The cult of flats fishing has many commandments, two of the most important being “float shallow” and “don’t spook the fish.” The Chittum Islamorada 18 looks to do that like no other skiff around.
“We solved many of the problems that a flats skiff typically has,” said Hal Chittum, a former fishing guide in the Keys and the company founder. This style of boat originated in the 1950’s, when the legendary fly angler Lefty Kreh took a boatbuilder named Bob Hewes fishing for bonefish. Inspired, Hewes designed and built the first modern flats skiff. All of today’s flats skiffs have evolved from the original Hewes Bonefisher, featuring light displacements, shallow drafts, minimal freeboard, wide decks, and as small a deadrise at the transom as possible.
Every flats boat ever built is a compromise; to get shallow you have to sacrifice rough-water ability. Most are wet and tend to bounce and pound in a chop. This is one major issue Chittum tried to address. A second is reducing weight. And, of course, there’s stealthiness.
Chittum had already helped spur major breakthroughs in flats boatbuilding in the 1990s with Hell’s Bay Boatworks, developing boats that floated in less than six inches of water and weighed fewer than 600 pounds. Maverick Boats (which also owns Hewes), also put out a lightweight technical poling skiff, the HPX. When Chittum sold his stake in Hell’s Bay, he started plans to build his latest vision of a flats skiff.
“We spent two and a half years developing and refining this design,” said Chittum. “We spent a lot of time tank testing to get the hull right.”
Using new construction techniques–including E-Glass, S-Glass, Kevlar, carbon fiber, vacuum bagging, and cutting edge epoxies–Chittum’s crew brought the weight of the boat down to 400 pounds pre-rigged. While a typical flats boat has a 13-degree deadrise, the 18’ Islamorada measures at a 12-degree angle at the transom. The light weight and flat running surface give it a draft of 5.75 inches.
To address the wet ride issue, Chittum played with the spray rails and forward V. While no flats boat will ever be mistaken for a Contender or Regulator in terms of ride, the Islamorada 18 looks to be dry by skiff standards.
Perhaps the biggest problem in flats fishing that Chittum addressed is making a quiet boat. Sound carries five times faster in water and any ripple reflected off the boat as it moves will alert already wary fish. Modern boats from Hell’s Bay, Maverick, and other custom builders addressed the age-old problem of hull slap. Most have gasketed hatches to prevent slamming during opening and closing; some builders even use gas-assisted struts to prevent it. But the Islamorada 18 looks to defeat a different issue of “quiet,” the boat’s bow pressure wave. Under power, flats boats are planing hulls. But on the flats, when the boat is being poled, it acts as a displacement hull, pushing water. That displaced water creates a pressure wave that can notify fish, already vulnerable and on high alert in skinny water, of the boat’s presence. A skiff can get only so close before a fish can feel its presence through its lateral line, even if it doesn’t see it. Chittum claims his design substantially reduces that pressure wave by pushing it to the side and aft, allowing anglers to get closer to the fish they stalk. A few top-level guides in the Florida Keys who have fished the Islamorada 18 back this claim.
Paired with a 70 hp four-stroke outboard, the Islamorada 18 can hit speeds over 43 mph. With its 15-gallon fuel tank, it has a range of around 150 miles. The main caveat: the price for this boat is in the $60,000 range, so you have to really, really, really, like flats fishing to buy one.
Photos courtesy Capt. John Kipp.
Pete McDonald is a contributing editor to Power & Motoryacht. Previously, he spent 11 years on the editorial staff of Boating. He has won multiple writing awards and holds a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.