Wednesday, 4 August 2010

How To Get Started Float Tube Fly Fishing

This is a re-post of an earlier article that got mangled during the blog migration. I have reinserted the pictures.

From the time that the brooks start to get too warm for trout fishing until the fall salmon season opens, one of my favourite things to do is go “tubing”.

The float tube and the fly rod go together like a salmon camp and bull shi…oops, a salmon camp and tall tales.
Why do it:

Tubing is easy to do. It is a wonderfully relaxing and positively deadly method for stalking fish on calm water.

For urban fishing where toting a boat or canoe is problematic it just cannot be beat. The same is true for back-country lakes and still waters.

What is it?

Float Tubing, Belly Boating or just plain” tubing” is a way to fish lakes and ponds with minimal and easily portable equipment. The tube is either a ring shaped or “u” shaped air-bladder covered with a rugged cloth shell. A seat is stretched across the middle and numerous convenient pockets and D-rings are incorporated into this cover. The fisherman attaches a pair of swim fins to his feet and sits in the tube. By means of a gentle flutter kick the angler can easily move his floating Lay-Z Boy anywhere on the water.

What You Need: A tube, an air pump to inflate it, and flippers to propel it.

There are a few types of float tubes - circular, the newer “u” shaped boat and the pontoon style that are more like a hybrid ultralight boat tube.

My first tube was the circular model. I enjoy everything about it except that it is clumsy to get into and out of when launching and landing.
For tubing, I use a pair of cheap, boot-foot waders. Flippers fit better over the boots than over wading shoes.

Here is a tip: I like to use scuba flippers instead of the strap on fins often sold with the tubes. They fit better, attach more securely and have a lot more power for the same amount of work.

I have a small, hand powered air pump that fits into the back-rest pocket of the tube. For backwoods hike in spots I carry the tube deflated and about five minutes of pumping will get the tube ready for the water. I also have a pump that plugs into the lighter of my vehicle and will use that when launching in a city lake from a parking lot. I leave the hand pump in the tube and feel very comfortable that in a pinch; a bit of duct tape and few strokes of the pump will get me home.
Casting and Fishing Strategies:

Casting from a tube will feel a bit odd the first few times you try it. The big difference is that you are closer to the surface of the water and need to keep your back cast higher than normal. To offset this, the tube is pretty stealthy so you can fish much shorter casts until you get the hang of the high back cast.

A good way to catch fish and get a feeling of security in the tube is also a great bass fishing tactic for tubing. Kick out about fifteen or twenty feet from shore and cast back toward land. Target the fly a few inches from dry land and retrieve it toward the deeper water. You can work your way around the whole lake without ever straying into very deep water.

The “fish from shallow to deep” tactic works well for trout and pickerel too.

Another dandy tubing trick to keep in mind:

When bass fishing in a warm lake if you start to feel noticeable cooler water around your legs, stop immediately and back up a few feet; you have just found a spring. Often a spring entering in the midst of a warmer lake will be a honey hole for late season trout. They will often stack up in the cooler, oxygen-rich water.

If you are tubing in cooler water and start to feel warm water around your legs just give your buddy a dirty look and get out of there.


I am assuming that as a fly fisherman, you already have all you need for fishing but for tube specific stuff, a small net bag and a light cord stuck in one of the tube pockets might come in handy on windy days. You can fill the net bag with rocks from the shore to make an anchor. You can also, if the wind is right, tie off to the end of a branch or clump of weed to hold your place.

If you keep a few fish a landing net is essential for the tube fisherman. For a catch and release belly boater a pair of forceps on a zinger will work from the tube just as well.


A roll of duct tape is handy and easily carried along as is a short, high volume hand pump. The truth is; the biggest threat to the tube is a stray fly hook. The chances are that even a hard striking hook will not likely pierce the heavy cloth cover and the air bladder. But even if it does, the resulting leak will be so small and slow that you can comfortably head back to your landing spot as soon as you notice the tube is getting softer. Worst case; pull into the nearest dry land, cover the leak with a bit of duct tape, give the tube a few strokes of the pump and head back towards your landing spot.

I once noticed my tube getting soft when I was a long way from my car. I immediately started fishing my way back but as luck would have it, I got into a fabulous fish and then another. I ended up about an hour later still comfortably fishing from a tube which was now only about half-inflated.

The worst that happened was that as I settled lower in the water, occasionally a squirt of cold water would get down the back of my waders when I leaned to set the hook on a bass rising to my bug.

Even were the tube to deflate completely there is second bladder in the backrest that will easily support an angler and all his gear for the kick to shore.

