Float Tube Fly Fishing
What Is A Float Tube?
Fly-fishing lakes can be done successfully using a variety of different water craft and one of the more popular crafts is a float tube (also known as a belly boat). A float tube is a small personal watercraft in a "donut", "U" or "V" shape that is usually made up of a rubber inner tube or vinyl bladder with a nylon shell. You maneuver backward through the water using only fins and your own leg power. There are many advantages to using a float tube over a regular boat. You can pack the float tube up with your other gear when hiking into a lake or use the shoulder straps that come with most float tubes and carry your tube fully inflated like you would a backpack. This allows you to fish water that doesn't get a lot of pressure, getting back into smaller lakes and ponds that dont have any boat ramps or roads, or for fishing water where conventional boats aren't allowed. Storage is another advantage. With a lot of float tubes fully deflated, you can store your tube without taking up very much space, not much more room than a couple pairs of waders.
Fly Fishing From A Tube
There are more than a few methods to consider when using a float tube, some of these can include:
The most common method of fly fishing from a float tube is what I like to call troll-casting. This method is quite easy and affective. Simply kick your way parallel to the shore and cast your line across your body (if you are right handed, cast your line over your left shoulder). Once the cast is made, stop kicking and if fishing wet flies, give your fly time to sink using the count down method. If fishing dry flies, let it sit still first then begin your retrieve using various retrieve styles until you find one the fish favour. While retrieving, you can choose to start kicking again or continue to sit still. With this technique, you want to slowly work the entire shoal of a lake 5-10 feet at a time and keeping a distance of about 20 feet from the drop-off. The drop-off is where the bottom of the lake gets deep quickly. If you look into the water while kicking away from shore, the weeds will disappear all of a sudden; that's the drop off. Trout will rise up the drop-off and onto the shoal looking for quick and easy meals. The transition from the shoal to the drop-off is the 'Strike Zone' and it's where you'll get the majority of your hook-ups. Troll-casting works with both floating and sinking lines but a sub-surface presentation will almost always out produce a top water presentation and your efforts should be rewarded using weighted flies and/or intermediate sinking lines. *See the primitive drawing below.
A method usually used by less experienced fly anglers who aren't yet comfortable with their casting, trolling flies from a float tube can be very productive and with a good searching pattern should help you find good fishy hangouts. For those not confident with their casting skills, you can simply pull line off your reel and kick backwards while wriggling the tip of you fly rod to get your line out. Trolling from a tube, whether with a dry or wet line can give your fly some incredible action. The side-to-side motion you can create with your tube by hard kicking one leg then pausing and repeating with the opposite leg combined with laying your rod across your tube will cause your fly to stop and start at various speeds and can drives the fish nuts. You also have the option of stripping your line in while trolling. When doing this it's a good idea to experiment with your retrieve as the trout will react to different speeds. Again, a sub-surface presentation will usually produce better than a top water presentation as most fish do 90% or more of their foraging below the surface.
One of the biggest downsides to float tubing is fighting against the wind. It can take a lot out of an angler when kicking against a strong wind or even a stiff breeze when you've been at it all day. You can however use the wind to your advantage. To do this you'll want to make you way to the end of the lake where the wind is coming from (a good time to troll or do some troll-casting). Once there, you simply let the wind push you back to the other end. While in this drifting state, cast to fishy looking hangouts. You can use your fins to manoeuvre yourself into desired locations while on your drift.
