Of all the different types of fishing boats, few are as popular as skiffs. Few are as diverse, too, considering that there are all sorts of skiffs ranging from the diminutive two-man mini skiff to models large enough to hold a half-dozen anglers. Some models are as simple and utilitarian as a boat can be, while others are highly specialized for specific missions. The bottom line? Whatever you enjoy fishing for and whatever tactics you enjoy employing, there’s probably a skiff that would suit you, personally.
What Is a Skiff Boat?
First let’s nail the definition of just what a skiff is, because the term means different things to different people. At its core, a skiff is a relatively small, simple, open boat. There are center console boats, tiller-steer boats, side console boats, and still more designs that can be subcategorized further yet still fit the basic definition of a skiff. Then there are flats skiffs, which are another subcategory of skiffs (usually built with poling platforms and lots of elevated casting deck space but little cockpit space) that are designed for the very specific purpose of fishing southern flats for species like bonefish and reds. There are also crabbing skiffs, freshwater fishing skiffs, and even sailing skiffs — if it’s relatively small and open, a boat can accurately be called a skiff. Even a rowboat counts.
Most skiffs, though certainly not all, are powered by outboard motors. And while there are outliers, as a general rule of thumb most will be under 20 feet long with the 15- to 17-foot range a good average. They tend to have few amenities beyond seating, and as a result most are fairly light, relatively affordable, and require less maintenance than many other types of boats.
So, which are the best skiff boat brands? Truth be told, talk to almost anyone who owns a skiff of any brand and they’re likely to tell you they love it. That said, we’ve dug through the options to nail down a few top contenders for you in several different popular categories.
Best Skiff Boats for the Money
Though skiffs tend to cost less than many other types of boats, some offer more bang for the buck than others. The ones we call out here may not be the cheapest on the market, but they most certainly deliver a lot for the dollar and any of them could easily be called the best skiff for the money.
Mako Pro Skiffs
Mako Boats makes a line of fishing skiffs including four models from 13’6” to 19’4”. Pricing ranges from around $18,000 to $45,000, which represents a solid bargain because these are all sold in fully outfitted packages including the outboard engine and a trailer. All you need to do to go fishing is add fuel to the tank and head for the boat ramp. They’re also rigged with a number of perks many skiffs can’t offer, like fishing rod holders, raised casting decks, USCG navigation lights, and on all models except the smallest, livewells and coolers. Note that one of the biggest downsides to running a skiff is that many have flat or nearly flat bottoms and they may take a pounding in a chop. The Mako Pro Skiffs combat this trait by utilizing what they call an Advanced Inverted V (AIV) hullform. At the bow it looks similar to a tri-hull, but the bottom tapers upwards moving aft to form an almost powercat-like tunnel area. We’ve spent time on several of these models and feel that it does help mitigate the chop significantly while still maintaining excellent stability.
Photo credit: Mako
Veer is a new brand that just showed up in 2023, with a single model, 13’ long, 4’ wide. It comes in a boat-motor-trailer package and can be powered by either a gasoline outboard or Mercury’s new Avator electric outboard. The MSRP at launch was under $12,000, which is awfully tough to beat for a complete new boat package in this day and age. The Veer is a mini skiff and is limited to two passengers, but its most unusual trait is the construction. This is a rotomolded polyethylene, foam-filled boat, decked in MarineMat foam padding. It comes well-equipped including fishing rod racks, in-deck stowage compartments, integrated cupholders, and an aft bench seat.
Photo credit: Veer
While most people would term the Tracker Grizzly lineup as Jon boats, and that’s certainly accurate, they also count as skiffs. Constructed of aluminum, 16’ and 17’ models are sold in hull-only form and start at under $5,500. Larger 18’ and 20’ models come in boat-motor-trailer packages and start at under $25,000. These are very simple, straightforward boats with a slight V in the hull (seven degrees of deadrise) and since they’re aluminum they’re very light (the 16-footer is just 640 pounds). That makes them easy to launch, load, and tow.
Photo credit: Tracker Boats
Best Skiff Boats for Rough Water
One of the downsides to owning a skiff is that due to size and commonly flat hullforms, many are bumpy and wet in choppy seas. Some are rather bumpy and wet even when it’s calm out. There are a few, however, that make a run at being the best skiff for rough water use.
Boston Whaler is certainly not the first manufacturer to come to mind when you’re talking about skiffs, but they have at least three models (the 130 Super Sport, 160 Super Sport, and 15 Montauk) which fit the basic definition. With hulls sporting 13-, 15-, and 20-degrees, respectively, they’re able to handle waves significantly better than the average skiff. These could also qualify as the safest skiff boats around, since the hull and deck sandwich closed-cell foam—making them completely unsinkable. We must note, however, that these are also among the most expensive boats you’ll run across that one could categorize as skiffs.
Photo credit: Boston Whaler
The C-Hawk 16 Tiller, an extremely simple skiff with no standard amenities beyond bench seats, cleats, navigation lights, and a pair of rod holders, features a tri-hull entry with a deep center V and 10 degrees of transom deadrise. The combination works very well, and we’ve been on this model for several rides through choppy waters while running in the 16- to 18-mph range. Every time, we’re thoroughly impressed. C-Hawk is not a huge builder and this is probably the model they make fewest of so you won’t see many of these on the market, but if you’re looking for a simple and inexpensive skiff that handles waves shockingly well and you see one of these, snap it up.
