When Steve LeVine first saw the Flatstalker, he knew he would never fish out of a kayak or flats boat again. "It was light, portable and could literally float in 2 inches of water," the owner of Largo's Watersports West said. "I knew with the way gas prices were going, people would want a fishing boat that they could fill up for 10 cents and use all day." When LeVine talks about putting fuel in his "micro skiff," he isn't talking about gasoline. "You just plug it into the wall, let it charge overnight and you are ready to go," he said.
LeVine, 50, is one of the Tampa Bay area's true watersports pioneers. In his 21 years at the Tackle Shack in Pinellas Park, he introduced thousands of people to boardsailing and wakeboarding.
Since 2001, when he opened his own shop on Walsingham Road, he has been a trailblazer in the fast-growing sport of kitesurfing.
"We have a lot of interesting people come in the shop," LeVine said. "They travel and see lots of different things, and that is how we stay on top of what is new and hot."
So when a customer who had just been to Texas stopped by and told him about a new micro skiff that was unlike anything else on the market, LeVine had to see for himself.
Boat or surfboard?
At first glance, the Flatstalker looks like a glorified surfboard. But the 61/2-inch thick, Roto molded, foam-filled polyethylene craft is surprisingly stable.
The secret is the unique "suction hull" design. Roll a Flatstalker over and you'll see scalloped indentations on the bottom that act as suction cups along the edges that keep the craft stable.
The hull configuration and a 35-inch beam make the micro skiff a stable fishing platform. It is possible to stand up and paddle, cast or drive without worrying about tipping over, though common sense says it's not a rough-water craft.
The boat was designed a built by a fly fisherman, Roy Sanders, who was looking for a skiff to get him far into the backcountry where traditional flats boats dare not venture.
Tampa Bay is the state's largest open-water estuary. There are several rivers and dozens of creeks that flow into the bay, many inaccessible to the traditional fishing skiff. That is one reason why the sit-on-top sea kayak is the best-selling fishing boat on the west coast of Florida.
"I have one customer who fishes regularly out of the Flatstalker," LeVine said. "He is always running up and down Allen's Creek, getting into spots where nobody else can go."
The Flatstalker can be paddled or push-poled when the motor is up. With a trolling motor down, it can run in 6 inches of water at an average speed of 6 to 7 mph, more than fast enough to scout a shoreline.
The boat is light enough to be carried — in two pieces: hull (80 pounds) and console (40 pounds) — by one person. It's short enough (11 feet) that it can be loaded onto a conventional flats boat and ferried into the backcountry.
Alternative to a kayak
While fishing kayaks are versatile craft, plastic boats do have their drawbacks. For one, they only move if you paddle, and for some anglers, the physical exertion is too much, especially during the summer.
The micro skiff is light enough to put on top of a car. LeVine bought a used personal watercraft trailer and modified it to fit the Flatstalker.
Like a sea kayak, it can be launched anywhere, even from the beach. And like a sea kayak, it can be paddled, if exercise is what you want, and/or poled like a traditional flats boat.
The standard, stainless steel motor bracket handles a 40-pound thrust electric trolling motor, which comes in handy if a storm threatens or your back gives out.
The greatest selling point for the $1,395 Flatstalker is fuel economy.
"A standard, deep-cycle, 12-volt trolling motor will get you several hours of power," LeVine said. "And those cost about 10 cents to charge."
With gas prices so high, more anglers are abandoning their twin- and triple-engine offshore rigs and switching to inshore flats or bay boats.
LeVine has already sold several of his new fishing boats and thinks they will be a common sight on local waterways in years to come.
"Go anywhere, any time," he said. "That is the beauty of this boat."