Flats fishermen, light-tackle casters, and backcountry anglers all need shallow water boats to fish from, and choosing among the many flats boats and bay boats out there to find the best boat for your needs can be a tough call. That’s always been true but never more so than in 2023, as a healthy fleet of hot new fishing boats have hit the market. If you’re looking to find a new shallow water fishing machine, consider these top 10 picks.
Best Flats Boats In 2023
Flats boats generally feature absolute minimal draft, forward and aft casting decks, and one or more forms of stealthy propulsion like poling abilities or a bow-mounted electric trolling motor. Some are a bit stockier than others, but while size and weight make for more range and rough-water abilities, they also result in deeper draft and tougher poling. The smallest, lightest versions (often called flats skiffs) can float in water that’s just ankle-deep, but may take a pounding or soak the crew when run across open waters on choppy days. Thanks to these traits, flats boats tend to be better than any other choice for fishing the skinniest of waters — but they aren’t incredibly versatile, and tend to be highly specialized boats.
2023 Hewes 21 Redfisher
Designed to make the grade for backcountry and inshore duty, the Hewes 21 Redfisher is a classic shallow water fishing boat that splits the difference between accessibility to the shallows and capability in bigger open waters. Hewes redesigned and reintroduced this model last year, so it has several modern improvements. The boat is now built with Hewes’ VARIS vacuum-assisted resin infusion system, carries a whopping 350-hp power rating, and has no problem getting well north of 60-mph and cruising at speeds in the mid- to upper-40s. While its 14-inch draft means this won’t be the choice of die-hard flats fishermen, it can still prowl exceptionally shallow waters and has the capability to handle open bays far better than most shoal-draft fishing machines. Note that the 21 Redfisher is also unusual in its ability to handle up to six people aboard, while many boats designed for use in the shallows have maximum passenger ratings of just three or four people.
See Hewes 21 Redfisher boats for sale on BoatTrader.
2023 Maverick 18 HPX-V
Favored by countless guides, the Maverick 18 HPX-V offers incredible stability and drafts just nine inches with a Yamaha F150 outboard. And with that powerplant on the transom, you’re looking at top-end speeds just a hair over 61-mph and a cruise in the upper-40s, while enjoying spectacular efficiency — running at around 48-mph the boat gets better than 5.6 mpg. The 18 HPX-V is also highly customizable to fit the way you fish, with options like an offset console mounting; poling platforms with or without lean bars, cushions, rod holders, and footrests; Power Poles and electric trolling motors; push-pole caddies; and even tender lifting gear so it can be hauled aboard your sportfishing yacht.
See Maverick 18 HPX-V boats for sale on BoatTrader.
2023 Mitzi Skiffs 17 Tournament
The Mitzi Skiffs 17 Tournament is Mitzi Skiffs top-of-line offering, and although it’s a small boat it packs a powerful punch. 2023 models have an added release well in the stern, additional fuel capacity, a console rodrack, and a three-piece cushion set added to the standard Mitzi 17, along with all the options that model offers. Hull weight is a mere 530 pounds, and with a pair of anglers aboard and average load it’ll float in just seven inches of water. Note that the Mitzi 17 Tournament is also built with an eye towards fly anglers, and has fly rod tubes under the gunwales that can handle up to six 9.5′ fly rods.
See Mitzi Skiffs 17 Tournament boats for sale on BoatTrader.
2023 Yellowfin 17 Skiff and 17 CE
The Yellowfin 17 skiff is a rare flats skiff in that it’s available in standard 17 Skiff form, but can also be had in the 17 CE version which rides on a stepped hull. They’re built with vinyl ester resin infusion, wrapped with Kevlar, and made with carbon fiber, which makes the Yellowfin one of the lightest flats skiffs around (at 600 pounds) which requires the least amount of static draft (six inches for the standard model and seven inches for the CE). This is another boat which can be outfitted to suit an individual angler’s taste, with accessories ranging from poling platforms, to livewells, to Power Poles and electric trolling motors.
See Yellowfin 17 Skiff boats for sale on Boat Trader.
Bay Boats generally require slightly deeper water than flats boats, but can still sneak into the shallows and effectively fish in water a foot and a half to two feet deep. Most are designed to be able to run across open bays even when there’s a chop and some of the larger versions are perfectly capable of shooting through an inlet and fishing in the open ocean when the weather is appropriate. Anglers who enjoy a wide variety of fishing styles and settings including but also beyond shallow waters often opt for a bay boat.
