What Is A Float Tube?
lakes can be done successfully in several different ways but one of the
more popular methods is using a float tube (A.K.A. belly boat). A float
tube is a small personal watercraft in a "donut", "U" or "V" shape that is
usually made up of a rubber inner tube or vinyl bladder and a nylon
shell. You maneuver backward through the water using only fins and your
own leg power. There are many advantages to using a float tube over a
regular boat. You can pack the float tube up with your other gear when
hiking into a lake or use the shoulder straps that come with most float tubes and
carry your tube fully inflated like you would a backpack. This allows
you to fish water that doesn't get a lot of pressure, getting back into
smaller lakes and ponds that dont have any boat ramps or roads, or for
fishing water that boats aren't allowed. Storage is another advantage.
With a lot of float tubes fully deflated, you can store your tube without taking up
very much room, not much bigger than a couple pairs of waders.
Fly Fishing From A Tube
are a few different methods used by float tube fly anglers.
The most common method of fly fishing from a float tube is what I call troll-casting. This method is quite easy and affective. Simply kick your way parallel to the shore and cast your line across your body (if you are right handed, cast your line over your left shoulder). Once the cast is made, stop kicking and if fishing wet flies, give you fly time to sink. If fishing dry flies, let it sit still for a bit. Now you retrieve your fly using various retrieve styles until you find one the fish favor. While retrieving, you can choose to start kicking again or continue to sit still. With this method you want to slowly work the entire shoal of a lake 5-10 feet at a time and keeping a distance of about 20 feet from the drop-off. The drop-off is where the bottom of the lake gets deep quickly. If you look into the water while paddling away from shore, the weeds will disappear all of a sudden. That's the drop off. Trout will rise up the drop-off and onto the shoal looking for quick meals. The transition from the shoal to the drop-off is what I call the 'Strike Zone' and it's where you'll get most of you hook-ups. Troll-casting will work with both floating and sinking lines but a sub-surface presentation will usually out produce a top water presentation and your efforts should be rewarded using weighted flies or intermediate sink lines. See the primitive drawing below.
A method usually used by less experienced fly anglers who aren't yet comfortable with their casting, trolling flies from a float tube can be very productive and with a good searching pattern should help you find good fishy hangouts. For those not yet in control of their casting, you can simply pull line off your reel and kick backwards while wriggling the tip of you fly rod to get your line out. Trolling from a tube, whether with a dry or wet line can give your fly some incredible action. The side-to-side motion you can create with your tube by hard kicking one leg then pausing and repeating with the opposite leg combined with laying your rod across your tube will cause your fly to stop and start at various speeds and can drives the fish nuts. You also have the option of stripping your line in while trolling. When doing this it's a good idea to experiment with your retrieve as the trout will react to different speeds. Again, a sub-surface presentation will usually produce better than a top water presentation as most fish do 90% of their foraging below the surface.
One of the biggest downsides to float tubing is fighting against the wind. It can take a lot out of an angler when kicking against a strong wind or even a good breeze when you've been at it all day. You can however use the wind to your advantage. To do this you'll want to make you way to the end of the lake where the wind is coming from (a good time to troll or do some troll-casting). Once there, you simply let the wind push you back to the other end. While in this drifting state, cast to fishy looking hangouts. You can use your fins to direct you into desired locations while on your drift.
