We have the largest assortment of float tube accessories on the net. We have all the tools, add-on’s, and accessories needed to pimp out your tube and become a lean mean fishing machine.
All you need to go fishing is a pole, reel, line, hook and worm. Right? So, what do you REALLY need to be a floatation fisherman? Theoretically, it is possible to go “bare bones” fishing in your tube or toon with only a single rod and a few flies and lures. Possible? Yes. Practical? No. In reality, most tubers and tooners keep adding stuff to their arsenal until they can’t get it all into even the most generous pockets. That’s why a lot of us wear fishing vests, chest packs and even have carry-on tackle bags. We got lots of stuff we just can’t seem to do without. Let’s assume that you already have your craft “tricked out” with rod holders, sonar, net, fish basket, etc. Let’s further assume that you are properly outfitted with waders, booties and fins. And, to make the rest of this chapter easier let’s also figure that you have a nice spacious fishing vest with lots of pockets and maybe an ample chest pack/pouch.
What are some of the other “essentials” and where is the best place to keep each of them? Of course you will develop your own personal system after a few trips on the water but here is a list of the goodies and suggestions for how to integrate them into your ensemble.
“Carry-on” gear for tubing and tooning can be more or less grouped into three categories:
1. Fishing efficiency
2. Comfort & Safety
3. Repair and maintenance.
Let’s review the most important float tube accessories in each category and their importance. We can also suggest the best places and methods of keeping them properly stowed and readily available when needed. This list is not intended to advocate that you take everything on every trip. Depending on the type of fishing you will be doing you can omit things and still have a successful trip. Even so, there will be some tubers and tooners that will try to take all this stuff and more. There is another chapter entitled “Pimping Your Ride”. It deals more with the physical additions to your craft…like rod holders, sonar, tool racks, apron and seat modifications, etc. Thischapter addresses items that you would customarily carry in pockets, around your neck or attach loosely to your craft.
More Float Tube Accessories
TACKLE AND CONTAINERS:
Unless you have only a very small amount of tackle don’t try to take it all on every trip afloat. Use good quality compartmented plastic boxes to assemble “trip boxes” with only the stuff you will conceivably use on each trip. Use “worm-proof” plastic boxes. These are resistant to the solvents in soft plastic lures. Do not take more of each kind of lure than you will conceivably use on any given trip. This greatly reduces the bulk and weight of your carry-on baggage. Fly boxes and small lure boxes can fit into vests or chest packs for quick access. Just make sure they ride above the water line if you are in a low-riding float tube. Larger lure boxes should be secured inside the zippered pockets on your craft. You do not have to buy large boxes just because you have large pockets. Sometimes it is simpler and more efficient to load up several smaller organized boxes rather than putting
everything in one large box. That becomes a matter of personal preference after you have more experience.
There are an increasing number of new options for carrying your fishing tackle safely and conveniently. These include “soft side” tackle bags. They can be great for tubing and tooning because they are more flexible and adaptable to available pocket space. Be sure to keep all flies, lures and loose hooks covered and protected in some kind of container. If hooks or lures are allowed to ride unsecured inside a pocket there is the possibility of
the hook points poking a hole through the cover and into your air chamber. Not good.
BAIT AND BAIT CONTAINERS:
Depending upon where and how you fish, and for what species, you might include bait in your provisioning. There are dozens of different baits and most of them can be easily carried on board your tube or toon.
Baits can be anything from plain old worms to fancy “bottle baits” with scientific formulations designed to catch both fishermen and fish. In some cases you might take live baitfish. On still other trips it might be whole dead minnows or pieces of “cut bait”.
Whatever kind of bait you take on board you should stow it properly and take steps to insure that the bait stays fresh. You need a system of storage, handling and usage that prevents messy baits from getting all over you or your craft. Keep things cleaned up as you fish and then give your craft a thorough washing after each trip. Some baits, such as salmon eggs, prepared dough baits or other bottled concoctions, do not require refrigeration or special handling. However, cheese and dough baits will remain firmer if you keep them cool. Always keep containers closed between uses and keep them protected from damage while they are in the pockets with other items.
