Thursday, June 25, 2009

Stuff I Like: Beavertail Skiffs

The perfect flats boat doesn’t exist but Beavertail skiffs, a small company based right here in Southwest Florida, has come closer to building it than any manufacturer yet with their newest model, the BT3. 
Beavertail actually started out in Minnesota of all places, building waterfowl boats before jumping into the saltwater flats fishing market.  I’ve been a big fan of these skiffs for several years.  I bought one of their Minnesota built B2 models in 2007 and considered it the best possible rig for the type of shallow water fishing that I prefer.  Even after more than 600 charters I had no intention of giving that boat up for something new. 
In early 2010 an entirely new hull was introduced called the Vengeance and designed with the help of Cape Coral’s own Marine Concepts.  It was a huge leap forward from the original B2 and really got my attention. 
Early last year the company was bought by Aeon Marine of Palmetto, FL, and its new owners Will and Elizabeth Leslie moved the Beavertail production to the same plant where their popular Aeon 23 inshore/offshore boats are built.  The Vengeance was a hit and its BT3 sister ship joined the lineup a short time later. 
Both boats have identical hulls but different cockpit and deck layouts.  The Vengeance is a do-it-all type of flats boat featuring a big casting deck, a center console with cooler, and three livewells, including a huge 35 gallon release well.  Since most of my anglers fly fish I chose the lighter BT3 which features a slightly wider deck and has a single, smaller bait well.  It also has more cockpit space and could be rigged with a side steering console, something I’ve really learned to appreciate on a flats boat.
My choice of outboard was a no-brainer.  My previous Beavertail B2 had a Yamaha 50 hp 2-stroke that gave me 850 hours of flawless operation.  It was the first engine I’ve owned in 15 years of guiding that never had a single mechanical issue, so Yamaha has more than earned my loyalty.  Both Beavertails are rated for 60 to 115 horsepower and I chose Yamaha’s new 70 hp 4-stroke to hang on the back of my BT3.  This was the only outboard I considered since it gave me the most performance in the lightest package.  I mainly wanted to cruise at 30 mph with this new boat and the top speed was not all that important to me.  The fuel economy with this engine is just under 3 gallons per hour and it’s so quiet at idle that you forget it’s still running. 
The best feature of all about the Beavertails is their ride.  The BT3 is easily the driest running flats boat I’ve ever seen, and I’ve fished on almost every skiff out there over the last 20 years.  The flared bow and integrated spray rails actually make it difficult to get wet, even when running side-sea to a 15 knot chop.  Getting hit with spray has always been one of my biggest pet peeves, even in the summer when the water is 85 degrees, and the BT3 has completely eliminated this annoyance from my life.  That alone has me completely in love with this boat. 
Fishing out of the BT3 is a blast.  With its 650 pound hull and 7 inch draft, poling it all day with two anglers on the bow is effortless.  It floats dead silent and can creep up so close to a tailing redfish that you can hit them with your rod tip.  Its 82 inch beam also makes it a remarkably stable platform and eliminates all the tippiness of the older B2.  There are some compromises of course, and with the BT3 it’s the bait well.  The rectangular 10 gallon tank on my boat is way too small to hold several hundred pilchards so chumming the bushes with live bait is out of the question.  If that’s the type of fishing you need to do then the Vengeance is your best choice. 
Finally, there’s the price.  Considering their performance and quality of construction, Beavertails are in same category as the boats produced by Maverick or Hell’s Bay, the two most popular brands for years among the majority of guides in Florida.  A fully loaded 18 foot model from either of those companies can easily hit the $50,000 mark.  That’s a stunning price tag for a stunning boat, but Maverick and Hell’s Bay have worked hard to perfect their product and earn their customer’s loyalties.  At the same time, a loaded Beavertail will roll out of the factory for at least $15,000 less with no compromises made when compared to its competition.
And just in case you’re wondering, Beavertail does not offer a price reduction for licensed guides like myself.  While I got a bit of a price break from Yamaha for my outboard, I paid the same amount for my hull as any other customer ordering a new BT3.  A few manufactures quietly give huge incentives to some guides, allowing them to resell their boats after a year or two for more than they originally paid.  It might be good marketing but it can hurt the resale value of the same boats sold to recreational anglers.  Keeping their prices the same for everyone is the main reason that Beavertails hold their value so well.  I actually sold my four year old B2 just three months ago for 80% of what I originally paid for it. 
There are so many great flats boats out there right now and the vast majority of them are built here in Florida.  The advances made in the last decade have produced some amazing hulls and if you’re in the market my advice is to go test drive everything.  The new BT3 is not the fastest running or shallowest floating skiff available, but as a complete package, I never considered anything else.  When it comes time test drive a Beavertail, just give me a call, especially on a windy and choppy afternoon.