There are anchors made specifically for float tubes. On breezy days these anchors seam to work well enough but on windier days they're not very reliable. In my experience, a 5lb dumbbell weight tied to an anchor rope works pretty good. Anchoring your float tube opens up the opportunity to fish static presentations. This floating line technique of fishing under an indicator is one of the most productive methods a stillwater fly angler has in their arsenal. Although not as immune to the effects from the wind indicator fishing from a double anchored boat, you can still have outstanding results if you know how to control your line to keep your presentation still (catatonic). Under an indicator you can fish leech patterns, scuds, boatman, and many other simple life forms but chironomids (midge pupa/larva) patterns are the most popular. The idea is to attach a strike indicator onto your leader according to how deep you want your fly. If you're fishing depths of more than ten feet, a quick release indicator will make life a whole lot easier to net fish. Using a fluorocarbon leader, attach your flies so your point fly sits at minimum one foot from the bottom (in Alberta we can use up to three flies but I usually stick with two to prevent tangles when netting fish). Cast your flies out and let them sit while trying to keep all movement off your line so the fly remains static. Once you believe your fly is directly below the indicator, wait some more. Now strip the line in very slowly or take a couple of very short (2 inch) quick strips of your line, pause, pause some more, now wait some more and repeat. Remember, when you think you've waited long enough, wait some more. On breezy days you can use a drifting line method with this system as well. With the wind at your back, cast to your side and just let the wind drift you set-up slowly until it is directly in front of you. You can also fish this long leader set-up without an indicator. We call this fishing "naked" and great attention must be taken as your concentration must be intense to feel the take which at times can be very subtle. When fishing naked, retrieving with a dead slow hand twist retrieve will produce the best results. Static techniques are very affective but can become boring as there is a lot of waiting involved. It can also be just the opposite with non-stop action when a good hatch is on though, at times resulting in a-fish-a-cast. Static line fishing isn't the only technique to use when you are anchored. Casting a sinking line with wet flies is an affective method for finding fish and if there is a good hatch on and the trout are actively feeding on top of the water, it's sometimes fun to anchor right in the middle of an active area, tie on a dry fly to your floating line and just enjoy your time casting to risers. During the boatman/backswimmer migration that we see in the fall, you can have incredible success with a dry line and a floating boatman pattern. Although you don't need to be anchored to enjoy this type of fishing, it frees up your concentration as you search for rise rings to cast your fly into. Whenever you are anchoring down, remember to fan cast. Fan casting is simply spreading your casts out in different directions as you don't want to continually fish the same water over and over again. Once you do hook up however, cast to that same spot a few more time as you may have found a feeding lane. If it is a feeding lane, a lot of trout will continue to move along this same route in search of food.
Below is a primitive drawing. Find the drop-off and paddle out about 20 feet. Now cast your presentation 30 feet towards the shore (10 feet past the drop-off). This area between the shore and the drop-off is called the shoal. Now work your way down the shoreline 5-10 feet at a time keeping your tube 20 feet from the drop-off parallel with the shore and casting into the shoal.
Most beginners under inflate their tubes. A float tube bladder should be inflated enough to remove most of the wrinkles in the nylon cover. If inflated properly, the tube should be very firm, with just a little give. Properly inflated tubes will keep you higher out of the water, causing less drag on the float, and making it faster and easier to paddle around. The oral inflating tube that older tubes come with is a joke. Forget it! It will take you forever, and you will never to be able to fill it properly. If at all possible fill your old round tube at a local gas station. If that's not possible, use a small compressor that works off a cars' 12V cigarette lighter. If you can't do that, buy a high quality bicycle pump. It could take up to an hour to fill a large tube with a pump, so try and get an early start. U and V shaped tubes are much easier to inflate and a double action pump will get you going in no time. *NOTE: If you are planning a trip up to the Alpine lakes be very careful with the amount of air you put in your float tube. Remember, air pressure plays a key role in higher elevations and you could burst the tubes zippers, seams or the bladder itself. If you own an older tube, buy an inner tube repair kit from the local bicycle store and stash it in one of the pockets of the tube. These little kits work very well, and might just save your day on the water. While you're at the store, buy a valve stem removal tool and extra stems. These are going to save you tons of time removing air out of the inner tube. It takes forever to drain a tube with the valve stem in it. Remove the stem and it will take less then 5 minutes. Make sure you get the right length for your tube. Always have extra valve stem caps on hand. I purchased the stem caps with the stem removal built into the top of the cap and I always have several on hand incase I loose one. Don't go out into the water without one on. It will keep water from entering and corroding your stem. It also prevents air from escaping if your valve stem goes bad. If you forgot it at home, take one off your car. Some new round tubes may come with a vinyl bladder, I would recommend going to your local tire shop and buying a rubber innertube to replace it. The rubber innertube will be a little bit heavier but way more durable. Email the manufacturer of your tube for the proper size rubber innertube for your model. If purchasing a U or V shaped tube look for bladders made with urethane as these are much more durable than PVC.
