My first car was a 1966 maroon Chevelle. It had CHEVELLE in a white decal down the side of it. It looked fast, but it wasn’t. On a good day with the pedal to the metal on a downhill grade and a tailwind you might be able to touch 80 mph, but that would be pushing it. The rings were so bad in the motor I put used oil in it.
During the summer of my sophomore college year, I meet someone the very first week I was home. It was a whirlwind summer and before going back to school in the fall. She decided to upgrade vehicles and sold me her mint 1970-something gold Monte Carlo for a song. The car lasted much longer than the relationship.
After purchasing a new red Ford van during my short tenure at Ford Motor Credit I’ve been a loyal Chevy truck owner ever since. Anglers who trout fish from a float tube often follow a similar progression. The parallel makes me think of the cars I once owned.
Many start out with a classic, no-frills, round float tube that we found at a garage sale. My first tube was basically a tire inner tube with a fabric cover. The basic tube serves the purpose of getting anglers away from shore to cover more water and get lures in front of more trout. The next plateau is usually a u-shaped float tube. These tubes get anglers higher out of the water, are more comfortable and easier to get in and out of. Almost all float tubes today are the u-shaped variety.
As anglers learn the benefits and liabilities of float-tube fishing, it’s natural for serious anglers to want something bigger and better. The gaze often focuses on pontoons and how they differ from float tubes. And with float fishing increasing in popularity over the last two decades, there is a plethora of newer, improved float tube and pontoon designs. A number of factors go into making your first float tubes or pontoons to choose from.
Float tubes and pontoons are versatile when it comes to fishing techniques and tactics. Both tubes and pontoons are perfect for slipping in or quietly drifting into casting range of rising trout. Fish in shallow water can be approached without spooking them, too.
Tubes Versus Toons
A number of factors go into making your first float tube or pontoon purchase. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Each has its own niche. “There’s no clear-cut simple reason to guide a prospective buyer into choosing either a float tube or a pontoon. It a very subjective matter,” said Pat “TubeDude” Scouten (www.floattubefishing.com/float-tube-fishing), who is considered a pioneer in float-tube fishing and has been on the cutting edge of the float-tube revolution. Neither float tubes nor pontoons represent the kind of investment needed to own a boat, which is one reason for getting one. But it’s not chump change to purchase a decent one either. You can get a serviceable float tube for around $75, but experts will tell you that you get what you pay for. A quality float tube will cost $200 to $300. Top-end pontoons can cost $2,000 or more once they’re rigged. “It’s not uncommon for serious floatation fans to own both for varying fishing situations,” said Scouten. “Float tubes have features, advantages and benefits that make them a better choice for some floatation fishermen. Pontoons will work better for others. It’s not uncommon for anglers to start with one and switch to the other after gaining some experience. And, it’s also common for serious floatation fans to own both.”
Because float tubes are smaller, they’re easier to transport than a pontoon. This can be an especially important consideration if you drive a vehicle with limited space. A float tube can be deflated to occupy a small space leaving room for a tent, sleeping bag, your rod, and the dog.
Float tubes typically utilize fins for propulsion and to hold your position. This leaves an angler’s hands-free for casting. Fins may be a little lacking for bucking a strong wind or getting back to shore, but a steady kick will get you home. Because of a tube’s lower profile, they are less affected by wind. Good to know for Wyoming anglers.
The advantage of float tubes sitting lower in the water and the fact they are less affected by wind can also be a liability. Because you sit lower in a float tube than you do in a pontoon it inhibits your ability to see into the water. Casting efficiency is reduced when you’re lower to the water, and you tend to get your elbows wet on occasion.
Float tubes are very responsive. They can spin a tube on a dime and maneuver into tight spaces that others might not be able to fish. They can provide access to brushy shorelines and rocky cliff faces that can’t be fished from shore.
