WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN A POLING SKIFF
When i go to purchase a poling skiff or any other boat i look for a boat that will meet my needs for what I do the most. I fish out of Islamorada in the Florida Keys. This gives me access to basically every flats species in many situations on any given day with clients whose ability ranges from experts to complete beginners.
First of all when I look at a skiff I want a boat that allows me to target the most spooky fish on fly. This means that the hull must be completely silent while the boat is being pushed from the poling platform. When a boat is at rest it should sit close to level and when it is in a fishing situation with an angler on the bow and guide on the poling platform there should be no chines above the waterline or anything else to make noise or hull slap. Pursuing fish on fly usually means they are in shallow water.
Secondly I look for a boat that handles chop well and crosses open water without getting me soaked or beat up. There are no skiffs that have less than a 70 horsepower rating that are designed to do this so you will be looking at a boat in the 17 to 18 foot range.
I like a skiff that gives me the option to fish spinning gear as well. many days the best option is covering water, so for this it is nice to have a trolling motor I can screw on and target fish using plugs and soft plastics. This also gives me the ability to bass fish if I wanted. My skiff also needs to have a good live well, preferably in the centerline of the boat. I like it to have the ability to have a short standpipe to hold a small amount of water when i am running a bubbler to keep shrimp and crabs and and another taller one for more water and larger baits such as pilchards, mullet, pinfish, etc.
Another must is adequate dry storage. With the quality of boats on the market today do not settle for a skiff that does not keep your gear dry in the hatches. This means you need deep gutters and large drains to evacuate water quickly.
Many things on a skiff are completely a matter of choice. Get a good feel for how you want the seating in your skiff, where or if you want a casting platform, and how much gear and accessories you want to carry. If all you carry is a fly rod and a pushpole, a very small skiff is fine. If you like to have tons of gear available along with all the accessories such as trolling motors and powerpoles you will need a larger skiff platform with enough horsepower to carry everything.
Determine the species you wish to target and how you most often fish for them. When buying a skiff everyone pictures themselves fishing tailing bonefish in perfect conditions but many fish in very different situations.
To get the proper skiff you need to determine how much rough water you may encounter and how long of a run you will have to make. For longer rougher runs you will need a v hull that will have a draft of 7-9 inches. For short runs or crossings that will not force you to run through rough seas a flat bottom skiff that will have a 4-6 inch draft will work. In my opinion the horsepower range for an all-around skiff is 70-115 horsepower. This horsepower range will get you a skiff that has a draft of 5 to 10 inches depending on the model and bottom shape. You can go lower if you have very short sheltered runs to very shallow water or higher if you need more speed and spend the majority of your time on a trolling motor.
My final bit of advice would be to find the most versatile skiff possible that allows you to fish your home waters the most efficiently. If you are recreational angler and have the ability to choose the best days to fish, you can buy a very spcialized skiff designed to do one thing very well. But if you are a guide or an angler that fishes reguardless of conditions you will need a skiff that will allow you to be flexible in your approach to fishing (livebait or spinning) but still be deadly when feeding flies to spooky fish in ultra shallow water.