2023 Caymas 281 HB Bay Boat
At 27’7” long and 9’4” wide the Caymas 281 HB is a huge platform among bay boats and qualifies as a “hybrid” bay boat intended for both inshore and offshore use. Most other bay models are either smaller or much smaller, yet the 281 HB still needs just 16 inches of water to float. True, it will seem huge in tight backcountry cuts and creeks, but it’s also shockingly competent when it comes to taking on big seas and if you get one rigged with outriggers and an upper station, running far offshore in search of pelagics is completely reasonable. And as one of the few shallow water boats with twin engines, it delivers the confidence that comes with running to blue water with redundant powerplants on the transom. Another high point in this case is the hull design, which is double-stepped (the SVVT created by designer Michael Peters), and offers speed and efficiency boosts of around 15-percent. Rigged with a mx power this is a 70-mph-plus fishing machine.
See Caymas 281 HB boats for sale on BoatTrader.
2023 Contender 26 Bay
Contender Boats is best known for their line of large deep-V center consoles, but in past years they’ve also offered the 25 Bay. For 2023 that model gets swapped out for the new 26 Bay. With 26′ 0″ LOA and a transom deadrise of 15.5 degrees minimum draft remains just 12 inches, so it’s better than most bay boats at making its way through the shallows. It also boasts a long list of standard fishing features including a new 70-gallon insulated fishbox, 40- and 12-gallon livewells, a 70-quart cooler, fore and aft casting decks, and rodholders in the gunwales, console, and leaning post. With flip-up aft jump seats plus console and bow seats, the Contender 26 also has more seating than most bay boats of the same size.
See Contender 26 Bay boats for sale on BoatTrader.
2023 Pathfinder 2200 TRS
The TRS line from Pathfinder Boats is designed to please anglers who often have the entire family aboard, or those who may want to enjoy un-fishy activities like cruises or watersports now and again. To that end, it’s designed with a larger cockpit than may bay boats, seating both forward and aft, and “Dutch door” console compartment access. The boat can also be had with niceties like a stereo system, a freshwater system, and additional cushions. It’s still 100-percent rigged to fish, however, including perks like locking rodboxes, flush-mount and console rodholders, and a 28-gallon aft livewell that can be complemented with optional additional release well.
See Pathfinder 2200 TRS boats for sale on BoatTrader.
2023 Sportsman Masters 267OE
The Sportsman Masters 267OE is another seriously beefy bay boat from Sportsman Boats that’s intended to split the difference between shallow water accessibility and big water capabilities. Despite a 26’7” length, 9’2” beam, and 4,600 pounds of displacement, it can still float in a mere 15 inches of water. The 16-degree deadrise hull and flared bow, however, deliver a surprisingly smooth, dry ride in tough conditions. The really unique thing about this model is to be found in the bow. The forward console seat extends into a full-blown lounger which houses a 67.5-gallon coffin box — a feature commonly found only on much larger, offshore-oriented fishing machines. The 267 recieved an update for the 2023 model year and was reintroduced as a new boat, with major improvements in the hard top and enclosure.
See Sportsman Masters 267OE boats for sale on BoatTrader.
Other Shallow Water Boats
Many anglers out there have desires and uses for their boats that go well beyond just fishing on the flats or in the shallows, yet they still want to do these things when the mood strikes. And for them, there are some different options that may prove attractive.
2023 Nitro Z19 Sport
A hybrid between a bass boat and a dual-console boat, the Nitro Z19 Sport has a 16-degree variable deadrise hull that needs just 15 inches of water to float. It comes rigged from the factory with a Minn Kota electric trolling motor, a Lowrance fishfinder, and a custom-matched trailer, so the turn-key package is ready for action the moment you sign on the dotted line. While hybrid-style boats like this may not be ideal for certain specific fishing situations, they do offer the most flexibility possible and you can use a Nitro Z19 Sport for everything from competitive bass tournaments, to sight-casting for redfish, to taking the kids wakeboarding. For 2023 the model is improved with a new onboard battery charger and a jump starter backup pack plus a 5″ digital touchscreen at the helm.
See Nitro Z19 Sport boats for sale on BoatTrader.
2023 Sylvan L3 Party Fish
Most people won’t immediately associate a pontoon boat with shallow water fishing, but models like the Sylvan L3 Party Fish can get into water just a hair over a foot deep. Plus, triple-log pontoons like this can be amazingly seaworthy. And this one’s decked out to fish and fish hard with a livewell, rodholders, fishing seats, tackle stowage, and even optional shallow water pole anchors. Of course, it also has all those things people love about party barges, from comfy sofas and cocktail tables to a booming Jensen stereo system.
See Sylvan L3 Party Fish boats for sale on BoatTrader.
For more information on flats boats in specific, see Flats Boats Overview: Shallow Saltwater Fishing Machines.
This article was updated on 4/4/2023.