Plain old earthworms and red worms are good baits for many species. They are fairly easy to keep in almost any kind of container on board your tube or toon. They are also more tolerant of warm temperatures than nightcrawlers.
When you fish with night crawlers you must store them in something that will keep them chilled. “Dew worms” are native to cooler climates and quickly die and “sour” if they get very warm. Insulated containers with some ice or frozen gel are a good way to keep crawlers healthy all day in your tube or toon. Dead minnows and all forms of cut bait should also be kept cool. That stuff can “go south” quickly on a hot day. Even if the fish still eat it the odor can assault your olfactory senses and might get you evicted from your own home when you return. Again, insulated containers with ice or frozen gel packages will help keep dead fish parts fresher longer. Small containers will fit into the large side pockets of a fishing vest or in the tackle pockets of your craft. Just be sure that the lids fit tightly before laying bait containers on their sides. Leaking juices will mess up your vest or your cover.
If you need to carry a lot of bait in a larger cooler you can rig a small floating “bait station”. Some serious bait fishermen fit a small inner tube or foam ring around a cooler to float the bait box. Then they attach a rope and hang it from a D ring to access as needed. Just don’t mix the bait with lunch and get the two confused. A good example of a disaster waiting to happen.
This tuber’s tackle box is too large to be kept inside a pocket and is in danger of falling over the side.
Even if it floats, the lures inside are likely to get wet…leading to dull finishes and rusty hooks. Better to divide up the tackle into two or three smaller boxes…inside pockets.
In many parts of the country summertime generates a good supply of grasshoppers or crickets. These can be kept in special wire mesh “cricket cages” or in any kind of small jar or plastic container. Just be sure to poke holes in the lids to allow air circulation for the bugs. If the containers are not too big you can easily carry them in pockets on your vest or your craft.
LIVE BAIT WELLS
In many parts of the country it is both legal and effective to fish with live minnows in fresh water. And, many tubers and tooners like to drag live baits while fishing the salt. There are a number of ways to keep bait species alive and munchable while floatation fishing. Several manufacturers produce minnow buckets, floating bait keepers and bait cages. These all work well. You don’t need an aerated live well on board unless you are fishing from a large
pontoon on the salt and traveling under power a lot. Live wells are a “drag”.
Of course, if you have the time and ability you can save a few dollars by making your own live bait system. For a floating live bait system use either fine wire mesh or a nylon bag with a ring of floating foam around the top…and perhaps a rigid hoop in the bottom to keep the mesh from collapsing. Just be sure the mesh is small enough to hold the size of the live bait you will be using. Aerated live wells can be created from insulated containers and small battery powered pumps. Mount these on the deck of your pontoon or allow them to float behind you in the water if you are a “deck challenged” tuber.
WIPING RAGS AND/OR SANITARY WIPES:
If you fish with messy bait and/or fish attractants you will want something upon which to wipe your hands…or other “slimed” surfaces. You should carry two or three “fishing towels” on your tube or toon. These can help in grasping and controlling spiny or slippery fish. More importantly they help keep your hands clean to prevent buildup of bait residue or fish slime. It is doubtful that anyone ever died from slime or grime. But, it can mess up your grip on your rods or other gear. Keeping clean hands might help prevent needless loss of tackle. Dry towels and rags can be draped or clipped anywhere including being wrapped around your neck and
doubling as sun protection. There are also sanitary considerations. Mud, blood and slime are breeding grounds for all kinds of nasty microbes. That is why hygiene-conscious anglers often carry disinfectant cleaning wipes with alcohol or other germ-killing agents in those wet tissues. Keep wet wipes in a sealed container in your vest, chest pack or a pocket on your craft. If not, at least keep some in your vehicle for a final cleanup before heading back down the road.
