Float Tube Fishing
If you’ve read any of the articles I’ve written over the past few years, you’ve probably started to pick up on the fact that I’m a huge fan of fishing in the multitude of farm ponds found in our great state. One of my favorite things to say is that Minnesota may be the land of 10,000 lakes, but Iowa is the land of 100,000 farm ponds. I’m exaggerating when I say this, obviously, but the point is that Iowa’s farm ponds offer super opportunities to fish an under-utilized resource and catch trophy fish to anyone willing to knock on a door and ask permission. If you live in Iowa and you’re not fishing a local farm pond for trophy bluegills, bass or catfish, you are definitely missing out. Even if catching trophy fish doesn’t trip your trigger but you love eating fish, farm ponds are a great way to put fresh fish on the dinner table, too.
I’m so pumped up about farm pond fishing; in fact, it’s hard for me to think of any negatives to the whole pursuit. If you really pressed me, however, I could probably come up with two disadvantages to farm pond fishing. First, some farm ponds are too small to get a boat on. If a pond is too small for a boat, but also small enough that you can effectively fish it all from the bank, then there really isn’t an issue. If, however, you have a pond that is too small for a boat but too large to effectively fish the whole pond from the bank, I would call that a disadvantage. The other issue is that access can sometimes be difficult. Some of them are miles from the nearest road and smack-dab in the middle of corn or beans and require a considerable hike to get to. For many of the ponds I fish, I even have to be very selective about what tackle I bring because I know I’ll be packing it in and out without the aid of any kind of vehicle. For most of these ponds, even if they were big enough to get a boat on, there would be no practical way of getting a boat to the water in the first place.
These issues definitely used to be things that troubled me every time I fished certain farm ponds. As with all things fishing, however, I was relentless in trying to find ways to overcome these obstacles. Needless to say, I have succeeded in finding a simple solution that allows me to fish any pond, no matter how remote, as well as I can fish any other body of water from my Lund. Not only have I solved this accessibility issue, but at the same time I have also exponentially increased my fun quotient on these trips and discovered a great way to keep cool when farm pond fishing all throughout Iowa’s long sticky summers. My secret weapon is a float tube!
The Case for Float Tubes
I’m sure you’ve all seen them before; fancy looking inner tubes that fly fisherman use on mountain lakes out west. While float tubes are dynamite for fly-fishing that is certainly not where the effectiveness of float tubes ends. As I’ve already illustrated they are also great for fishing small, out-of-the-way bodies of water that might be hard to access. They’re also great for fishing larger bodies of water, too. I can’t think of a better way to get into that lily-pad filled bay that you just can’t get your boat into. The most important thing to keep in mind on larger bodies of water is to stay out of this wind because it will push you into places you may not want to go. You should also stay out of the major boat traffic areas. Since float tubes sit so close to the water, they can be hard to see from a boat.
It doesn’t matter what you fish for (largemouth, crappies, bluegills…you name it) or what you fish with (spinning tackle, a bait caster, a fly rod or even ice rods), a float tube can be used effectively to get you to where the fish are.
What to Look For
There are basically two styles of float tubes. The round style basically looks like an inner tube with a cover sewn over it and a seat sewn in. This type of float tube is usually the least expensive. If you are just getting into float tube fishing, these are a good place to start. The biggest disadvantages to this style are that they can be a little harder to propel across the water, since there is a full ring in contact with the water. No matter which way you want to go, there will be one part of that round tube that has to plow water. This style of tube also tends to sit a little lower in the water. This isn’t a huge issue, but it does make it a little harder to fly cast from a round tube. These tubes tend to have lower weight rating than other styles, so if you’re a bigger person like I am, a round float tube may not be the right fit for you. I also find that the round tubes are a little harder to get in and out of; especially once you have a pair of fins on (more on that later).
Also in this category are the U-shaped float tubes. This style of tube is definitely much easier to get in and out of than a round tube. It also sits slightly higher in the water than a round tube and is slightly easier to propel. They typically don’t cost any more than a good round tube, so they’re a good compromise if you don’t want to spend the extra money on the other class of float tubes known as pontoons.
Pontoons are the most versatile style of float tube, but they are also the most expensive. They are called pontoons because they literally have a large air filled bladder on each side that serve as pontoons. This style tends to ride the highest out of the water and is a dream to kick your way across the water because the pontoons are always parallel to your direction of travel. This means there are no large air bladders opposing your direction of travel and plowing water. Pontoons also have the highest weight capacities and are available in magnum sizes for big guys like me. The pontoons also tend to have air bladders that are a little more durable, because they are intended for heavy use. If you plan to spend a lot of time in your float tube, a pontoon is really the only way to go.
Regardless of which type of tube you go with, ensure that there are multiple individual air chambers, so that if you suffer a puncture in one, your tube will still float sufficiently for you to get back to shore. Most tubes have a backrest that is a separate air bladder as well as another separate bladder below that. The more separate chambers you have the better your safety margin is.
