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!
Optics play an important role in the game of sight fishing. In this game, if you can’t see the fish, you are not catching them, whether you are searching for green or pink backed laid up poons in dark Everglades water or the slight blue off the fin of a pale white redfish in the sandy bottoms of the Islamorada flats. Picking up on these slight signs of life make the difference between getting your shot or blowing it. Having the best lens on the market has always been my top priority. Without bringing in names of other brands, I have tried every amber/copper based polarized lens on the market and I seem to settle for one until I find a better one on the next round.
During the Salty Fly in Tampa this year, I was able to pick up a pair of RCI Optics Monster Hole frames with the Copper based Sunrise Gold Mirror Lens shades. It became evident that they cut through the glare and repelled water very well. The lenses had just the right amount of contrast and did not over-contrast. While bonefishing, the first thing I noticed when comparing side by side with my old preferred lens was that the RCI lenses cut through that white glary stuff much better… I would say at least 30% better. This made all the difference in the world during one of my last bonefish missions where white clouds dusted the horizon. The frames I preferred was the “Monster Hole”, conveniently named after a popular surf spot. They fit my wider asian face very well and temples remained very comfortable around the tops of my ears during and after a day of fishing. Needless to say, I was very impressed and have now made the switch.
The Techy geeky stuff…
“Made in Italy” speaks for the great quality of the frames. The frames are extremely durable and light weight. The lenses are made of a material six times harder then poly lenses and pass the ANSI Z78 rating (I think this is where they shoot the lens at point blank with a low caliber round). Together, these components make for what I feel are the best fishing shades I have ever fished.
For more info visit http://rcioptics.com or give the guys at Shady Characters Sunglass Emporium a shout at 321-953-9875.
Who can forget the productiveness of the venerable white bucktail jig? Somehow towards the end of last year, I got into the mood of tying bucktail jigs so nights after fishing trips were spent clipping hair that smells of deer ass and tying it onto a jighead. I had almost forgotten how versatile they can be… for deeper water, plane jane fast sinking bucktails and for shallower water, you can adjust sink rate by tying on bushier bucktail, or even sweeten the jig with a curly grub tail or shad tail from DOA Lures.
During some of the cooler days this winter, we traded a pushpole for a trolling motor remote and took to the backcountry of the glades looking for snook and redfish taking refuge from the cold. Cooler AMs had the redfish and snook stacked up in some of the deeper holes and as the sun came up, we spent our time atop a Yeti cooler on some of the shallower mud banks sight fishing redfish and snook that would cruise along jumping from pothole to pothole.
The backcountry of the Everglades can be summed up by this lethal beauty…
I posted some information about a local company building a fishing specific standup paddle board last week here on Saltyshores and Facebook. It got some pretty big interest from the local fishing community interested in the vessel.
As many of you know, I do not like talking about products from reading press release. This last Friday though it was blowing 25mph and cold I wanted to take some photos and take the boat for paddle. The original plan was to actually fish for a couple hours but that wasn’t going to happen with the conditions we had.
Cayo SUP and Boatworks is based out of Pinellas Park Florida. Though they have plans for building other models the current one is a 13′ fishing specific sup. When I say fishing specific I do not mean a sup that some one stick a rod holder on and call it their “fishing model”. This is a new mold design from the group up to fish out of.
Some of the features that makes this a fishing sup. The boat is built with wide and stable. It is stable enough where you will feel comfortable fly fishing from. It has built in toe rails to keep fly line and any gear you might have laying around on the deck of the sup. Many sup out there has a rounded deck. This is great for shedding water but if you’re fishing anything you have laying will eventually roll off the board especially in not so calm waters.
The toe rail goes pretty much all the way back of the board. The back then opens up allow for water to drain away. At the ends and one slot in the middle, the boards has carrying handles. Speaking of carrying, at about 45lbs one person can carry the sup.
The front of the boat has a sharp boat like v entry. This cuts through waves and allows it to be quiet as possible when on the skinny water. Many of the current sup are a surf board like entry which can be very noisy. In the surf industry it doesn’t matter but when in skinny water approaching spooky fish it definitely matters.