LINES AND LEADERS:
No matter what kind of fishing you do you should carry some extra line or leaders. Fly fishermen may need to change from a floating to a sinking line (or vice versa) during a day’s fishing. They also might keep leader material or extra tapered leaders of different lengths and strengths to rig for varying conditions and the whims of the fish. Extra leaders fit nicely into small plastic bags or pouches and these can be carried in vest pockets or chest packs. Anglers who use spinning and/or bait casting gear also benefit by having extra lines and leaders on board. Pretied leaders, for specialized fishing applications, can save time and frustration on the water when you have to re-rig…especially during a hot bite. A very important float tube accessory.
If you tie dropper rigs or rig up bubbles and flies you should tie these rigs by using fresh line from a spare spool rather than taking line directly from the reel spool. It may not seem like much but after you re-rig a few times you reduce the amount of line on your reel. That can be a problem both for casting efficiency and for holding a large fish that runs out a lot of line.
A good trick is to save the last few yards of line on a spool after filling your reel. Tuck it into a tube pocket to use for rigs and leaders. But, it may pay to keep a full spool also for times when you have to add line to your reel. On a day when you break off a few snags or lose a length of line to a big fish…or a water skier…you can either “topshot” or completely respool.
There are many wonderful new models of bait casting reels on the market with adjustable controls to reduce backlashes. However, even the most skilled anglers with the most modern reels still experience occasional “professional overruns”. Some are so severe that you must hack the line to pieces to get it undone. If you don’t have extra line with you your trip may be over. At the very least you will not be able to use that outfit any more for the day.
EXTRA REELS OR SPOOLS:
For some fishing situations, simply having extra line is not enough. Many fly flingers have reels that are designed for quick spool changes. That makes it much quicker and easier to switch lines than stripping one off and rewinding the spool with another. If you have the budget for it the ultimate solution is to carry complete extra reels for specialized fishing conditions.
The advantages of carrying extra reel spools are not exclusive to fly-fishing. Many spinning and bait casting reels feature quick spool change capabilities too. Even if you have several spare rods in your rod rack there are times when you would rather change lines on a favorite rod-reel combo than to pick up another outfit. Extra spools of lighter or heavier line make that possible. Reel spools are small enough that they can be tucked into a pocket on your vest or your tube or toon. Extra reels are a bit larger and bulkier. They need to find a space in a larger pocket. Be sure to box or pad them to protect them against damage when not in use. When changing spools or reels be sure to cover and tuck them away before you resume fishing. Things left unsecured on your craft have a nasty habit of diving into the water at the first opportunity. Reels and/or extra spools are too valuable to donate to the water gods.
FLOATANTS AND DRESSINGS
Fly fishermen carry goodies that most other anglers don’t need or use. One of these is fly floatant. Floatants help seal the materials of a fly against water absorption when used on a pristine fly…or after cleaning a messed up fly with a cleaner & drying powder. This stuff helps keep a dry fly floating enticingly over finicky fish. Some fly flingers also carry line cleaners and dressings. Most of the modern high-tech lines have built in floatation or sinking properties and don’t need dressings. But, they still benefit from occasional cleaning and conditioning. Like many of the foo-foo accoutrements of fly-fishing floatants and dressings generally come in small containers that easily fit into small pockets on a vest.
All fishermen have a need to cut line from time to time. Some use their teeth…and usually pay a price sooner or later. A good pair of clippers cuts lines and trims knots quickly and efficiently without wear and tear on your choppers. Clippers are also handy for trimming broken fingernails and removing hangnails…their original intended use. Some anglers hang their clippers on a cord or chain around their neck. Most prefer to attach them to a retractable gizmo that pins onto a shirt or vest. These things are handy and make it easier to find and use the clippers when you need them.
Most tubers and tooners have little need for scissors and they might get in the way and occupy space that could be better filled with other goodies. However, for those that fish with flies or dressed jigs (or plastics) scissors can be helpful for custom trimming when needed. They can also cut line or remove loose threads from clothing or pocket seams on your craft. If you decide that scissors belong in your ensemble you can either keep them in a little
protective pouch with other such items or stuck into a special sheath on your vest. Just be careful with them. They have points and points can put holes in you and/or your craft.