There are anchors made specifically for float tubes. On breezy days these anchors seam to work well enough but on windier days they're not very reliable. In my experience, a 5lb dumbbell weight tied to an anchor rope works pretty good. Anchoring your float tube opens up the opportunity to fish static presentations. This dry line form of fly fishing under an indicator is probably the most productive technique a stillwater fly angler has in his arsenal. Although not as easy as indicator fishing from a double anchored boat, you can still have outstanding results if you know how to control your line to keep your presentation completely still (catatonic). Under an indicator you can fish leech patterns, scuds, boatman, and many other simple life forms but chironomids (midge pupa/larva) patterns are the most popular. The idea is to attach a strike indicator onto your leader according to how deep you want your fly. If you're fishing depths of more than ten feet, a quick release indicator will make life a whole lot easier to net fish. Your leader should be 25% longer than your preferred depth so if you're sitting in 20ft of water, use a 25ft leader. Now attach your fly at the end of your tippet (in Alberta we can use up to three flies but I usually stick with two to prevent tangles when netting fish). Cast your flies out and let them sit while trying to keep all movement off your line so the fly remains static. Once you believe your fly is directly below the indicator, wait some more. Now strip the line in very slowly or take a couple of very short (3 inch) quick strips of your line, pause, pause some more, now wait some more and repeat. Remember, when you think you've waited long enough, wait some more. On breezy days you can use a drift method with this system as well. With the wind at your back, cast to your side and just let the wind drift you set-up until it is directly in front of you. You can also fish this long leader set-up without an indicator. We call this fishing "naked" and great attention must be taken as your concentration must be intense to feel the take which at times can be very subtle. When fishing naked, retrieving with a dead slow hand twist will produce the best results. All of these static techniques are very affective but can become boring as there is a lot of waiting involved. It can also be just the opposite with non-stop action when a good hatch is on, at times resulting in a-fish-a-cast. Static line fishing isn't the only technique to use when you are anchored. Casting a sinking line with wet flies is an affective method for finding fish and if there is a good hatch on and the trout are actively feeding on top of the water, it's sometimes fun to anchor right in the middle of an active area, tie on a dry fly to your floating line and just enjoy your time casting to risers. During the boatman/backswimmer migration that we see in the fall, you can have incredible success with a dry line and a floating boatman pattern. Although you don't need to be anchored to enjoy this type of fishing, it frees up your concentration as you search for rise rings to cast your fly into. Whenever you are anchoring down, remember to fan cast. Fan casting is simply spreading your casts out in different directions as you don't want to continually fish the same water over and over again. Once you do hook up however, cast to that same spot a few more time as you may have found a feeding lane. If it is a feeding lane, a lot of trout will continue to move along this same route in search of food.
Below is a primitive drawing. Find the drop-off and paddle out about 20
feet. Now cast your presentation 30 feet towards the shore (10 feet
past the drop-off). This area between the shore and the drop-off is
called the shoal. Now work your way down the shoreline 5-10 feet at a
time keeping your tube 20 feet from the drop-off parallel with the shore and casting into the
If you would like to learn more about stillwater fly fishing, book a trip or clinic with me. I specialize in teaching anglers the secrets to stillwater fly fishing. Click the banner below for more information.
beginners under inflate their tubes. A float tube bladder should be
inflated enough to remove most of the wrinkles in the nylon cover. If
inflated properly, the tube should be very firm, with just a little
give. Properly inflated tubes will keep you higher out of the water,
causing less drag on the float, and making it faster and easier to
paddle around. The oral inflating tube that older tubes come with is a
joke. Forget it! It will take you forever, and you will never to be
able to fill it properly. If at all possible fill your tube at a local
gas station. If that's not possible, use a small compressor that works
off a cars' 12V cigarette lighter. If you can't do that, buy a high
quality bicycle pump. It could take up to an hour to fill a large tube
with a pump, so try and get an early start. Newer U and V shaped tubes are much easier to inflate and a double action pump will get you going in no time. *NOTE:
If you are planning a trip up to the Alpine lakes be careful of the
amount of air you put in your float tube. Remember, air pressure plays
a key role and you could burst the tubes zippers, seams or the bladder itself.
If you own an older tube, buy
an inner tube repair kit from the local bicycle store and stash it in one
of the pockets of the tube. These little kits work very well, and might
just save your day on the water. While you're at the store, buy a valve
stem removal tool and extra stems. These are going to save you tons of
time removing air out of the inner tube. It takes forever to drain a
tube with the valve stem in it. Remove the stem and it will take less
then 5 minutes. Make sure you get the right length for your tube.