The bottom of the board has 2 strakes in the back to help the sup paddling straight. There is also an optional keel system in the back as well if you need it.
The sup is hand laid fiber glass and comes in a multitude of colors and configurations. You can pick the deck one color and the hull another, just like you can a skiff.
The based model is price at about $1300 which is quite competitive for semi-custom board, especially ones handmade right here in the USA.
If you are into fishing out of SUP it’s definitely worth a look into especially if you are in the Tampa area.
Here is the more subjective opinion stuff:
Fish ability and stability is excellent for a stand up paddle board. Weight at about 45lb is good but I would like to see it lighter. They tell me a Kevlar one is in the works.
Priced at $1300 for custom sup board is great. Fit and finish is average to good, but considering the price point it is not bad at all. It is better than some skiffs I’ve been on.
By now you have prolly heard of the new fly rod company, Clutch Fly Rods. This company was started by fishermen. They make these rods right here in the good ole USA!!
I had the privilege to get my chubby lil hands on one before they went to market. I took it out of the box, slapped my reel on it, walked out my front door to test it out. This rod is amazing, it’s light, fast, and extremely accurate. It takes little or no effort to make beautiful cast.
The next day I decided to water test it. We took it to the marsh, where we encountered many hungry redfish. It was a nice day, clear sky’s, with 10 knot winds. The wind was no issue, the rod punched large flys with no issues.
My largest fish of the day landed was a 15 pound red with an attitude, it turned the charging fish with no problem.
For more information you can contact
CLUTCH fly rods by email email@example.com
I made a decision earlier this year to take time off from guiding starting this Fall. I set forth to rediscover the feeling of being the dude on the bow of the skiff facing a great technical fishery right at my doorstep. Of coarse, this can only be possible with an alternative source of income as I am no trustafarian. This past summer was all all about calm windless days, waving flags, and lots of copper. The days spent on the water this Fall amongst friends was set in the Everglades and upper end of the Florida Keys, primarily focusing on silver-clad gamefish.
The shameless plug this time goes to Maverick Boat Company. My first ride in a new Mirage 18 HPX-V was back in 2009 and from there-on, I knew this was to be my next skiff. I sold my 17 Mirage HPX-V shortly after that demo ride and have been fishing in my 18 HPX-V for the last couple of years. For my style of fishing, the 18 Mirage was just the work horse technical fishing platform I needed. A Mercury 115 Optimax ProXs found it’s way on my transom this past year, replacing the 90 horsepower Yamaha I had originally hung on the skiff. This set-up is perfect, achieving fuel efficient 40mph cruise speeds and top speeds in the low to mid 50s. The extra 6lbs on the transom was negligible taking into account the extra speed gained from the motor swap. Recent fishing trips and tournament days have really pushed the limits of this great skiff… traveling over 100 miles a day, covering lots of water, getting there at just the right tide, and remaining stealthy once arriving at the stalking grounds. Kudos to Maverick as all performance expectations were exceeded. It is almost time for a new skiff soon and I may actually have an itch for something a little bit different. Though the idea a new skiff is tempting, it is difficult to not to fish another season out of my 18 Mirage. I guess time will tell…
It has been a very short and violent spring this year. The harsh weather we experienced didn’t allow for many epic tarpon fishing days that were anything close to what we’ve experienced in the past 2 years. It wasn’t all that bad as we got the warm weather early and experienced some of the great summer time redfishing and bonefishing available to us. So I spent fewer days tarpon fishing this year and more days chasing the alternative from testing new DOA (http://www.doalures.com) colors on redfish to throwing old reliable at big gator trout, to chucking flies bonefish, and pitching crabs at permit.
Pictured below, DOA Lures has released a new color known as blood worm in the shrimp, CAL Jerkshad, and CAL shad tail. This has been a very effective color used in clear or darkly tanned water. The blood worm shad tails should prove to be a regular in my tackle bag.
Upon returning from my week over at ICAST 2012 in Orlando, there is a lot to catch up on and some new gear to put through the rigors.