Tubes are perfect for carrying, packing and launching in remote waters. There are tube models designed for backpacking that are relatively light and easy to carry. If most of your fishing in the backcountry you might consider one of these.
Range and speed are limited in a float tube. You don’t want to get too far from the launch site and have a long kick back with daylight and leg strength fading. Wind and waves can make the task more difficult.
Float tubes can limit some fishing methods. With no electric motor, you can’t maintain the speed to troll. You can use the wind and flippers to drift, but once you end up downwind you still need to get back. If you’re considering using a float tube on moving water, keep in mind they are not as safe as a pontoon.
Without all the space, pockets and carry capacity afforded on a pontoon, you can’t bring as much tackle and gear on a tube. Sometimes less is good. Without all the storage you are forced to bring essential gear and tackle.
Pontoons are heavier, larger and more difficult to transport and store than a float tube. They’re are not as easy to breakdown and reassemble as a tube. If you don’t want to break them down before and after every trip a roof rack or pick-up bed is needed to haul them. Don’t purchase a pontoon that you can’t load by yourself in case your buddy backs out at the last moment. Because of their weight, pontoons are not a good choice for backpacking into distant locations.
Pontoons sit higher in the water and are generally more comfortable to fish out of than a float tube, but their higher profile makes them more susceptible to high winds. Sitting higher means you have greater visibility and improved casting form, line control, fish-fighting options, and comfort. Optional lean bars and standing platforms give pontoons, even more, fishing flexibility and visibility.
Most pontoons come with oarlocks and trolling motor mounts to facilitate the use of oars and trolling motors for propulsion. This increases the range and speed of pontoons. Oars are typically for propulsion and getting from point A to point B, especially if you don’t have a trolling motor. It’s nice to have a trolling motor when it’s time to head to shore or you have to buck the wind to get home. It also keeps your hands free for fishing. Pontoons are difficult to propel with fins alone. Fins do come in handy for making short moves and sneaking in on rising trout while leaving your hands free to cast.
Pontoons only require a few inches of water to launch, which makes getting in the craft easier. Because pontoons have multiple air chambers, they are safer overall than a float tube that has a single air chamber.
One consideration before buying either a tube or pontoon is carrying capacity. This is one case where it’s better to have too much than not enough. Match the craft to your body weight and consider the added weight of trolling motor, battery and tackle. “There is no reason to buy less than required to keep you comfortably afloat and fishing efficiently,” said Scouten.
One of the simplest, but most important, components of a float tube or pontoon is the seat. Look for one with a comfortable seat and an adjustable, padded backrest because you’ll spend hours at a time in it.
To complicate choices even further there’s a new craft called a pontube, kind of a cross between a tube and pontoon. “My Escape brand is a pontube,” said Scouten. “The size and shape are a hybrid between a pontoon and a float tube. The single biggest advantage of the pontube is more floatation. It’s better for bigger guys and makes it easier to handle a motor and battery without capsizing. Most pontube models have oars, which offers another means of propulsion besides fins alone. They are bigger than a tube, but smaller than most pontoons. So you have more floatation than a tube, but less wind resistance than a pontoon. And if you use fin power you do not need as much stamina to kick them around all day. They usually have more pocket space for storage, too.”
Weather is always an important consideration when fishing, but it’s especially true when tubing or ‘tooning. Always check the forecast and be aware of current and future conditions. Summer storms can blow up in the West, and the last place you want to be is in the middle of a lake wielding a 9-foot, graphite lightning rod.
The wind is always a consideration, especially in Wyoming. Float tubes are not as congenial for fishing in the wind as pontoons from a safety point. Take advantage of the calmer mornings.
Store float tube and pontoons out of the sun. Never store them fully inflated, especially in a vehicle. Tubes and pontoons can deteriorate; threads can rot, seams can split and valves can leak. Be sure to give your craft a thorough safety check before you hit the water, especially if you haven’t used it in a while. It’s a good idea to take a repair kit along. A cell phone in a waterproof container or a whistle are good insurance.