Stowing Your Tube
At the end of a days float tubing, remember to dry out your gear. Never stow your gear wet, this way you won't find your tube covered with mold, or worse yet, having begun to rot. I hang my tube from a hook in my garage. I open and empty all the bags and wipe the dirt and mud from my nylon shell and innertube before storing. Clean your gear with fresh water and a mild detergent. Slightly deflate your tube to reduce the pressure on the seams and zippers.
One thing I cant stress enough is wear a Personal Flotation Devise or at least attach a life jacket to your tube using a Velcro strap. Trust me! One day I was out at Hasse Lake and made my way to the Island in the middle. It takes about 15 minutes in a tube, remember you can walk faster than you can move in a tube. Just as I got there I heard this weird noise and after a few seconds of investigating I realized that I had a leek in my bladder. What took me 15 minutes to get out to only took me 8 minutes to get back from. I just made it to the beach rope when my waders started filling with water. I was not wearing a life jacket and I really didn't think I was going to make it. From that day on I've been wearing a personal flotation devise and I feel much safer. The life jacket I bought is short, making it more comfortable in a tube and has pockets and even a wool fly holder/dryer. You don't want a regular life vest because when you sit in the tube the shoulders, front and back of the jacket will ride up into your neck and face. If you're having trouble finding a short life jacket, the Kayaking vests work well in tube. Your best bet however, is an inflatable PFD as these are small and unemcumbering.
Tips and Tricks
• For rubber innertubes, a can of tire inflater/leak sealant in the tube can get you safely to shore (assuming it is a small puncture and not a big rip) . It takes up a bit of space but is an effective repair device when on the water and leaks occur. It is not meant to be a permanent fix but will get you back in the water quickly and effectively until you can get a proper patch job done.
• Anchor for pack-in float tube trips. Use a canvas shopping bag (those enviro tote things) or a mesh laundry bag for an anchor for your float tube. Just take it with you in a pocket of the tube and when you get to the lake just toss in a dozen fist sized stones and tie up the bag. Use the white nylon parachute cord as an anchor rope. When you are ready to pack out for the day, dump the rocks and put the bag and parachute chord line back into a pocket.
• Always walk backwards in and out of the lake because with fins on your feet, you will fall forward and possibly drown, especially on a lake at ice out.
• Before heading out on the water, stretch. Not kidding, after kicking around for 8 hours, your legs will get sore and because it can be a pain to keep kicking into shore to go to the bathroom, you probable won't hydrate yourself as much as you should. It's pretty hard to get back to shore when your muscles cramp up in the middle of the lake.
Equipment & Accesories
There are lots of bells and whistles you can add to your float tube as well as several items of equipment needed to operate your tube while out on the water. Here are some of those you may find handy.
FLOAT TUBE ANCHORS
Float tube anchors work well in breezy conditions but don't seem to hold very good when the wind is blowing hard.
Scotty Anchor lock
Another option is the Scotty anchor lock that will work with most float tubes and can hold a heavier anchor.
There are many different fins available but from my experience with the many years of of float tubing I've done, your best bet is the Force Fin. Although more expensive than the others, these fins will not tire you out as much as other fins making for a great day on the water.
I found a rod holder on my tube was one of the most useful accessories I had purchased. Although it can be bothersome at times getting your line caught around it, it can be invaluable in a tube.
For those that own Outcast tubes, these cooler bags are designed to fit just right at the bow of your float tube.
the Scotty mount works great.