How to fly fish from a Float Tube

Using Float Tubes for Fly Fishing (Complete Guide)

One of my favorite things to do is to drift around in my float tube, fish, think, or just be. Whatever the mission, it is really fun to do and a very relaxing way to fly fish.

I say relaxing, but if you have found the fish in a column or there is a hatch happening, the last thing it is relaxing. This is what float tubing is about. Large pieces of water that you kick or drift around on with a few buddies chatting and searching for fish.

Fly fishing, on a float tube, has many benefits and is much easier than you may think. Learn how to read the water, fish it and maneuver around in the tube, and you will be sorted for your next tube session.

In the below article, we will break it all down for you in a two-part series. All that needs to be learned about tubing and fishing from a tube.

Fly Fishing from a Float Tube
Fly Fishing from a Float Tube

What I Love About Using a Float Tube

What’s to love about float tubing? There is nothing better for me than drifting around on a chilly winter’s morning searching for some fish. I say winter because most of my still water tubing is done in the autumn and winter for trout, and I focus more on bass and carp in the summer months, all of which are awesome to target from the tube.

The first and most obvious reason for using that tube is that it gets you into those areas you would otherwise not reach from the bank. Drifting over those channels and broken tree structures with the stealth of the tube really helps increase the catch rate for the day.

The stealth element of tubing is the second most important thing to realize. A simple kick of the flipper, and you are on your way. No motor sounds to scare the fish off, and you can approach a fishy area with very little disturbance.

Fishing from a float tube allows you to approach and drift over some key spots that you know hold fish, and once you are there and start getting the fish, you can generally find more in the immediate vicinity without much movement.

Covering water and prospecting is another advantage of float tubing. You can move up and down the water in search of fish. Fishing from the deepwater casting to the bank is one of my most popular tactics. 

Another thing to add to the positives about float tubing, you get a great leg workout. I say this with a little ‘tongue and cheek’ because sometimes the kick home can be exhausting.

Let’s look at some advantages of using a float compared to other floatation devices.

I’ve fallen in love with the Classic Cumberland Float Tube

The things that have worked out perfectly for me:

  • Adjustable backrest (comfort for long days)
  • Light weight at 14 lbs. (Easy to Carry)
  • Integrated storage with cup holders
  • Tough reinforced PVC material

COSTS

The costs associated with float tube fishing are minimal. The initial purchase of the tube is expensive, but that’s a once-off payment for all that is needed. The only other expense would be for the day fee on the chosen water you fish. Many of the UK waters are regulated, but the USA-based waters require permits only. Please make sure you check with your local authorities to make sure you have all the correct documentation.

When compared to an actual hard hull boat, the cost can’t even really be compared. Boats need trailers, fuel, and upkeep, to name a few.

It is a little comfier on a dry boat, but if you are kitted correctly, you can have a great day on the water tubing, and the more you fish with a tube, the more you will adapt and build to your experience and comforts on the water.

MOVEMENT

This is one of the things I love most with float tube fishing; the ability to move around and carry the boat to where I want to be. Often a short hike with the float tube on your back will get you to a place that you would otherwise not kick to or just won’t bother with.

These days, most of the float tubes had shoulder strap attachments on the underside for the angler to carry the boat as you would a backpack. This is super handy. I tend to pack my float tube full of all my gear in the side pouches, swing it onto my back, and carry my rods and fins in both hands. This is a very comfortable way of carrying the tube, and one can walk quite a distance with it.

It’s quite nice to walk to the other end of the water like this and then fish your way home if you plan your drifts as I do. This method works well if you have some wind on the water. Use the wind and fish with the wind. Moreon this later.

Moving around to catch trout
Moving around to catch trout

VERSATILITY

This is one thing that other floatation devices have nothing in comparison to float tubes and kick boats. They can be used in any source of water, freshwater, saltwater, and estuaries, and the concept stays the same. Stealth, moveability, and ease of use are the key points that make tubing what it is today.

You may think saltwater? But yes, many anglers use the float tubes in saltwater environments with great success. Whether you are anchored off a kelp forest, looking for striped bass, or working the backline for a cruising fish, the float tube is versatile.

There are a few other things to watch out for with the ocean, currents, waves (big ones), and potential interest from unwanted fish, i.e., sharks. If you have all your safety covered, it’s a great way to fish.