Although you’re sitting in a huge floatation device when fishing from a tube or pontoon it’s still a good idea to wear a lifejacket. Self-inflating life jackets are thin, comfortable and you hardly know you have them on.
Punctures and float tubes or pontoons don’t go well together. Be very careful when fighting fish near your craft, especially if using lures with multiple hooks. Always be mindful of potential puncture hazards, including possible injury to your eyes.
Always wear protective glasses to shield your eyes from the sun and possible injury. Use protective sunscreen and lip balm and wear a wide-brimmed hat to ward off harmful rays. Have insect repellent on hand and medication if you’re allergic to stings and bites.
Float fishing is not like running a marathon, but you need to be reasonably fit to do it. “You should be able to power your craft around efficiently upon the water without getting a hernia or having a stroke,” said Pat Scouten. “If you’re out of shape, you should get back into shape or at least to the point where you can work your fins or the oars for a day of fishing before buying a tube or a pontoon.” Don’t think you can fish just because you have a trolling motor. Electrical gadgets fail; batteries die.
Float tubes and pontoons can be used for a variety of fishing techniques. You can cast, drift, troll or vertical jig and about anything in between.
Float tubes and pontoons are especially popular with fly anglers. “Some fly flingers are purists,” said Pat Scouten. “They prefer to cast and retrieve rather than dragging or trolling flies behind them- too bad. Float tubes and pontoons are ideal for covering a lot of water without having to make continuous casts.”
A pontoon with a trolling motor is capable of pulling crankbaits to catch trout. If you have rod holders, you can run multiple lures off in-line planer boards. My preferred method of fishing lures from my float tube is to cast. One of my most productive lures is something I call a mega bugger. It’s similar to a fly fisherman’s woolly bugger, but I tie them on jig heads. I’m not sure whether it’s considered a fly or a lure, but the trout don’t seem to care.
Tricking Out Your Tube or Pontoon
Once you have a tube or pontoon you need to accessorize it. This can be as elaborate or as simple as you want it to be. Both tubes and pontoons come with pockets that can be used for tackle and gear storage. It’s better to have multiple smaller tackle boxes than a couple of bigger ones. A graph or fish finder can be a godsend for finding structure. Brackets for mounting graphs are available and are standard on many models. Many LCG’s these days are not only fish finders, but also have temperature gauges and GPS for marking hotspots and your launch point.
D-rings can be used to secure fish baskets, stringers, a net, bait containers and just about anything else. Oars are mandatory on pontoons. Most anglers already own a pair of waders suitable for tubing and ‘tooning. A trolling motor is an added comfort and requires some kind of mounting bracket and a place to store a battery.
Rod holders are handy for storing additional rods, and for fishing multiple rods. One advantage of pontoons with frames is they have plenty of space and ways to secure rod holders, tool racks, cutting boards and more. If you’re fly-fishing a stripping apron can come in handy.
Anchors are used more when fishing from a pontoon than a float tube. The higher profile of a pontoon catches more wind and it’s often advantageous to anchor. Many pontoons come with anchor systems as standard equipment, but they are available as an aftermarket accessory. Anchors are largely a matter of personal preference, depend on how deep the water is where you fish, the bottom type and how large your craft is. Don’t forget some fins.
When fishing from a float tube or pontoon, it’s important to know where you can legally fish and what considerations need to be taken when floating through private property.
In Wyoming, landowners own the land under the water- including all banks, islands, and stream bottoms. It’s legal to float through private lands, but boaters and anglers can’t touch the streambed in any way. So, when float fishing through private land, stay in your tube or pontoon and don’t anchor.
It’s best for anglers to research the stretch of water they’ll be floating and note the private and public land areas on the route. To help with navigating, Wyoming Game and Fish Department public access areas are marked with brown signs and maps showing public and private boundaries. These maps are also available on the Game and Fish website.