So, you have taken the plunge and bought yourself your first float tube with all the necessary additions.
Welcome to the club! Stillwater float tubing is great fun, and one can dive deep into the specifics and become quite a die-hard belly boat purist.
There is nothing nicer than drifting over a ‘fishy’ looking piece of water in your tube and hooking a few fish. Even if you don’t get anything to the net, it is still a great way to spend your day and just unwind.
Below we will go through the ‘what to do’ and ‘when to do them’ parts to float tubing.
A basic rundown of how to fish effectively while out on the water in your tube.
Setup and Approach to the Water Entry
As with everything in life, preparation is key! This couldn’t be truer when it comes to float tubing. There is nothing worse than when you forget something on shore and you are in the middle of the lake and yes, it does happen. You must either kick back to land or make an on-the-water quick fix.
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I tend to follow a rigorous routine of setup and packing to try to prevent this issue, and so far, it has worked well. Fingers crossed!
Arriving at the lake, I first establish where I will slip in. Deciding on the entry point is essential, and I like to try to set up and build the boat relatively near to this area. If I am hiking a bit further up the lake, the walk’s packing is done slightly differently. The shoulder straps are added to the boat’s underside to carry it comfortably and free up my hands for the rods or a walking stick.
If your belly boat has these backpack straps, I really suggest using them.
With the actual boat setup, I unpack all gear needed on the water and then repack it into my boat.
I keep all my tackle and flies on my left pontoon in their pouches and all my other gear in the right one, camera, food, keys, etc.
My landing net is attached on my righthand side, with rods on the left, strapped in.
In the backrest pouch, I keep the water bottle and the ever-important flask of coffee. As most of my stillwater fishing is done in the winter, a flask of hot brew is SO important.
Guide Pro Tip: Keeping your gear dry needs to be part of your plan. A waterproof duffel bag attached to the rear of the boat’s storage. A small 10L backpack is perfect for my size boat, and I keep a raincoat and first aid box in here and anything else should I need it for the day.
That’s the basic setup routine that I follow. Once that is done, and the boat is inflated and packed, I set up my rods and get fishing.
Rod Set Up and Flies
What gear you use on the water when float tubing can really make a difference to your day. Please, I’m not saying you can’t catch fish with anything else but using specific length rods and lines will positively impact your day and make things a little easier.
Rod- the ideal rod for still water fishing from a tube is a 6wt or 7wt rod 10′ in length. The extra length helps turn the line over nicely as you are so close to the water. Casting from the tube is like sitting on the ground and casting. So, the 10′ does help in this regard.
Reel- your reel needs to have some backing; 50 yards is plenty. Remember that you can kick after the fish should you be running out of line. The most important thing for me is to be able to change the spools with ease. You may often need to switch to an intermediate line, and if the spool change is a mission, it complicates things. Look for a reel that has easy interchanging spools for this exact reason.
Lines– Lines are essential for me. Again, you don’t have to have all of them and can catch fish with any of them. For me, certain lines work better for specific tactics and conditions. For example, you have a heavy wind over your shoulder and can’t stay in position for too long without drifting. I would then use a floating ‘Midge’ line and float a few buzzers off the grass patches. The line will float but the tip will sink, which will get the flies to the proper depth while in the drift.
For this reason, I carry the following spooled lines, floating, floating midge tip, intermediate, and a sinking DI3 or DI5 or both if needed. If you know you are fishing some deep waters, then a DI7 would also be considered.
Guide Pro Tip- The sinking lines are classed as DI3,5,7. This refers to the sink rate of the line, and a DI3 would sink at 3 inches per second and DI5 at 5inches per second, etc.
When it comes to flies, I try to keep it simple. I like to have a limited selection of flies but in varied weights and colors. I want to have all bases covered. It helps to have some information about the fishery and what to expect. Chat to other anglers and the local fly shop for more details.
I like to have the following flies in my Stillwater box.
Wooly Bugger– is a must in any fly box. The versatility of this fly is fantastic! I have them in various sizes, colors, and weights.
Leech Pattern– Leech patterns are great to have and ideal for fishing over those grass beds on a slow retrieve. I like the leech patterns to be unweighted and will add them to a washing line method.
Damsels Damsel patterns are so deadly over the structure on a slow day. The weeds and grassier sections hold the nymphs, and a slow striped damsel through the grass will get any fish to eat.
Buzzers Midges or buzzers are such an exciting way to fish. It can go from super slow to heart racing in seconds! Dead drift is critical here with a midge line. The flies hang in the zone, and cruising fish pick them at will. Fish them with the wind over your shoulder onto the leading bank. A great sign is if you find the buzzer shucks in the shallows. You know things will heat up.