Guide Pro Tip: you may have heard anglers refer to float tubes or belly boats and kick boats occasionally. To put your mind at ease, they are all the same things. The float tube and belly boat are the same boats, while you are elevated out of the water a little with the kick boat. Where the kick boat makes up for in a dry bum, it is bigger and bulkier to carry and assemble.

When to Use a Float Tube (and When You Shouldn’t)

Lakes

Fishing from a tube on the local lake is ideal and exactly what these boats were originally designed for. The ability to move around on the water with ease and stealth is what it is all about. The tube can be used throughout the year on a lake. The only difference is whether you wear waders or not. In the warmer months, waders aren’t necessary, and in the cooed months, you can’t fish without them.

When fishing on the lake, make sure to carry a lifejacket with you or even wear it at all times. This is the best way to stay safe. I always carry a pocketknife as well on my belt if needed.

The problem comes in when you are fishing in waders, and if you were to capsize, the waders would fill up with water and pull you down. This is where the life jacket will keep you up, and with a small knife, you can cut straps and even waders to let water through if needed. Thankfully this has never happened to me, but I do know two folks that have experienced this type of accident and luckily reacted fast and are here to tell the tail.

Lastly, if your local lake freezes over do make sure to watch the ice when out in the early spring. It can be tricky to fish in and potentially hazardous.

Rivers

Rivers are great to fish on a float tube. The larger, slower, moving stretches are so much fun! The current helps to move you along, so minimal kicking is needed. I like to plan my drifts with an entry point and an exit point downstream. That way, I don’t need to kick back upstream, which is very tiring.

I love to fish the riverbanks for the deeper sections outwards. The fish often hold nearer the bank and a fly retrieved from the bank inwards is a deadly method of fishing.

The one obvious concern when fishing on a river in a float tube is the flow rate of the river, the faster rapid areas, and the potential flash flood scenarios. Please make sure to check all of these possibilities. Check the river layout on Google before heading out and follow up with local authorities about any rising waters or planned opening of dam wall gates.

Guide Tip: When casting from a float tube – learn how to water haul. I’ve got an article with videos explaining how. Link -> How to Water Haul with Video

How to Carry Fly Fishing Gear on a Float Tube

How you pack and carry your boat is a personal choice and one that will keep changing to your needs as you fish.

As I mentioned, if I need to carry my tube quite far to my entry point, I tend to first pack everything in the side pouches and repack before entry.

I have a simple setup and routine I like to follow when it comes to repacking. My right-hand pouch carries my snacks, sunblock, mobile, and other bits and bobs that I need on the water for the day.

The left-hand pouch has my fly boxes, spare spools, tippets, and extras. I tend to take out a selection of flies I may need and keep them in my cap.

I keep water and the all-important coffee flask in my seat pouch, this way, it’s out of the way but easily accessible.

Lastly, I carry a dry bag in the rear of the boat with a backup jacket and a small first aid box should I need something quickly.

Again, as I mentioned, this is how I do it, and there will be many other opinions and ideas to follow.

Guide Tip: Hey have you ever wanted a “fly fishing checklist?” FREE download below, no strings just click and download.

Tips for Fly Fishing from a Float Tube to Catch More

  • Stealth is the float tube’s biggest asset. It allows you to move very quietly into a fishable position. Drift over a potentially fishy area, kick around, and re-drift the same run without a splash.
  • To move around, you use fins or flippers, as some may call them. Kicking to move and circular movements to turn and rotate. One can also use the fins to slow the drift down by kicking every so often against the current, and this will slow you down enough to fish effectively. One can also use a drogue for this type of drift fishing, but we will touch on this bit later.
  • A handy tip on the fins is to use a shorter fin blade than you would think. The longer diver’s fins tend to be too long and will work your ankles more than necessary. I use body boarder’s short and stocky fins, and I feel I get more power from them with every kick.

Do you need waders- Waders are optional. Well, in the warmer months they are. They will keep you warm and dry in the colder months, that’s for sure! We need to remember that your bum will generally be wet with float tube fishing. Your bottom may be slightly elevated with most tubes, but it will eventually get wet. In the summer months, it’s okay, of course, but when it is super chilly, not so much. The worst was last season. I had a slow leak in my waders and forgot about it. When I made my first winter trip, I was quickly reminded.