KNIFE & CUTTING BOARD:
Serious anglers seldom go anywhere without a good sharp knife. Knives have a multitude of potential uses on tubes and toons. They come in handy for cutting line, fending off charging grizzly bears or sharks, etc. You gotta have a good knife. And, if you carry one keep it clean and sharp.
You should never cut anything directly against the cover of your tube or toon. Carry a small cutting board along with your knife so you can safely prepare bait or trim things that need trimming. Another big caution is to always make sure the knife is held securely in a sheath when not in use. Unprotected knife blades can do serious damage to flesh and floatation craft. Small knives can be attached to the outside of your vest or inside a vest pocket. The smaller ones also fit handily inside a chest pouch. You can keep knives and cutting boards inside your craft’s larger pockets but you have to make sure they do not slide out of the sheaths to cut you or your craft. Bigger knives should be safely stored in a “tool rack” on the outside of your craft, where they are easily seen and accessed when needed.
Gaffs are illegal on many fresh water fishing holes. But, they can be indispensible for controlling large fish where legal. They are better than lip grippers for dealing with active fish that are too large for whatever net you carry on your craft. Tubers and tooners in southern California target big halibut from their craft. They often use short handled gaffs to hook flatties in the lower jaw especially if they plan to release them. They use heavy longer gaffs to stick big fish that they plan to keep. If you carry a gaff you need to stow it so that it is completely out of the way and does not grab you or your tackle while you are fishing. Needless to say, you have to always be careful that
the gaff point only pierces fish flesh and not yours…or your air chambers.
FISH BILLY (CLUB):
You don’t need to carry a club with you unless you anticipate keeping large, unruly and/or dangerous fish. Fish billies are not C& R tools. But, if you need to pacify a big nasty fish with dangerous dental equipment a few “gentle taps” on the noggin will make it safer to handle on your tube or toon. You can make your own fish whacker from a piece of dowel or broom handle. It doesn’t have to be longer than 18”. Some commercial models are shorter and they work well if they are balanced right. They can fit in a tool rack or a pocket.
MEASURING AND WEIGHING EQUIPMENT:
Many waters have slot limits or other size restrictions that make it important to be able to measure fish as you catch them. Even if you don’t have to check length to stay legal you might want to know the length for your logbook or a fishing report. It is handy to have something available for a quick measurement or for including in a picture.
Some tubes and toons come with rulers on their aprons or other places on the craft. If yours does not, it is easy enough to remedy. You can make marks with a permanent marker…on apron, air chamber or frame. Or, you can attach a ruler or yardstick to some part of your craft or carry a measuring tape in your vest, chest pack or a pocket. If you like to weigh your fish it is handy to have a set of scales on board. Some of the costlier fish grippers include scales. If you don’t have those you can carry a separate set in a pocket for quick use when needed. Digital scales are usually more accurate but cheaper spring scales will work for “near nuff” readings. If you land a potential record fish you must get it to “certified” scales as quickly as possible for an official weight.
Having and using marker buoys can make a big difference in fishing success while fishing from tubes and toons. This is one of the more unique float tube accessories. The combo of sonar and GPS is good but marker buoys provide a close visual reference that you can use hands-free to maintain position once you find a honey hole. You can buy small marker buoys from almost any tackle source that caters to bass anglers. Bassers use them a lot to mark underwater structure, weed lines, etc. They have plenty of uses and advantages for floatation fishermen too…for many species and in a variety of situations.
Marker buoys for anglers are usually brightly colored with line and weight attached. They store easily in pockets or in the small storage areas behind the seats on some tubes. Tooners can keep them in pockets or mount special holders for several buoys. Wherever you decide to keep them they should be easily reached and deployed when needed.
