Carolina Skiff history is a terrific example of function built out of necessity. Carolina’s skiff history begins around Roanoke Island following the Civil War when an increase in fishing demands and a shortage of suitable trees gave rise to a form of the Shad boat which fit the requirements of a shallow draft workboat. The design was limited to a specific geographical area from Elizabeth City to Ocracoke Island and neighboring sounds. These shad boats used a combination of split-log and plank-on-frame building methods, combining new with traditional boat building methods. These handsome designs were quickly adopted by other Carolina Skiff builders and are well-known today as highly functional with beautiful lines. There are five shad boats in the North Carolina Maritime Museum in Beaufort, North Carolina.
The next Carolina Skiff of interest is the mullet skiff, which is a flat-bottom work skiff. Mullet are harvested in shallow sounds and estuaries, perfect for Carolina’s bays and sounds.
The next Carolina Skiff worth mentioning is the hallowed Carolina Skiff Beach Dory. The Outer Banks of North Carolina traditionally used these beautiful boats launched from the shoreline directly into the surf. They were typically 16 to 18 feet long, and featured a high bow to help cut and plunge into the crashing surf. In later years, the motor would sit inside a motor well in the center of the boat to allow a very shallow draft boat. These beautiful boats were also the Carolina Skiff of choice for harvesting fish with a seine net. Seine net fishing in Carolina from a skiff included the following species: weakfish, spotted sea trout (yes, a weakfish & sea trout secret is that they are different fish), bluefish, striped mullet, striped bass (striper) and croaker.
And finally, we come to one of the most famous men in Carolina Skiff history, Tom Simmons, creator of the Simmons Sea Skiff.
Tom Simmons, commonly known as T.N. or Sims, was born on Myrtle Grove Sound, North Carolina, in 1908. He was a 2nd generation woodworker who cut his teeth as a shipwright when the Wilmington Shipyard began building Liberty ships for World War II.
After the war, Simmons built small lake boats for Piedmont anglers. Simmons was eventually hired to build the best of two boats, a Carolina Skiff Dory but a flat, straight back from amidships aft to make room for seine net. The dory allowed high transom so waves wouldn’t break over it and the straight, flat bottom aft allowed for stability that a Carolina Skiff is now known for.
The boats caught on, and during the late ’40’s and early ’50’s they evolved into the Simmons Sea skiff of today.
Simmons most popular model was the 20-footer. The relatively low price for that time (Less than $600 in 1966) and reputation for seaworthiness put ocean fishing within reach of the average person’s income and opened up Sport Fishing in North Carolina to a whole new demographic. Eventually even the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were using these Carolina skiffs as they were so well respected. Simmons and his son built boats together for 20 years. A drowning accident took the life of Simmons’s son and he finished all outstanding orders and closed the business.
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