Gear Guide: Float Tubes

I first started using a float tube when I was living in the Idaho panhandle back in the nineties. North Idaho is full of small lakes, but many of these lakes had shorelines that were covered with dense brush or had steep inclines which made them impossible to fish from the shore. The only way I could practically fish these waters was from some sort of watercraft. Boats, kayaks, and canoes would limit me to only the lakes I could drive up to. So I investigated the idea of using a float tube.

A float tube is a single person watercraft that is lightweight and portable. You sit down on a seat with your body generally half-way submerged and maneuver around by kicking with fins on your feet. Since the angler is partially submerged wearing chest waders is recommended unless he/she is fishing in warm waters. They enable anglers to access waters that are normally inaccessible to boats.

Advantages of using float tubes

Very portable and lightweight – Most have straps or attachment points on them so that they can be carried like a backpack or attached to a backpack.

Cost – Most float tubes are considerably less expensive that other watercraft options.

Stealth –Since you are low in the water, float tubes allow you to get closer to fish without spooking them. I once had a largemouth bass swim around fins while I was casting near a snag. They also allow you to move more quietly through the water.

Maneuverability – Float tubes can be turned very easily and quickly.

There are four different types of float tubes: the round float tube, the U shaped, V shaped and pontoon float tube. All of these small water crafts are also designed with solid, durable material and with safety in mind.

Round Float Tubes
Round Float Tubes
The round float tube was the initial design for float tubes. The classic doughnut-shape has all the features of the more expensive tubes, but at a less expensive price. They are more cumbersome to get into than the other designs. The round float tube design moves slower through the water since the shape is not very hydraulically efficient. This was my first float tube. I have used it for many years and still have it. What I liked was that the main bladder was a tire inner tube and it was very economical to purchase at the time.

U Shaped Tubes
U Shaped Tubes
This was the next evolution in float tubes. They had an open front which made them more easily accessible than the round tube. The U open end designs make launching and beaching much easier. You can push your tube out into knee deep water in front of you as you walk in. Pull it over to you, position yourself inside the open front of the tube and then simply sit down. Beaching is just the reverse. The U shape is also very stable in the water. Still the round back did not allow you to move to fast through the water.

V Shaped Tubes
V Shaped Tubes
V shaped float tubes had the advantages of the U shaped tubes as far as ease of entry. With a V shaped bow (back) that rises above the water making it possible to move faster through the water. This design is also very stable in the water.

Pontoon Float Tubes (Not the one with oars those are different type of craft)
Pontoon Float Tubes
Pontoon float tubes provide a little more stability than U tubes and are more comfortable. The advantage pontoon type float tubes offer versus traditional float tubes is that they are much easier to move while in the water – the pontoons offer much less drag and resistance than the traditional designs. This is the current design that I am using and can say that I am very happy with its performance.

Float Tube Maintenance

Float tubes are very durable, at least the quality ones. Float tubes are not at all like regular fishing boats which can require a lot of maintenance. A friend once referred a regular boat as a “hole in the water where you pour in money. Float tubes are virtually maintenance free and can be easily repaired, which will save you a lot money in maintenance costs.

Fishing Float Tube Safety

It is always advised to wear a personal flotation device. After all, even though fishing float tubes seem to be quite safe, there is always a slight possibility of a puncture. Additionally, most manufacturers do not recommend using float tubes in moving waters, such as rivers or streams.

Float tubes are an excellent inexpensive way for an angler to access fishing spots normally he/she would not be able get to. You can get very close to fish in most cases without spooking them. I’ve done some of my best fishing using a float tube. Which float tube is right for you really depends on the features you want and how much you intend on spending. If you haven’t tried float tubes before, give it a shot, and I’m sure you will agree.

The Gear Doc

*Another guest post from Kevin, the Sierra Trading Post Gear Doctor.

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Andy Hawbaker
Andy is a hiker, backpacker, snowboarder and outdoor fanatic. When he isn't exploring the Rocky Mountains, burning marshmallows or scratching his dog behind the ear, he shares his experiences here on the Sierra Trading Post Blog.

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