How To Fish Stillwaters

January 5th, 2004

Stillwaters, lakes, ponds and reservoirs are the most underutilized fisheries in the North America. Why? Because the average fly fisher doesn't know how to fish them, or where to start. Stay tuned, you too can master stillwaters! ~ LadyFisher


By Joe Margiotta

My first float tube was a truck inner tube with some nylon fabric and webbing that barely covered the tube and fit me like a parachute harness. Combined with some old swim fins it was a struggle to use compared to some of today's outfits but what a wonderful world it opened up to me. The round float tube or, as some West Coast saltwater users call them, "shark doughnuts," have evolved into many different crafts. These modern devices have multiple air chambers for safely and pockets for carrying the essentials of fishing.

The three main types of fin powered personal fishing craft are float tubes, pontoons and kickboat rafts. The one thing they have in common is that they all can be used with fins. Being lighter in weight than kayaks, canoes and other small boats makes them much easier to transport and launch. Stability is much greater. I've never seen anyone tip one over, can't say the same for kayaks and canoes. Perhaps the biggest advantage over non-fin powered craft is the ability to move about and maneuver with hands free to fish. This means no need to worry about being blown off a position and having the ability to move along a shoreline or to a new position easily.

As you examine all the different kinds you'll find the round or "O" tube is still widely used. It is low in cost and some users like being surrounded by the tube. The next generation of float craft is the "U" or "V" tube. The advantage of this type is easy entry and exit because of the open front. Some have a bar that attaches in front after entry for extra support of the tube shape, some are very rigid and do not require this. The latter are more expensive and U and V type craft are generally more expensive than "O" type. A newer, sort of hybrid, tube is actual two pontoons but still "fin only" powered. They offer less drag and are gaining some popularity.

Next comes the pontoon. These craft have a rigid frame between two pontoons. Most are inflatable but there are a few rigid ones. They have a seat with a back and usually a small "cargo" deck behind the seat. Oars are a part of this craft and that gives you much added mobility. A well-designed craft of this type is capable of being rowed very swiftly and will enable you to cover a lot of water. The cost is higher than float tubes. The third type is a raft that is also a kick-boat. It also has oars but usually no rigid frame. This makes assembly and transportation a little easier. They might not be quite as fast as a pontoon but row very well and have a larger carrying capacity in terms of weight and volume which makes them ideal for river drift trips with camping along the way. These are more expensive than the average pontoon.

In choosing a craft that's right for you as well and your budget you need to consider how and where you will be using it. Also how large a person you are and what kind of performance you will be expecting. In other words if you weigh 250 lb. and buy a pontoon that's rated at 300 lb., don't expect it to row as well as it would for someone that weighs 150 lb. Most float craft include a stripping apron, make sure you get one. Spending time untangling your legs and the fly line is no fun. I find a good holder for your rod is a useful accessory. Rigging tethers for your landing net or other items that could fall overboard is also a good idea. Don't forget to set aside some of that budget for fins. Getting the right fins is as important as the right float craft. Fins are your main source of mobility. A strong wind and a long kick back to shore can mean cramps and maybe a long hike, if you're lucky enough to be able to find a path back on the shore. In a lightning storm this can be a scary experience. Good fins are worth the money! Use a tether on your fins whether they float or not. Maneuvering with one fin to retrieve the other is not easy.

Inflating your craft, with the exception of the truck inner tube type, requires a low pressure/high volume pump. If you use a gas station type air hose to fill your tube be careful not to over-inflate. This could burst the seams. Although you can fill one blowing it up like a balloon I wouldn't recommend it, even if you are in great shape. You can buy hand or foot operated high volume pumps. 12-volt electric pumps that plug into a car cigarette lighter are my favorite. Do not confuse a high volume pump which is intended for inflatable air mattresses, rafts, float tubes etc. with a high pressure pump intended for automotive tires.

Using a tire pump would take forever to fill your boat and in the case of a 12 volt electric one, it will probably burn up eventually. After the pump has filled your float craft you might want to "top it off" with mouth pressure if it's too soft. Usually after placing it in water it cools and the pressure goes down. Wet it, give it a few moments and top it off. If you're going to let it sit in very hot sun for an extended period, you should let a little air out to compensate for the increased pressure, which can stress the seams. Never fill your inflatable and then travel to a higher altitude! This can cause the boat to pop like a balloon!

Safety should never be overlooked in choosing or using a float craft. If you plan on using it in rivers you should get a pontoon or kick-boat raft. You should get one that is capable of the class of whitewater you plan on tackling and most important, make sure you are capable of handling the class of water. Remember, buying an airplane doesn't make you a pilot. Think safety when tubing in any water. Always wear, or at least carry, a Coast Guard approved life jacket, If your tube doesn't have a highly visible color, wear or carry something that is. I always have a flashlight, matches, an emergency blanket and drinking water with me. Because you are not as visible to boaters you should carry a loud whistle. The "referee" whistles with the cord to wear around your neck works great. Don't venture farther from shore than your equipment and legs can safely get you back from.

As far as your fly fishing tackle goes, whatever you're using now will work just fine in a float tube. The only adjustment you will have to make is learning to cast from a bobbing, moving craft. Since your feet are not firmly planted on a firm surface, at first you will tend to follow the rod with your body. This will cause an exaggeration of the rod arch and could cause the line to slap the water. Know this and adjust to it, you will be fine. Don't think you have to go out and buy a longer rod to cure this. It won't!

I own and use all of the types of personal fishing craft that I've described and I enjoy this type of fishing so much that I rarely fish from a boat any more. I hope that all who try it like it as much as I do. Enjoy! ~ JM

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