Always have extra valve stem caps on hand. I purchased the stem caps
with the stem removal built into the top of the cap and I always have
several on hand incase I loose one. Don't go out into the water without
one on. It will keep water from entering and corroding your stem. It
also prevents air from escaping if your valve stem goes bad. If you
forgot it at home, take one off your car. A new round tube may come
with a vinyl bladder, I would recommend going to your local tire shop
and buying a rubber innertube. The innertube will be a little bit
heavier but way more durable. Email the manufacturer of your tube for
the proper size rubber innertube for your model. If purchasing a new U or V shaped tube look for bladders made with urethane as these are much more durable than PVC.
Stowing Your Tube
the end of a days float tubing, remember to dry out your gear. Never
stow your gear wet, this way you won't find your tube covered with
mold, or worse yet, having begun to rot. I hang my tube from a hook in
my garage. I open and empty all the bags and wipe the dirt and mud from
my nylon shell and innertube before storing. Clean your gear with fresh
water and a mild detergent. Slightly deflate your tube to reduce the
pressure on the seams and zippers.
thing I cant stress enough is wear a Personal Flotation Devise or at least attach a life jacket to your tube using a Velcro strap. Trust me! One day I was out at
Hasse Lake and made my way to the Island in the middle. It takes about
15 minutes in a tube, remember you can walk faster than you can move in
a tube. Just as I got there I heard this weird noise and after a few
seconds of investigating I realized that I had a leek in my bladder.
What took me 15 minutes to get out to only took me 8 minutes to get
back from. I just made it to the beach rope when my waders started
filling with water. I was not wearing a life jacket and I really didn't
think I was going to make it. From that day on I've been wearing a
personal flotation devise and I feel much safer. The life jacket I
bought is short, making it more comfortable in a tube and has pockets
and even a wool fly holder/dryer. You don't want a regular life vest
because when you sit in the tube the shoulders, front and back of the
jacket will ride up into your neck and face. If you're having trouble
finding a short life jacket, the Kayaking vests work well in tube. Your best bet however, is an inflatable PFD as these are small and unemcumbering.
Tips and Tricks
For rubber innertubes, a can
of tire inflater/leak sealant in the tube can get you safely to shore
(assuming it is a small puncture and not a big rip) . It takes up a bit
of space but is an effective repair device when on the water and leaks
occur. It is not meant to be a permanent fix but will get you back in
the water quickly and effectively until you can get a proper patch job
for pack-in float tube trips.
a canvas shopping bag (those enviro tote things) or a ladies mesh
laundry bag for an anchor for your float tube. Just take it with you in
a pocket of the tube and when you get to the lake just toss in a dozen
fist sized stones and tie up the bag. Use the white nylon parachute
cord as an anchor rope. When you are ready to pack out for the day,
dump the rocks and put the bag and parachute chord line back into a
Always walk backwards in and out of the lake because you will fall forward and possibly drown,
especially on a lake at ice out.
Equipment & Accesories
There are lots of bells and whistles you can add to your float tube as well as several items of equipment needed to operate your tube while out on the water. Here are some of those you may find handy.
Float tube anchors work well in breezy conditions but don't seem to hold well when the wind is blowing hard.
Another option is the Scotty anchor lock that will work with most float tubes and can hold a heavier anchor.
There are many different fins available but from my experience with the many years of of float tubing I've done, your best bet is the Force Fin. Although more expensive than the others, these fins will not tire you out as much as other fins making for a great day on the water.
I found a rod holder on my tube was one of the most useful accessories I had purchased. Although it can be bothersome at times getting your line caught around it, it can be invaluable in a tube.
For those that own Outcast tubes, these cooler bags are designed to fit just right at the bow of your float tube.
If you're using a FishBuddy, the buddy holster is available.
For more conventional sonar units, the Scotty mount works great.
Most accessories seen here at available online at the fishin' hole.
Purchasing A Float Tube
If you've been thinking about purchasing a float tube, please visit my stillwater articles page and click on "Float Tubes-The Good, Bad and Ugly
" at AlbertaStillwaters.Com