The Skiff

Ryan Veurink
The Skiff

Ask my former college roommates, and they will agree: my frugal (or as they will call it, cheap) nature likely had something to do with it. I'm not even too sure what sparked the fire in me to begin this process, but after eight years of sharing walls in apartment living, moving to a house with garage space was true freedom. Like many who share a passion for the outdoors, I make my living with my hands and enjoy making something from nothing in my spare time. My life in the apartment and lack of aforementioned spare time severely limited my project size.

It was during this transition time in my life that I was introduced to the world of fly fishing. I grew up wade fishing and still love the magical sound of walking a She-Pup during a calm sunrise. However, fly fishing from the deck of a small skiff, also called a micro-skiff, was fairly foreign. A guide friend of mine introduced me to a prototype bare bones lightweight tiller-steered skiff which poled flawlessly. Fortunately, we whacked the redfish those days, and I was introduced to an entire new way of chasing the spotted treasures of Texas. We hunted fish.

My excitement for hunting and fishing merged together as stealth and accuracy were as important as reading the water conditions. I learned that simply shifting your weight on the deck of a boat in six inches of water during your cast is a surefire way to spook skinny water fish! I also learned about letting the fly sink into his strike zone and about keeping the fly moving to make a fish eat. I needed to repeat those days. But as much as I love being poled around all day, I wanted to learn to do this without the daily knowledge and experience a guide brings. I'm grateful to Capt. Scott Sommerlatte for all those lessons learned (the hard way), but I wanted to do this on my own.

I quickly realized a problem. These technical crafts with fancy materials and construction methods sported even fancier price tags. Resting on my frugal nature, I quietly dismissed the idea of affording one of these sleek fish stalkers. I began utilizing kayaks and other shallow water vehicles in an attempt to reproduce those days scorched in my memory. Disappointed by tangled fly lines and limited sight-casting perspective by being too low to the water, I continued the search for an alternative.

Enter the internet and, a Florida-based company dedicated to amateur boat construction of all styles. The lead designer heard the calls of its customers and engineered a shallow water poling skiff for stitch and glue construction. This was it! A home-constructed skiff on my timetable, mixing creative pursuits with outdoors. Kits are available, but I simply wanted plans for a more start-to-finish boat that I could claim as my own. The basic concept calls for marine grade plywood panels that are bent over frames into the proper hull shape and held temporarily together with copper wire or zip-ties. Thickened epoxy fills the gaps to hold the shape and the hull is glassed with biaxial tape and fabric. After the hull is flipped, the inside is glassed to create a composite fiberglass/plywood structure that is lightweight and strong. Internal stringers, frames, and buoyancy form are added below a sole to give internal structure. Decks are added, and finishing work begins.

Like any project, the finish is what you make it. One can achieve a workboat finish with an exposed fiberglass weave, coated with latex porch paint, or alternatively spend hours seeking a yacht-like finish with expensive two-part epoxy-based paint. Similar to block sanding an auto body in preparation for painting, fairing can become a four-letter word. This is the process of ensuring a uniform base with epoxy fillers prior to priming and painting. In the beginning, I had one goal in mind: I wanted a production quality boat. I wanted to be stopped at the boat ramp and asked, Where did you buy that boat? Granted, this was a tall goal given I had only moderate woodworking experience, had never mixed an ounce of epoxy, and had never seen raw fiberglass. I spent more time seeking a quality finish than I did building and glassing the hull. Did I succeed? We'll see next time I go to the ramp!

The learning curve for epoxy, fiberglass, paint, and rigging a boat humbles a person. I threatened to use the chainsaw to make firewood on more than one occasion. Some of the errors were downright comical in hindsight. Amazingly, two parts epoxy resin and one part hardener will never cure no matter how long you wait. From gashing open my knee on a trim tab to having epoxy kickoff and start smoking in my hands, I truly have blood, sweat, and tears invested in the project. However, one thing I know after building from scratch, no matter how bad I messed something up, I could fix it!

Available online resources and the experienced online support from those who had built similar boats led me through my errors. Recently a group of about twenty builders from Texas and other parts of the U.S. met in Port O'Connor to show off their builds and spend a weekend trading tips. Look for this to become an annual event given its initial success.

In the end, I am a realist. I know most who read this will say, No thanks, I'll go buy a boat. I completely understand that this process isn't for everyone. Once I caught the boat building virus, I became consumed with seeing this project through. I'm even considering another build. Although I did save thousands of dollars in comparison to those fancy skiffs, I'm glad I didn't keep track of man-hours required to complete the project. Few things will make you appreciate the work that goes into a quality boat than trying to build one for yourself. My respect for those who make a living in this industry, in this economy, deepened significantly throughout the project. Having the TPWD game warden stick a set of Hull ID Numbers on the transom is a true sense of accomplishment, only matched by sliming the deck of the Mae Dawn with its first redfish.

Happy building!