Float Tube Aprons
Aprons have long been included on float tubes to provide a line holding platform for fly fishermen. Fly flingers need something upon which to coil fly line while stripping in after a cast or to hold shooting line for long casts. If you are of the fly fishing persuasion you should shop for a craft with a well-designed apron. Aprons are useful for non fly flingers too. They serve as work surfaces…upon which to set tackle while re-rigging.
Your apron can be a lifesaver when it becomes a “catch tray” while working on reels or other malfunctioning gear. They will save the day if you drop a vital part, a favorite lure or your glasses. They are not a cure for klutziness, but they do reduce your losses. Aprons are also useful for safely controlling fish after you bring them aboard. Some have rulers printed along one edge for quick measurement. You can bring in a fish, pin it down on the apron, remove the hook, measure it and then either release it or drop it into your live bag. Almost all float tubes still come equipped with aprons. Some are large and well designed. Others are wimpy wisps of mesh that do little more than get in the way and are more trouble than they are worth. If you need a good apron for fly fishing you either need to buy a tube with a good one as standard issue or plan to make your own retrofit after purchase.
Pictures and suggestions for mods and retrofitting aprons will be included in the chapter on “Pimping”. Because pontoons feature higher seating aprons are more difficult to rig on them. There are only a few toons that offer over-the-lap aprons. If they come with aprons at all they are either on the sides or directly under your legs. If they are properly placed they still function to hold line or to catch dropped gear. But most tooners who were former tubers tend to miss the utility of float tube aprons. If you really need something into which you can strip line while fishing from a toon consider carrying a bucket or plastic storage container… as a stripping basket.
There are lots of different types and designs for “aprons” on tubes and toons. Stripping aprons are standard on many float tubes but may be completely absent on some pontoons. They are primarily used for holding fly line while fly-fishing. But, they are used and appreciated by other anglers as well. Aprons make great “tackle benches” while rerigging or tinkering with gear. They also serve as protective platforms for controlling fish once you have brought them aboard. Not all “stock” aprons are created equal. Some are well designed, ample in area and very functional. Others are nothing more than wimpy “doilies” of nylon mesh that are just in the way and get snagged by hooks more than they serve the angler.
The aprons on “round boats” are typically sewn to the front part of the cover. They usually pull back over the angler’s lap and are fastened to D rings located along the inside edge of the cover. Well designed aprons pull taut and work well both for line stripping and tackle tinkering. Open front tubes…U-boats, V-boats, pontubes, etc…can have a variety of different apron setups. Many are simple rectangular pieces of nylon mesh with connectors at each corner that attach to strategically placed D rings. Some work better than others. Open fronted craft sometimes have a “stabilizer bar” that fits into special pockets at the top front on each side. These rigid rods keep the two front ends from collapsing together when the tuber sits back to launch and fish. These bars often serve as the front attachment for aprons.
If your tube or toon did not come with an apron…or if you would like a better one than the manufacturer supplied…then you have to fabricate your own. I am including pictures of some different apron designs, and some “retrofits”…including my rigid “sushi boards”…made from the plastic lids of inexpensive storage containers.
There are several online suppliers of tubing and tooning accessories that offer different designs in do-it-yourself aftermarket aprons. As long as you get the dimensions about right, you can use stretch cord, nylon rope and assorted fasteners to make it work. Something is usually better than nothing. But, sometimes the something you get standard needs modification. In addition to line stripping aprons there are protective aprons. These are something you rig to cover vulnerable areas on the air chambers of your tube or toon. More and more manufacturers are using tough PVC coatings on “danger zones”…where spiny fish are likely to bounce and puncture the air bladders within. But, even the best designs usually have spots that have only a thin covering of nylon fabric between the air chamber and disaster.
If you fish for “spiny ray” fishes adding protective aprons over vulnerable areas of your tube or toon can save you time and aggravation…both on the water and in repairs. It only takes one spine hole, from a bluegill bounce, to force you to kick back to shore in your shrinking craft.
Protective “second layers” can be fashioned from any tough material. You can cut them from canvas, Naugahyde, plastic sheeting and even old inner tube rubber. They can be attached in various ways to the outside of your craft, directly over the problem spots, or they can be inserted between the air chamber and cover before inflation. Almost any extra protection can help reduce the number of preventable punctures. If you generally fish for less dangerous species, like trout, you will likely not need such an apron. But, if you are a multispecies angler it is wise to have one you can quickly attach or remove, for those
forays against more dangerous quarry.
Aprons are not just for fly fishermen any more. Floatation fishermen of all persuasions have come to appreciate having a good apron on their tubes and toons. Non fly-flingers don’t use aprons for stacking and controlling loose fly line, but there are a bajillion other uses for them. They make fine mini work benches for tackle-tinkering. They help prevent the loss of dropped trinkets and to control fish when you lift them aboard. Preventative care for aprons is mainly a matter of keeping them clean. They do tend to accumulate a “patina” of fish slime, bait remnants, fish attractant, spilled snacks, etc. You will be better able to endure a day on the water, under the hot sun, if you keep your apron clean…along with the rest of your craft. If you have a mesh apron you should try to avoid contact with hooks or lures. Hook points have barbs. When barbed hooks find a hole in the mesh, it can be frustrating to you and damaging to the apron. Impatient anglers are prone to try to force the hooks out. This damages both the apron and the hooks. Minor tears in a mesh apron can be mended. One way is to “reweave” the torn mesh with strong nylon thread, closing the hole. It will be visible but the problem is corrected. Both large and small holes can be effectively closed with the same urethane tape or liquid urethane repair stuff that
you use for sealing holes in air chambers…Aquaseal. Such repairs will probably outlast the rest of the apron.
Most aprons are fastened to loops or D rings by means of hooks, clips or Velcro strips. Each of these can break or wear out. Fortunately, they are inexpensive and readily available in most outdoor supply outlets. If you can’t find “original equipment” for your craft, you can usually improvise. You may want to change the “factory” stuff with your own designs anyway. Unfortunately, some of the open-ended float tubes have “wimpy” aprons as standard issue. These very small aprons do not serve well either for fly fishing or for tackle tables and are more frustrating than functional. They are hardly more than a postage stamp sized bit of mesh that rests
in your lap and have no rigidity. Some of us multi-species all-tackle tubers and tooners have come up with alternative apron designs. One increasingly popular modification is to “accommodate” an 18” X 24” plastic lid from
one of those plastic storage containers to fabricate a cheap, simple and effective “rigid” apron. These are jokingly referred to as “sushi boards”.
The rigid aprons make great tables for messing with tackle boxes and rerigging. They also provide a good protective surface for subduing rowdy fish or even for cutting bait. They clean up easily and don’t absorb “aromas” like mesh aprons do. Heck, even a lot of fly flingers like them. Pontoons are a different matter, when it comes to aprons. Most toons are bought by fly fishermen, who need aprons, but not many models provide aprons as a standard feature. Some that do provide aprons install them on the side, rather than over the lap of the tooner. There are few that come with lap aprons, but some make them available as an aftermarket option.
If your pontoon has no aprons or just side aprons, and if you decide you want a lap apron, you either have to buy a retrofit apron from the manufacturer or an accessories source…or make one yourself. Creative use of nylon cloth or mesh, some stretch cord and/or PVC will allow you to fashion lightweight but functional aprons. If all else fails you can try the float tubers’ rigid apron made from plastic storage container lids. For more retrofit suggestions and pictures, read the chapter on “Pimping Your Ride”.