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 craft. 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 kickboat. 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 your
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. Save yourself some grief, get Forcefins.
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 your 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 kickboat 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 work 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 your 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! ~ Joe Margiotta