Vol 7 No. 50 - September 5, 2007

The evolution of tackle: flats boats

Reel Time
An early flats boat from the 60s.

By Rusty Chinnis
sun staff writer

Many of the advancements in today’s saltwater fly tackle, have their roots in the early 60s, when anglers from fishing clubs in Miami and the Keys competed in the Metropolitan South Florida Fishing Tournament (MET). Groups including the Tropical Anglers, the Miami Sport Fishing Club, and the Miami Beach Rod & Reel Club modified existing fly rods, reels and line to handle the rigors of salt, culminating in today’s plethora of tackle. Modern boats and motors as well as accessories such as tilt and trim, push poles and platforms were also advanced by competition between these anglers.

The first dedicated flats boat rolled off an assembly line in 1969. Thirty seven years later, the 2006 boat buyer’s guide lists more than 30 manufacturers. With the help of some of the sport’s living legends, we get a glimpse at a time when fish were plentiful, fly anglers were few and far between and their tackle challenging at best.

Lefty Kreh, Flip Pallot, Stu Apte and Bob Sterns fished in the days when tackle, boats, motors and other gear had to be adapted for the saltwater species they pursued with a fly. They helped propel the transition to today’s modern flats boats and the accessories.

Stu Apte is one of the prime architects of fly fishing in the Keys. While Apte is best know for tarpon, he has been involved with the innovations that led to many of today’s high tech wonders. Apte remembers the first flats boats as plywood flat bottom skiffs called Go Devils. "I think they were called that because they beat the devil out of you when you were running," Apte relates. His first boat, the Mom’s Worry was a home-built plywood boat with two 25-horse Gale engines. His next boat, the Mom’s Worry 2, was a 16-foot Gulfliner that he modified by removing the two cross seats and installing a plywood floor. His deck chairs consisted of two folding garden chairs bolted to the deck. These first boats were poled backwards from the bow while the angler stood in the stern on a tarp that was thrown over the engine and equipment to prevent tangles.

Apte worked with the Fibercraft boat company designing boats and retro-fitted one of their 22-foot boats for tarpon fishing. "The boat had a good ride but was way too big for tarpon fishing, so I removed the transom and blocked it off to reduce the size. That was the only way to get a boat that worked for the kind of fishing we were doing," says Apte.

Flip Pallot remembers poling Go Devils backwards. "These were cheap flat bottom plywood skiffs that we used for reds and bonefish, boats we could afford. I remember when John Emory and I poled backwards, side by side on the bow all the way from Howe Key to Long Key where we were greeted with unbelieving stares from Cecil Keith Sr. and Joe Poor."

Until the late 60s, flats boats were actually hulls from other boats that were modified to get fly anglers to the shallow water species they were seeking. These "one off" boats were created by a vacuum molding process that rendered them "as heavy as the Andrea Dory," according to Pallot. Kreh remembers Pallot showing up with a new boat all the time. "Flip showed up at my door step with what he would herald as the latest and the greatest about every three weeks. I think he changed boats more than he changed his underwear," related Kreh. Pallot and other club anglers were constantly experimenting with available boat hulls. "I would strip the Semi-V planning hulls to the fiberglass and then build them back up with fiberglass and balsa wood," Pallot remembers.

It wasn’t until 1969 that the first flats boat was designed with the fly fisherman and shallow water angler in mind.

Next week: A revolutionary design


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