There are several situations when you might want to toss a marker buoy over the side to help you maintain position. The best indicators are when you catch a fish or locate some on sonar. Once the weight hits bottom and anchors the buoy you take note of your relative position. Then you keep fishing around the marker until the fish move or quit hitting. When that happens you wind up the marker buoy and look for another hot spot.
Being able to monitor water temperatures and changes can be a big help in finding fish. Most species are temperature sensitive and have preferred ranges. In cold water conditions
locating water even a couple of degrees warmer can be the key to finding active fish. The flip side is finding cool water areas during the heat of summer. Many sonar units provide surface temperature readings. Of course these do not reflect the temperatures at the depth where the fish are holding but surface temps are a good point of reference as you move from area to area. If you want to know the temperatures in deeper water there are thermometers available that you can lower for readings at measured depths. That is a good way to locate underwater springs or currents that might be attracting fish. If you do not have sonar, or if your unit does not provide surface temps, you can simply hang a swimming pool thermometer over the side of your craft and check it periodically to see what the temperatures are. There are also more expensive digital thermometers you can dangle in the water for “real time” readings.
If you like to keep track of the air temps, and their influence on water temps and fishing in general, you can also carry small outdoor thermometers. These can be handy for helping predict when insect activity is more likely to occur as well as letting you know when to protect yourself against hypothermia. Small thermometers are easy to stow or to mount anywhere on your craft.
There are a lot of times while tubing or tooning that having a pair of binoculars can help you catch more fish or better enjoy your day on the water. One of the more obvious uses of binoculars would be to watch the water for signs of bait activity or feeding fish. Fly fishermen can watch for insect hatches near shore or over offshore flats or weed beds. Anglers who target bass or other predatory species can watch for “boils” or areas of “nervous water” where bigger fish have herded schools of baitfish into the shallows or near the surface. If there are other anglers on the lake binoculars let you spy on them to see if they are catching more than you are. You can’t catch ‘em where they ain’t so if the fish are obviously hanging out in another part of the lake you might as well make a move. Just be courteous and don’t move in too close to the other guys.
Binoculars are also good to have when you are fishing with someone else and you want to better see a fish they are holding up some distance away. Walkie-talkies and binoculars are a good combination when fishing with others. One of the best uses of binoculars on many waters is watching wildlife. No, not the “wildlife” that goes on aboard some of the party boats. You can watch birds on the water, along the shore, in shoreline vegetation or flying overhead. Depending upon where you are and how “wild” the surroundings you might also see many kinds of animals too.
As is true of most gear the better the quality of the binoculars you take out the more you will be able to see with them. However, you don’t have to spend a lot of money and buy the biggest set you can find. There are some very small models, available at reasonable prices, which are surprisingly powerful and are ideal for carrying aboard tubes and toons. Some of the cheap binoculars are fine for floatation fishing without worrying about loss and
small enough to stow easily wherever you want to keep them. One of the best ways to carry them is on a cord around your neck. That keeps them safe and readily available too.
MAP(S), CHARTS, TIDE TABLES:
There is usually not a lot of room available in the pockets of floatation craft for carrying much written stuff. However, if you are new to a body of water it can be helpful to have a plastic laminated map with you to check against sonar readings and visual references along the shoreline. Of course it might help to have a GPS system too. That’s also on this list.
Some lakes have contour line maps available. These show the underwater layout of the lake with points, drop-offs, etc. Anyone who knows anything about fish habitat knows that these can be the key to finding fish on some waters. It is well worth the investment in the maps and the sacrifice of space on your craft to have these things out with you while you are learning a new fishin’ hole. If you fish salt water you should definitely know the channels and flats. Fish in salt water are depth and current oriented because those things determine whether or not they eat…and when. Keeping track of the tides brings it all together. By knowing when the tides will be moving most and where the feeding holes and channels are all you have to do is position your tube or toon in the right place at the right time and then wait for the fishies to show up. Of course that doesn’t always happen and they don’t always bite what you throw but it all starts with finding them.