I generally wear waders just for comfort and to stay dry provided it’s not going to be too warm.

Do the fins need boots– So I always recommend that you wear a sock at least. I wear neoprene surf booties that have a tread underneath them. This allows me to remove the fins and walk quite comfortably in them. You can’t do a whole hike in them as they don’t have much support, but they are better than having nothing on your feet.

It also helps with chaffing. This is a major issue for a newbie on the water. The fins can cause blisters. You can use a light cover sock as well to help prevent this from happening.

The problem with wearing wading boots is that they will first float to the top of the water, and once soaked, they will sink and become extremely heavy to kick around with for the day. So, I don’t recommend wearing wading boots when tubing.

Landing fish and nets- Landing fish on the tube is pretty straightforward. You fight the fish as you would on land. There is one thing that happens on a tube, and that is when the fish swims towards you, you will need to kick back to take up the slack. You will pick this up rather quickly.

You can generally move around fighting the fish without any issues.

I always keep my net attached to the tube with a net cord and get it out alongside the tube while I’m fighting the fish. It’s quite nice to have a floating net, so it drifts with you while fighting the fish. You can also rest the fish in the net without having to worry about it escaping.

Organizing gear- This again is a personal preference. It’s up to you to work out what you need where. Keep things simple and practical to your needs. Before you drop into the water, make sure you have all that you will need, it’s very annoying being on the water, a few hundred meters from the base, and realize you forgot something. Double-check, triple-check!

Belly Boat Casting Tips

Rod Length- The rod length for any boat fishing is important. It is not essential but certainly helps the casting action. Most fly rods are 9′ in length, which works just fine. But if you want to up your casting game, then a 10′ rod is the better choice, in my opinion. The extra foot in length does help you cast better and throw those tight loops.

Positioning for Wind- How you use the wind will make or break your day out on the water. This is the beauty of the belly boat. Use it to get into position to cast with the wind from behind you. This will give you an extra boost with casting and shooting that line a good distance further. You can also use various other casting techniques should the wind be unmanageable. Casting methods such as the Belgium Cast and Water Haul work well.

Considerations When Buying a Float Tube

Not all tubes and belly boats are made equal. Yes, they are all very similar, but there are a few minor differences that you should know about.

Styles of Float Tubes:

Round- The round-style tubes were the groundbreaker of the float tubing scene. They were the first designs and the easiest type of tube to inflate and use. They are very user-friendly and work very well in all aspects of the water.

While they are very user-friendly and safe, they are the most difficult style of boats to move around with. They don’t have a front or back and have loads of water resistance making kicking to move around very hard. For short, small kicks and sessions, they will be fine, but I wouldn’t recommend them if you will be covering a lot of water.

Pontoon Style Float Tube
Pontoon Style Float Tube

Guide Recommend Tip: Classic Accessories a great pontoon style float tube. these are going to be a little heavier than a tube, but the raised seat and oars have the advantage of seeing and positioning better for a perfect cast. Here’s a shortcut link to Amazon for current prices -> Classic Accessories Colorado Pontoon Boat

Pontoon- This style of float tube is very nice. They move well in the water, as they have a pontoon on either side of the chair. The most attractive factor of the kick boat (Pontoon boat) is that your bottom is out of the water and doesn’t get wet.

This is a game-changer, and these styles of boats also have more surface area to pack on. Added to this, a trolling motor can be mounted to the rear of the boat. This is very advantageous when fishing big pieces of water.

However, they can be heavy and very bulky to carry, especially if you have a drop in some distance from the van. You would have to carry the boat over in 2-3 trips.

U or V Shape- These are the classics and the most updated version of a float tube. This is the style that I currently use, and I enjoy fishing from them. As referred to in the name, the U or V makes it easier to move on the water as your boat has a ‘bow’ or sorts that helps move through the water better. There are loads of packing room on them, yes, some models have less than others, but that’s brand dependent.

The only negative I have with these style boats is on some models the chairs are air-inflated, and when it deflates slightly, then your bottom is sitting in water. Summer, no issues, a welcome relief actually, but winter this isn’t fun!

Technical Considerations

Materials and Durability- PVC is the more modern used material for the inner workings of the float tube. The bladders and seats are made from heavy-duty PVC with reinforced singular seam welds. The outer shell of the boat is made of heavy nylon weave, which provides added strength and durability. The belly or underside of the boat usually has a second coating of nylon or heavy PVC sheeting. This is to prevent any punctures if floating over some structure or sliding on the ground.

