Having moved recently from Washington to Montana, I find myself revisiting methods of getting on the water that I first learned when I moved to the Pacific Northwest. With less lakes close to me that lend themselves to launching my twenty-foot Thunderjet, I find myself going full circle back to my early roots.
When I moved out to Washington from Wisconsin, I lived in Spokane for a year, and during that time I took up the sport of fly fishing. The Spokane area has a wealth of smaller lakes and ponds well-suited to casting a fly for trout. Because I was a renter, I wanted a way to get on the water that fit my lifestyle. Having a boat and trailer was not an option for me. I did the research and decided a float tube would be a good solution to getting on the water. It offered simplicity, ease of storage, and wouldn’t break the bank. Back in the eighties the choices of float tubes were just starting to explode. Today, anglers have a huge selection of brands, styles, and price points to choose from.
Anglers that chose to access bodies of water in a float tube open up a world of possibilities to explore. And while most people think of fly fishing when it comes to float tubes, they are well-suited to be used for other species of fish. Bass angling from a float tube is a blast and tubes are an excellent choice for exploring waters that bass boats can’t go in. Tubes can even be used in saltwater angling, so long as an angler keeps safety in the forefront. Certain rivers also lend themselves to float tubes, again with the caveat of the angler keeping safety first and foremost in mind.
Whatever type of fish you like to pursue, fishing from a float tube requires certain gear and set-ups to work. Let’s break down what you’ll need to get started.
First, let’s talk about the float tube itself. There are basically two shapes that you’ll see when you go shopping. The first is literally a round tube. The second is a u-shaped tube, open on one side. Across the top, connecting the two sides you’ll generally have a casting apron. A round tube will have this as well.
The novice would be understandably confused when confronted with these choices. Both will get you on the water, so which is the right rig for you? I’ve fished out of both. The pros and cons of each in my mind are as follows:
Round tube style – general less expensive, easier to breakdown and store, less prone to blowing around, lighter and easier to maneuverer. On the con side- smaller, so less storage capacity, harder to see on the water, less safe (generally 1-2 air chambers vs. 2-3 chambers).
U-shaped style – more storage for gear, more stable, tracks well, better visibility for boaters, safer (usually three air chambers), tend to be able to sit up higher for easier casting. On the con side- longer to set up, more storage space needed, more expensive.
For me the choice is easy, u-tube style all the way. What I like most about my rig is the ability to bring multiple rods, higher sitting posture, and overall safety. If I were hiking and wanted to do float fishing though, I would for sure pick a round style for weight considerations and ease of packing.
OK, you’ve settled on the type and pored through all the various brands, looking at specific features that you'd like to have on your tube. Some of the things I focused on were storage pockets, height and seat adjustment, ease of entry, three tubes for safety, and overall fit and finish. Is the stitching tight and neat? Does the material seem of good quality? How about user reviews? YouTube is an excellent source of reviews that allow you to see what others have to say about the tube you’re considering.
Next on the agenda are the accessories you will need to purchase. Buying a tube is more than just hopping in and off you go. There are essential items you will need to have.
Fins – these are what you use to propel yourself through the water. Your legs will be in the water as you sit on the suspended seat. Kicking the fins will move you in the opposite direction of where you are facing and kicking one fin in one direction and the other in the other direction will cause you to turn. It’s something that is easy to figure out and you’ll get the hang of it pretty quick.
Waders – unless the water is very warm, you’ll want to wear chest waders, as from the waist down you’ll be wet. Waders can be neoprene or slip over clothes, whatever your preference. I like the pull-on type myself.
Water Shoes – You’ll want shoes on as they will provide better support for your fins. I get them one size larger to fit over my waders.
Life jacket – absolutely required in my opinion. I upgraded to the CO2 self-inflating style for comfort. The first time you get in the water and kickoff I can guarantee you’ll feel a bit apprehensive. It’s different from being in a solid boat. The life jacket gives me an extra level of reassurance and peace of mind.
Net – hand-held style with a shock cord and clip to attach to your float tube is recommended.
Safety flag – if you’re fishing waters that have power boats, you want to do everything you can to be seen. An orange flag on a three-foot pole will help boaters see you better. That said, if you’re fishing water that has power boats on it, I would urge you to stay close to the shoreline. Float tubes do not move fast, and you will not be able to get out of the way of a power boat bearing down on you.
Fishing on a small pond, whether for trout, bass, crappie, or whatever you pursue, is one of the most peaceful ways of fishing you can have. The simplicity of the experience, not having to deal with all the issues that come with trailering a boat, and the quiet make for a relaxing day of fishing, not to mention, opens yourself up to new places to explore and enjoy!