The folks at Maverick, the boat maker that coined the term “technical poling skiff,” are not the kind to rest on their laurels. They are constantly finding ways to make their boats more functional. Case in point: The latest version of Maverick’s popular Mirage line, the 18 HPX-V, is bound to satisfy the most demanding shallow-water angler.
With help from light-tackle guide Capt. Christian Yergens, I put the 18-footer through its paces in the Indian River, in Fort Pierce, Florida, where a stiff breeze blowing against an incoming tide kicked up a 1- to 2-foot chop reminiscent of what flats anglers often encounter crossing a large, open bay.
The test Mirage was rigged with a Yamaha F115LB, an excellent match. It provided more than adequate power and proved light enough to float easily in tailing-fish depth. The 18 HPX-V jumped on plane in a mere three seconds, or roughly two-boat lengths — a big plus when the tide gets pretty low and a nearby sand hole is your only runway to jump up and get out of Dodge.
Next, I trimmed the outboard a couple of clicks, brought the tabs almost all the way up and throttled down to 4,200 rpm. The 18 HPX-V responded by settling into a comfortable cruising speed of 37 mph that let us take on the chop without squeezing the steering wheel or grab bars to brace ourselves. Pushing the rpm to 5,000, the Maverick accelerated instantly to 44 mph and remained perfectly under control despite the bumpy water.
Sea conditions and surrounding manatee zones kept us from pushing the 18 HPX-V to maximum speed, but performance data from Yamaha confirmed my suspicion that this boat will run in the 50s with the F115 at wide-open throttle.
Zigzagging our way up and down the river, the skiff felt nimble in the turns and quick in the straightaways. The bow flare and spray rails kept us dry, with a strong wind on our faces, at our backs and at various angles. We took on the wakes from passing large boats without bone-jarring pounding or any noticeable rattling, and the Mirage felt both stable and safe at all times.
Next, we moved to an adjacent flat, where I climbed atop the poling platform. The skiff glided with ease in less than a foot of water, with virtually no hull slap despite the windy conditions. Maverick President Scott Deal is an avid fly and light-tackle angler who has spent countless hours stalking fish on the flats, so that came as no surprise. The Mirage tracked well, requiring only minor adjustments with the push pole to keep the bow from turning when wind gusts hit us at a 45-degree angle. Turning the boat with the pole was a breeze. I turned us 90 degrees in a couple of seconds using only one arm, a virtue when a school of bones or reds approaches from abaft the beam. When Yergens walked the gunwales, I sensed only a moderate lean, not enough to disturb my balance.
Satisfied with its capabilities, I turned my attention to the boat’s layout and features. The front deck on the 18 HPX-V is, in fact, larger than its predecessor’s, providing more fishing room and considerable storage space below deck.
The walk-around gunwales widen toward the front bulkhead, increasing protection for rods stashed in the horizontal racks, which can accommodate as many as six rods on one side and seven on the other.
The new Mirage dons a taller console to house sizable electronics. It has a fold-down hatch that also slides out for easier access to batteries and wiring inside. Vertical rod racks and a removable cooler that doubles as a seat and matches the console in width and design are available options. Twin in-deck compartments provide ample aft storage and bookend a 30-gallon livewell with dual in-flow system (water comes in at the top and bottom), an 800 gph pump and through-hull high-speed pickup.
They say every boat is a compromise, but the Mirage 18 HPX-V sure seems to have all the bases covered. It’s a testament to Maverick’s design and quality construction. Whether you stalk tailers on the grass flats, sight-fish potholes and oyster bars, or live-bait the inlets, this 18-footer has what it takes to make yourdays on the water truly memorable.