Packable- This is one of my favorite things about belly boats. It rolls up into an average-sized suitcase in size, with no big bulky boxes or extra things lying all over.

The number of Air Bladders- Most boats will have two bladders; they are easily bought online or from the local retailer should you need a spare. I’ve never had any issues with my bladders, but they do get weak at the seams the older they get.

Quality of Air Valves- Good things cost money, like anything in life! The same goes for valves on belly boats. When in the market for a new boat, make sure the valves are securely attached to the bladder and that the value itself is robust and not made from that cheap plastic.

Weight- Most round and V boat style boats are roughly the same weight; as mentioned, the kick boat is the heavier of the lot so consider this when in the market for a new tube.

Comfort (Backrest and Armrests)- I prefer the backrest and armrests to have the high-density foam inside as opposed to the inflated bladders. I have found that these have weak valves and tend to deflate over the course of the day.

If you have the bladders in your, you can easily adapt them by having some high-density foam inserts cut to size and replay the inflatable seats.

Additional Extras

The below items are additional extras that are nice to have and help make the days fishing easier and more organized. That said, you don’t have to have them go fishing.

Backpack straps are great to have if you will be walking a distance to drop in. They have small clips on the underside of the boat, which you attach your shoulder straps to and remove once your destination has been reached.         

Rod Holders- These are handy to have when you fish with more than one fly rod. Some boats have a side strap system to attach a second rod, but the rod holders that wrap around the tube bladder are a great addition for the serious belly boater.

Must-Have Accessories for Belly Boats

Float Tube Considerations
Float Tube Considerations

Fins with tethers- These are a must-have to move around on the water. The fins can be attached to your ankle should they slip off when kicking. This is done with a simple tether strap.

Dual Action Pump- This is a lifesaver when pumping up by hand. The pump draws air on both up and downward strokes getting the bladder blown up faster. A side note on pumping up the bladders is to pump them just to a firm thumb press, and when fishing in the summer months to slightly under pump the bladder as they tend to expand in the midday sun.

If you can find a simple little electric pump that plugs into the cigarette lighter of the van, then even better!

A repair kit is important to carry a small patch kit and two-part epoxy glue. It’s like fixing a bicycle tube, so follow the kit instructions, and you should be back on the water in no time. A nifty little tip is you can use your thermostat to temporarily clinch a leak should you need to, and I know I have done so in competition fishing when time is of the essence.

Drift sock or drogue for float tube
Drift sock or drogue for float tube – Link to Amazon for full kit -> Drift Sock for Float Tube

Drift Sock and anchor- while they are two different things, they perform a similar task. The drift sock is a small parachute type device that is deployed for drift fishing, it slows you down enough to fish a decent line and drift. While the anchor does what an anchor does, it anchors you to the bottom.

I prefer the drift sock/drogue style of fishing as I like to move, I feel it gives me an advantageous edge on the drift. Call it a fisherman’s superstitious, but you tend to do what works for you.

Guide Pro Tip: when storing your float tube, it is best to keep it slightly inflated and hanging off the wall if you can. You want to prevent the seams from being folded for too long.

Where to Buy a Good Float Tube

  • Amazon has some great float tubes to check out. They are well priced and will get the job done.
  • The Fishin’ Hole has a great selection of extras to add to your float and some more premium tubes.
  • Mad River Outfitters has great tubes for purchase. They also offer great advice for a novice.

Last Cast from a Float Tube

I remember the first time I used a belly boat; I was hooked! That completely ‘on your own feeling’ on the water is what I loved. Yes, you mostly fish with friends and should always buddy up, but you still have that alone and peaceful feeling, and it does wonders for the mind.

The more you fish from the tube, the more you will love it and work out your own systems and way to do things.

I can’t encourage you enough to get out there and give it a try. You will love it, and when you start getting the fish, well, then things just get even better.

Remember to stay safe out on the water and always have fun.

Tight Lines!


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Kyle Knight writer Guide Recommended

Kyle Knight

Fly fishing has been my passion and pursuit for the past 20 years. I am a South African based fly fisherman who loves nothing more than spending a day on the water. Fly fishing is more than catching fish, being in the outdoors with good friends and family is what it is all about.

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