Blob, The blob fly should have a place in any still water box. Imitating zooplankton or Daphnia, the orange mass is often found floating mid-channel and is a sure snack for passing trout.
Reading the Water and Surrounds
Reading your waters can significantly help you find the fish, especially if you are fishing a large piece of water.
Positioning yourself to get the best drift or so that you are in the correct feeding zone at the right time or just in the right place off a ledge is critical. Suppose you are fishing water that you aren’t too familiar with, then it’s best to get a bathymetric map of the water to study the ledges and drops. This does help.
If this isn’t an option, no worries, then use the lay of the land to try and work out a rough idea of the lake bottom. You want to fish the ledges from deepest to shallowest, pulling those flies through the water column.
When fishing a bottomless lake, finding which column of water the fish are moving in is essential. The water temperature and wind will influence effect this. But I find working the flies through all columns and keeping track of depth by counting is the best way to search for fish and hopefully find them.
Once you find the fish and start getting a few hits, you can adjust the flies and tactics to that depth.
Decide on a game plan for the first session based on what you are seeing and reading and if you aren’t catching anything, move! That’s the best advice I’ve been given to move if you aren’t noticing.
When you first start fly fishing, you hate the wind! But as you develop and grow, you learn that in most parts of the world, there will always be wind and that you can use it to your advantage.
Use the wind to determine which direction to fish. The fish will generally feed nearest the bank the wind is blowing onto. Fish downwards in this direction with the wind behind you, focusing on the feeding lanes created by the wind, the fish patrol the bubble lanes as these hold potential foods.
The wind is also great when approaching an area with as much stealth as possible. The ripples protect the angler quite a bit.
Using the wind to drift your flies into the zone is also a great tactic. This works great for buzzer fishing. Or when you drift a hanging jig bugger over a weed patch.
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In bass fishing they say, find the structure and you will find the fish! This also rings true for trout. Find the structure in the lake, and you will find some fish.
Approach the structure from an upwind position allowing yourself a clean drift over the area you want to fish.
Fish as close to the structure as possible without getting hung up. A sub-surface pattern is excellent in these conditions.
Inlets and outlets
These are my favorite to fish, especially pre-spawn and late season. The bigger fish tend to hang out here. Whether it’s just wisdom from age or something else, the food is abundant, and the fish feed at will.
A light-weighted wooly bugger is my go-to fly pattern here. They fished relatively quickly with long pauses. The fish will usually take you on the hang, so make sure you are ready.
Tactics for Tossing Flies on a Lake
When it comes to tactics, you can complicate it as much as you like, but I want to keep things simple and easy to read.
If there isn’t anything visibly happening to suggest a specific technique, then I always start with a searching pattern and rig.
Strip and Search is a simple, effective way to cover water and search for fish. Casting various weighted flies and retrieving them at multiple depths and rates is what you need to do to find the fish.
The washing line technique is a great way to cover the water at various depths until you find where the fish are. This technique was initially used for fishing the shallows allowing the 3-4 flies to hang for longer, but I applied this method to my weighted search patterns and it works well.
I have a weighted wooly bugger on the point and two droppers. The first is a soft hackle or large nymph, and the last would be a blob.
I fish these flies through the various depths and count how deep I’m fishing. Once I find the fish, it’s easy to get into that zone and target them.
A midge drift is great fun as well. Fish onto the leading bank, drifting two or three buzzers on the midge line. This is a patience game. The patrolling fish will suddenly appear and eat. The slightest movement on your line is a good indication of a eat.
If you see signs of something happening on the water, a midge drift or surface action, then the appropriate flies and drift should be applied. Use your surroundings to influence your choices; you should be tight in no time.
Fishing from a float tube is great fun, whether on your own or with a few buddies. Once you are comfy on your craft and have a few fish dialed in, it always turns out to be a great day.
Don’t overcomplicate the process, keep things simple, and most importantly is to enjoy the time on the water and in the outdoors.
Are you looking for some great How To Fly Fish Articles? Checkout this list:
- How to Fly Fish for Bass with Poppers with 👈 Easy to catch and fun to fight, fly fishing for bass is amazing!
- How to Fly Fish for Bluegills 👈 These amazing fish are all over the USA. I like to call them the “Gateway Drug to Fly Fishing”
- How to Fly Fish for Brook Trout 👈 Find the cleanest, coldest, most beautiful streams and I’ll bet Brookes are present.
- How to Nymph Fish 👈 Step by Step details for setting up, presenting and catching trout with nymphs.
- How to Fly Fish for Salmon 👈 Image hooking into a +25 pound King Salmon in a river and your Fly Rod breaks! Seriously this happened to me on my first trip.
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.