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
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