coupled with a 3.5 HP short shaft Tohatsu engine or (better) a 5HP Lehr propane powered outboard (as pictured).
The most important point is that this boat is designed differently than a regular skiff. Unlike for the Pelican Ambush, the solo skiff has been modified during its downsizing to accommodate the weights of the angler and of the engine so that everything is kept in balance.
First, the engine is recessed in the hull and thus closer to the center of gravity. A notch in the hull allows the engine to pivot freely when tilted. I found that with this design, no tiller extension was needed and thus adds to the comfort of maneuvering the boat with an outboard motor. The skiff was very responsive and I was able to make relatively sharp turns. The boat feels VERY solid in the chop.
I say relatively because this boat is designed to track straight. The skiff is indeed like being on rails when it is gliding on the water surface. This property is linked to the split tail.
The solo skiff has two long beams that run parallel to the hull and add stiffness to it. The hull is also filled with foam to supply ample amount of floatation.
The ride on choppy sea is not comfortable with the current design since the central hatch/poling platform is also the (unpadded) seat. The boater riding the skiff is thus absorbing all of the wave energy which the skiff transmits directly to the body.
Tom can offer all kinds of cushioning on the hatch since this hatch is very thick and, as such, could accommodate removable a bass boat seat type. Seating on your PFD can also be a minimalist viable option.
When compared to a regular skiff, the solo skiff is logically wet. It is however very dry when compared to a kayak. With such a little free board, I actually thought it would give me a wetter drive. While riding the skiff, not too much water splashed into the cockpit thanks to the gunnels. Water however escapes the cockpit VERY efficiently so there is no need of a bilge pump (and also no plugs!).
Poling this little skiff was an outstanding
experience (look at the grin). Like when powering it, this skiff is on rails when you pole it. I would even argue that the inexperienced “poler” could pole that skiff straight. The transition from the seated position on the central hatch to the standing position in choppy water was not a problem for me since I stand on the highest point of my kayak while poling. Leaning on the pole while transitioning can help “adding a third leg to the stool” also.
However, for the less experienced kayaker, this proved to be a bit perilous. The addition of a lean bar to facilitate this transition would be a welcome addition to this skiff.
Getting back onto the skiff was however not a problem and this asserts the great stability of this boat.
The centrally located hatch is the best place to pole and stand on this skiff because it is conveniently located in the center of gravity. Because of the central location, it was easy to push the boat from all directions, even from the bow. The hull slap was very low. This boat is all about stealth.
Maneuverability with a pole was easier than with a regular size flats boat but kayaks are better in this area. You indeed need to give a good push to make the boat turn. Again, this boat is on rails whilst on the water.
I asked Tom if one could pole from the bow or mount an electric there. This is not recommended as the deck is thin there. I suppose that, at the time of ordering, Tom could reinforce the deck and thus add weight to the boat.
Keep in mind that this is a SOLO skiff and that a second person is normally not an option although there is plenty of floatation to have two average size adults on board. I would argue though that a trolling motor such as an ipilot would be a wicked addition to this boat.
Finally, the solo skiff can go in very skinny water because of its lightness and large volume displacing enough water to allow it to float high. It can go to any places a kayak with a flat bottom could go.
I regret that I could not fish from this boat but I know that Sam Root (saltyshores.com) has done it and he was VERY successful (and quiet about it?). Another review of this boat written a week before this one and made by the very famous John Kumiski has been posted on “the spotted tail”. John asserts the outstanding fishability of the solo skiff in his very good article.
I liked the optional addition of a must have Wang stake out pole conveniently located to stop the boat whilst fishing. When anchored, at this location, the boat does not rotate very fast (as it would with a kayak) and this is enough to make few casts before the boat needs to be repositioned. The addition of rod holder holding the rod at waist level (or a rod holding belt) could be a neat addition to facilitate the transition from poling to casting/fishing.
Bottom line, I found a much better fishing platform than a kayak and still a very ecological option especially when this boat is paired with a propane powered Lehr outboard engine.
I have not paddled the solo skiff, but I assume that this can be done easily. The solo skiff is genuinely engineered is one of kind: there are no other boats like it. It securely occupies a unique niche and the price is right for a well rigged skiff without an engine (MSRP is $2,600 and the current delivery time is ~6-10 weeks).
Good job Tom!