A float-tuber should keep a whistle or other noise making device attached by a lanyard to him, not the tube. Just in case you do need to call for help from a less than obvious place or to alert an inattentive boater to your presence.

Some tube users wear a PFD or other flotation for extra security.

To sum up, you must feel secure in a tube to be able to enjoy the experience. Whatever safety device you can think of, whether it is a life jacket or a flare gun, if you feel better having it then it is needed. However, the best safety device I can think of is “common sense”.


Tubes are easy to repair should you get a small leak in the air bladder. Leaks around the valves are more difficult and you should likely just buy a replacement bladder. They are readily available and often less than half the price of a new Float Tube.

To repair a pinhole in your tube, remove the inner bladder from the cloth cover. Partially inflate it and rub a little soapy water over the bladder until you see bubbles starting to form in the soapy water from the air escaping through the hole in the bladder. Use a sharpie to draw a circle around the leak. Deflate the tube and dry the area around the leak.

If your tube came with a patch kit use the patch and special glue supplied.

Here is a tip: use a little piece of fine sand-paper and lightly roughen the surface around the leak. Also, lightly roughen the patch material before gluing.

If your tube did not come with a patch kit, do all of the same steps as above but use Contact Cement and a small piece of wader material or rubber for a patch. Put contact cement on both the surface being patched and the patch itself. Let the glue set on both for about ten minutes then press the patch into place. Put a small weight on the patch overnight and it should be as good as new.

Here is a tip: If the bladder has extra material extending past the seams. Clip a small bit of this extra material to use as the patch. Do not forget to roughen both the patch and the tube surface very lightly before gluing.

Usually it is easier to avoid leaks.

First, never over inflate the tube. When the outer covering comes tight and the tube is firm, that is enough. More air after that point is just stressing the air bladder and not making you float better or for longer.


If you have any questions –drop me a note or leave a comment here. I will be happy to share what I have learned about this great way to fish.

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Anonymous grasshopper said...

Great post. I was thinking of getting a float tube for fishing around shore. Only thing is I cant swim - my biggest fear was getting caught in a current and pulled out deep i the lake. I mostly just fish in the Fall River area lakes like Rockey Lake, Powdermill, Kinsac ect... Should it be pretty stead if you stay close to shore?

14 August 2010 at 02:00  
Blogger Steve Dobson said...

Thank you for the compliment Grasshopper;

Getting a tube was the best thing I ever did as far as urban fishing goes. Face it, dragging a canoe into some of the smaller city lakes can be a real pain. Turns out the tube is not only easy to handle and transport but it is just about the best way to fish a smallish lake I've ever found.

Safety is an issue no matter what sport you are participating in. A little knowledge and caution should go a long way toward helping you decide whether there is anything to worry about or not.

Tubes have several bladders filled with air, any one of which would easily keep you afloat if disaster were to strike. Think about it, just a good lung full of air will keep you afloat with no other assistance so if you have a life jacket and any one of the tube's air bladders you will be able to kick back to shore with only minor discomfort.

Start out staying close to the edges of structure and only go where you feel comfortable. You will be wearing flippers to move around so will be able to generate a terrific amount of force to move you out of any wind or current you encounter.

The key to any stressful situation is to stay calm. Obviously avoid currents but if you do get caught - just go with it. Gradually work your way to the edge of the current with a smooth steady kick and you will soon be free of it. Don't thrash or panic you really are in no danger. Just ride it out and then kick back to shore slowly and methodically.

I wear a Mustang, air force style inflatable life vest that uses CO2 to activate just for added security. I've never had to inflate it. In fact in more than a decade of tubing I've never encountered a situation where I felt that I was in danger.

My buddy one time slipped and fell while launching his tube but that is about the only tube related fishing accident I can recall.

It is not for everyone but for me tubing is one of the most enjoyable ways to fish in the dog days of summer.


14 August 2010 at 17:26  
Blogger jswilson98 said...

Great Post. I got a float tube for the holidays this past year and have only been out once, but loved it from the get go! I learned from Deke Myer's older book on Float Tubing. Your article has lots of great tips. I am hoping to do more fishing from it in the next month. Keep up the great work,


3 August 2011 at 07:28  
Blogger Unknown said...

The good and bad part about tubes is that they are a towable that you just lay on and focus on holding on. The good part is that its fairly simple and easy to pick up and do. The BAD part is there's practically nil control you have on steering or control for tubes, so if you get slung hard to the right and it tilts over, then its a certainty you're going to ditch hard into the water. Find out more:

5 January 2019 at 17:24  
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