Photo credit: C-Hawk
Coastal Skiffs makes a range of boats from 17’1” to 27’1, and it’s the Coastal 271 that stands out when we’re looking to find the best skiff for rough water. As a matter of sheer size and mass, this exceptionally large skiff can handle rougher water than most can manage. A V at the bow tapering flat as you move aft helps it split open larger waves, but even more importantly, it tips the scales at 2,400 pounds and has the beef to shove waves around, rather than being shoved. Note also that the Coastal 271 can hold a whopping 12 people, well beyond the average skiff’s capacity, and will handle 200 horses on the transom.
Photo credit: Coastal
Best Fishing Skiff Boats
Virtually all skiffs are good for fishing, but some are better than others. The best fishing skiffs provide a full complement of integrated angling features, and in the case of those listed here, also offer the ability to semi-customize to your way of fishing.
This builder produces a wide range of skiffs from 16’2” to 26’0”. They’re exceedingly well equipped for fishing, with features like rod holders, livewells, and integrated fishboxes. They also include plenty of extras (like diamond-stitched upholstery, telescopic ladders, and colored gel coats). These are fully-linered boats (unlike the Carolina Skiffs of yesteryear) so the fit and finish is a cut above what you’ll see on many skiffs. Plus, you can have them outfitted with goodies like Bimini tops and electric trolling motors. Yes, that complexity, attention to detail, and customization means these boats do cost a bit more than some other skiffs. But for an angler who wants it all, Carolina Skiff delivers. Added bonus: with a semi-V entry and flat aft end, these boats maintain minimal hull draft so you can cast in the skinniest of waters. The 162 needs a mere six inches to float, and even on the 26-footer draft is just eight inches.
Photo credit: Carolina Skiff
The Sundance line isn’t huge, comprised of just four models in 20- and 22-foot lengths. However, these are fishing machines through and through. Forward and rear casting decks are integrated into the gunwale cap, rod holders and livewells come standard, and the boats are pre-wired for a bow-mount electric trolling motor. Note that these skiffs can also get you to the hotspots faster than you might expect, with speeds in the 40-plus mph range possible when appropriately powered.
Photo credit: Sundance
Best Flats Skiff Boats
Flats skiffs are a breed apart. There are many different types of small boats and many stand out from the crowd, but these are designed to perform at the top of the class, move stealthily through skinny water, and provide flats anglers with a leg up on the competition. Which are the very best flats skiffs? Here are some hands-down winners.
Hewes offers just three models, the Redfisher 16, Redfisher 18, and Redfisher 20. These boats are built with the VARIS vacuum-assisted resin-infusion system, minimizing weight while maximizing strength. Net result? You can blast off to the fishing grounds at eye-watering speeds. The Redfisher 20, for example, can exceed 60-mph rigged with a single Yamaha F300. And once you get where you’re going you’ll enjoy huge casting decks, lighted livewells, and multiple rod racks.
Photo credit: Hewes Boats
Maverick also builds a limited line, with a pair of 17-footers and an 18-foot model in the lineup. All are available with flats=fishing accouterments like poling platforms, casting platforms, push-pole holders, trolling motor wiring, release wells, and lean-bars. In a nod to fly anglers, these boats have all their hardware flush-mounted to minimize snags.
Photo credit: Maverick Boats
Best Micro Skiff Boats
Micro Skiffs are small flats skiffs designed for just two anglers. A mini skiff like this can float in ankle-deep water and is easy to pole all day long without tiring out.
Beavertail skiffs builds a range of flats skiffs including the 16 Micro. This boat draws a mere five inches (engine up), weighs only 400 pounds, and requires just 30 horsepower. Available in both side console and tiller-steer versions, this is a vacuum-infused vinylester boat that is highly customizable. The options of interest to anglers cover all the bases, ranging from flyline toerails to LED lighting on the poling platform.
Photo credit: Beavertail Skiffs
Hells Bay builds a number of flats boats and at 17’8” the Glades Skiff is long enough you might think it doesn’t count as a micro—but it makes up for it with a svelte 4’ 10” beam, a four-inch hull draft, and a mere 440-pounds of displacement. This long but skinny micro skiff runs with 30 horses and is designed to squeeze into the tight backcountry waterways other boats dare not tread. Construction is uber-high-tech, with a carbon-Innegra hull vacuum infused over Core Cell.
If you enjoy fishing alone the Solo Skiff might be your idea of the best micro skiff on the water today. This 14’5” 150-pounder is a single-person vessel, rotomolded out of high-density polyethylene. A six-horsepower outboard will take you to speeds of over 15 mph, minimum draft is a record-setting three inches, and it will fit in the back of a full-sized pickup truck. As one might expect there are few frills on this boat, but it does have an integrated cooler, a dry stowage box that doubles as a seat, and grab handles fore and aft.
Photo credit: Solo Skiffs
Okay: have you seen the skiff that’s ideal for you? Or is more searching in store? Either way, click right on over and see some skiff boats for sale right now. Because if you haven’t yet figured out the best small skiff boats for your needs, the only way to nail it down is to keep looking at more and more options.
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