By: Josh Sheldon
Growing up fishing from shore I always knew if I could somehow afford a boat I could do so much better. I knew all my favorite spots would be more productive and I would have access to bigger fish. I had a couple fundamental problems to my dreams. I was 13 years old and couldn’t drive and unless the price of boats dropped to the equivalent of the cost of macaroni and cheese, I didn’t have enough money. After Christmas that same year I was strolling through K-Mart and hanging from the ceiling with a sale sign was a green and grey float tube for $50. All at once my prayers had been answered. I had some money from Christmas returns and some saved from my summer job. I didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger and forever changed how I fished. In this week’s Equipment 101 we are going to cover float tube fishing 101.
What you need and how much it’s going to cost you. You can purchase a float tube (belly boat) at any major outdoor retailer or Amazon for $100-$700. I fished out of a plain round float tube for 10 years and loved it. You don’t have to get terribly fancy and spend a lot of money to get your feet wet. You can buy fins to propel yourself backwards through the water for $40. The fins lace over the boots of your chest waders. Chest waders are a must! You will freeze most of the time without them and the rest of the time being wet in a sling style seat doesn’t do much for your reproductive life. Buy a PFD…LIFE JACKET. This may be the most expensive part of your new set up but get the inflatable vests that are not too bulky and are easy to store after they come off. I am convinced 75% of the average boaters are completely oblivious or wasted while operating a vessel and you need to have a PFD of some kind. Other than the PFD, the best piece of advice I can give you for equipment is buy scuba fins instead of the float tube fins. You back in and out of the water and you don’t go far before taking them off, so the smaller float tube fins are not a necessity. Scuba fins work amazingly well and they give you thrust with both the up and the down motion of your legs. Float tube fins only propel you backwards on the upward motion of your legs. You can move faster with far less effort using scuba fins and the cost difference is minimal.
After you have purchased your equipment and it’s time to get on the water there are a few operational things to keep in mind. Don’t put on your fins on your feet before you are at the water’s edge and ready to launch. Condense your equipment into small utility boxes that can easily be stored in your side pockets. Find an attachable floating net that will follow you around as you move. The net will help avoid any accidental mishaps with hooks coming free and you suddenly become Jesus walking on water. Select a spot that has a gradual grade to enter the water. Sudden drop offs make it difficult to get out of the water and going over submerged timber is just plain creepy.
There are many ways to fish from a float tube that are highly effective and more precise then any boat could ever be. I believed in covering water slowly when fishing for Walleye and Smallmouth. I would most often fish with two rods and on one rod I would have a jig rigged with half a night crawler or a plastic grub tipped with half a night crawler. On the other rod I would have a lindy rig set up with half a crawler or leach or I would use a medium sized split shot attached a couple feet up from a crawler harness. I would drop the harness down and when it hit the bottom I would crank it up a couple cranks and I would work the jig right on the bottom. I would slowly kick backwards following the shore line and moving in and out to find the correct depth range for the fish. The presentation is completely silent and non intrusive. You can move so slowly you can feel that jig or lindy rig barely creep over the bottom. Casting crankbaits from a belly boat is highly effective as well. Casting to cover or a shore line and working it back, has led to many excellent days of fishing. Casting light jigs tipped with a leach into shallow back coves or up to shallow areas of shore line is productive for spring and early summer Walleyes, who are cursing the shoreline for an easy meal. Those fish are typically spooky and silently easing into the area with a float tube can be the perfect vehicle to put you on those fish. Vertical fishing Jig n Raps or spoons is simple from a float tube and easy to keep your presentation vertical in rough conditions.
The limits of fishing from a float tube include mobility to cover the lake and bounce from spot to spot. There really isn’t much room for things like fish finders. The benefits really outweigh the limitations. For around $350 you can be fishing from a float tube set up tomorrow. The freedom it gives you to explore an area is amazing and truly eye opening if you have only fished from shore. A float tube allows you to precisely present your baits in a very controlled way and it opens you up to an almost endless arsenal of presentations. Versatility and the ability to put in at almost any location makes a float tube ideal for small ponds and lakes that don’t have boat ramps. If you can’t afford a boat or think you don’t have much need for a boat I highly recommend trying a float tube. Fly fishermen who are looking for an inexpensive way to fish trout ponds or mountain lakes, a float tube is ideal. Float tubes are safe in rough water and typically have lots of storage. I understand the recent popularity of Kayak fishing and many of the same benefits a Kayak provides exist for float tube fisherman at a fraction of the cost. Float tubes are surprisingly durable and a highly effective fun way to help you FISH YOUR NEXT LEVEL.