Speaking of safety, one other thing to note is that you should always wear a PFD when using a float tube. This really goes without saying, but no float tube write up would be complete without mentioning it.
Must Have Accessories
There are a few accessories that you will need to truly enjoy your time fishing in a float tube. Probably the most important is a good pair of fins. Since float tubes don’t have motors or oars, propulsion of the tube will come solely from your legs. It is possible to propel a kick tube without fins, but it is one heck of a workout. A good pair of fins will not only prevent you from wearing yourself out, but they will also improve your maneuverability by allowing you to turn your tube on a dime. Since I like to wear wading boots when I float tube, I like the fins that you step into and then cinch a quick release strap over the instep of your boot. I find this style of fin to be the most secure and also the easiest and quickest to put on and take off. If you prefer to float barefoot, in stocking foot waders, in lightweight wading shoes, old sneakers or the like, this style of flipper may or may not work for you, so be sure to try the different styles on your footwear of choice to ensure a good, secure fit.
Occasionally, you may kick a flipper off. Unfortunately, a lot of flippers don’t float, so it’s a good idea to keep them tethered in case of such an emergency. Since an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, a good pair of fin keepers can be worth their weight in gold. The keepers have a cord that loops around the back of the fin and a Velcro cuff that goes around your ankle. With a pair of fin keepers on, even if you do kick out of fin, the fin stays attached to your ankle rather than sinking to the bottom.
One of the biggest advantages of float tubes is their ability to access out of the way water. Whether that is a remote mountain lake, a hidden bay of your favorite reservoir or a farm pond surrounded by cornfields, a float tube will get the job done. They are also ideally suited to being packed into these areas on your back, much as if they are a backpack. Some tubes come with shoulder straps specifically designed for this purpose while others offer them as an option. Even for float tubes that don’t offer them, you owe it to yourself to get creative and rig up some of your own shoulder straps for packing your float tube in. Using this method, you can pack in a fully inflated tube and not have to spend any of your precious fishing time airing one up and assembling it.
If you plan to do any early or late season float tube fishing, a good pair of chest waders is a necessity. Part of what makes a float tube such a joy in the summer- being partially submerged in the water- can also make it a chilling experience early in the spring or late in the fall. I have managed to get by with a lightweight breathable pair of waders with polypro liners underneath, but if you’re really serious about getting out there when it’s cold, neoprene waders may be more suitable.
I never really thought I would need an anchor to fish from my float tube, but I find myself using one more and more all the time. Sometimes, if you’re on a really good spot, it’s pretty nice to be able to drop anchor, give your legs a rest and concentrate on fishing rather than trying to hold your position. There are several good folding anchors on the market now made specifically for float tube fisherman. They’re very easy to stow, transport and use and worth having.
Almost all float tubes come with a built in rod holder or two consisting of a couple of Velcro straps that hold a rod along one side or the other, or both of the tube. These are great for transporting an extra rod, or holding the rod as you kick into position, but it’s also nice to be able to put the rod you’re currently using into more of an upright rod holder in front of you while you dig through tackle boxes, tie on a new lure, unhook a fish, adjust waders/tube/PFD or even have some lunch. There are several good rod holders available now designed specifically for float tubes, but with some Velcro straps, a standard boat rod holder and a little creativity, you can easily fashion your own as well.
In our big boats it’s really nice to have a live well to keep fish fresh if we choose to take some home for the supper table. Unfortunately, float tubes don’t have livewells, but it’s really easy to clip a fish basket to one of the many d-rings found on most tubes, which will make an instant live well. I prefer a fish basket over a stringer because it prevents me from getting my fins tangled into the stringer and keeps the sharp rays of the fins out of my tender shins and calves. I find the floating live well that Today’s Tackle makes even better than a fish basket because its soft mesh is easier on waders, air bladders and my skin.
I have to admit that I REALLY like always having my trout net ready to go in an instant on the back of my fishing vest. I bring that same convenience to my float by clipping a small landing net to the tube via a retractor. Since you’re actually in the water with the fish, it’s pretty easy for them to get tangled in your legs and flippers as you’re playing them. Being able to net a fish immediately rather than playing it greatly reduces the chances of this kind of entanglement and also allows us to return the fish to the water before being played to exhaustion and with a minimum of handling.
Float tube fishing is great for so many reasons; it gives you unlimited access to waters that would otherwise be unreachable, it puts you up close and personal with the fish and it’s a great way to stay cool while chasing the hot bite during the dog days of summer. Even the higher end float tubes are relatively affordable especially when you factor in the years of enjoyment you’ll get from one and the new places you’ll be able to fish because if it. The next time you want to fish that hard to get to spot on a body of water or just wanting to try something completely new give float tube fishing a try. I guarantee you after a few trips to get use to the new approach you will be hooked! No pun intended.