Communication devices can help you in two areas…better fishing and safety. They are useful in chatting with other members of your group to share information on fish locations and feeding patterns. Plus, if you get in trouble they are helpful for summoning assistance. Small and inexpensive hand-held walkie-talkies are ideal for staying in touch with fishing buddies while tubing or tooning. The newer models have surprising power and range for a
relatively low price. And, they are easy to hang around your neck or to keep in a pocket on your vest or chest pack for quick access.
On bigger lakes or on salt water a marine radio might be a better choice. These are bigger and more expensive but will reach out farther and enable you to get reports on fishing and weather from a wider area. They will also summon help from rangers or other officials who monitor the marine radio bands if you need help or want to report violators.
Like walkie-talkies, GPS systems rightfully belong on the same two lists…fishing enhancement and safety. They not only guide you to your hot spot but also can help you find your way back in the dark or in bad weather.
Many sonar systems now include optional GPS. These are great for boats with large deep cycle batteries to power them. But, if you have only a small SLA battery any sonar unit with GPS will likely be high wattage and will suck a lightweight battery dry pretty quickly.
Small handheld GPS units do not have big display screens but can provide a surprising amount of information for tubers and tooners. This is especially true if you have mapping capability and invest in available mapping software programs. There are some that are made especially for boating applications and are ideal for floatation fishing. The handheld units are small enough to stow almost anywhere. But, because they are so
pricey don’t be too casual about where you keep them. Like walkie-talkies, cell phones, camerasand other valuable electronics, you should keep them on a neck cord or secured in a chest pouch.
As with other communication equipment, cell phones can rightfully be classified as both fishing enhancements and safety devices. On waters where you can get cell service you can use your phone to maintain communications with family members or fishing buddies who couldn’t go with you. Be careful about gloating too much over the cell phone though or you are likely to suddenly have a “dropped call”.
Having a cell phone with you while tubing or tooning can be a double edged sword. It provides a link to civilization if you need help or want to report violators. However, those blasted things always seem to ring just when you are getting a bite or fighting a fish. Spouses just don’t understand why you hang up on them when they are checking up on you. Because cell phones are small and costly you need to make a special secure spot for them if
you take them aboard your tube or toon. Keeping them in some kind of waterproof floating container is best. There are a lot of hard luck stories about tubers and tooners losing their beloved “lifelines” over the side. This seems to happen a lot while coming back in to shore if you haven’t properly stowed your phone for the landing.
You don’t need a camera to make you a better fisherman but having one can help you record a trip properly. The pictures you take will not only serve as proof that you caught fish but can be used to record scenery as well as shoreline formations for future reference. The increased availability and economy of digital cameras almost makes it inexcusable to not carry them on the water. They don’t take much space and can really add to the lasting enjoyment of those special trips. If you are a catch and release angler photos will help prove your outrageous fish stories.
Setting up and maintaining a fishing logbook WILL help make you a better fisherman. By keeping track of the conditions and results of every trip you will be able to build an ongoing database of information to consult for future trips. If nothing else, it will force you to think and remember before making entries. That alone will help you focus on the key elements of fishing. While it may not be possible or practical to carry your main logbook on each tubing or tooning trip you can easily tuck a small note pad and pen or pencil in a vest pocket. Then, use it to make notes during the fishing day, or right after you get off the water, while the details are still fresh in your mind. You can transfer the notes to your primary log later.
As part of your float tube accessory checklist to consult before every trip you should include any licenses or special permits that may be required for the waters you intend to fish. The one time you leave them behind is the time you will be checked by an officer. Some rangers and “fish cops” are more tolerant and understanding than others. But, having the necessary paperwork can forestall getting a ticket that will ruin your day.
If you wear a fishing vest on all trips you should carry your license(s) in a protective plastic folder inside a securely fastened pocket on that vest at all times. That will insure that whenever you go fishing, and whenever you wear your fishing vest, you will have your license ready for inspection by any official who wants to see it. Fishing licenses do not make you a better fisherman but they will keep more of your money available for fishing tackle if you are checked.