Float Tube Fins
Some of the first float tubes included suspenders so that the tuber could stand up and wade in shallow water with the round tube held up around the waist. These were used by good ol’ boy bassers, down south, for chasin’ bigmouths and brim in farm ponds and small shallow lakes. Heck, the float tubes themselves were often nothing more than plain old inner tubes with a canvas or burlap seat sewn in. Among the first “fins” available were the “Paddle Pushers” originated and still sold by the FishMaster Company. Paddle Pushers are green plastic, buckle-on-the-heel propulsion devices that let tubers move forward while tubing. The hinged side flaps fold back on the forward kick and then flare outward to catch the water on the back kick. Since they are not like swim fins the wearer can also walk and wade while wearing them.
The FishMaster Company is still in existence, under different ownership. They still sell both the old style round tubes and those paddle pushers. However, there is a much smaller market for their products. Savvy tubers seldom buy round craft any more and only the most unsophisticated newbie tubers succumb to the promos for the paddle pushers. They are really not very efficient even in round tubes and are virtually useless in open front tubes and pontoons.
Some early tubers and tooners carried wooden canoe paddles with them and thrashed the water to froth in an effort to reach their intended fishing spots. If a breeze came up they spent most of their time trying to maintain position within casting distance of the fish. They would make a cast, retrieve and then have to work the paddle for several minutes to get back to where they started. Those who bought early model float tubes quickly determined that swim fins did the best job of getting them across the water…faster and with less physical strain The first commercially sold diving fins were made of black rubber. They were stiff, heavy and required a lot of strength to paddle a tube around. A full day on the water with those “widow maker” fins was almost enough to make tubers rethink their new pastime.
Thankfully, the increased popularity of skin diving, together with advances in the rubber and plastics industries, led to many new innovations in the swim fin market. It was not long before they were available to the masses in a wide range of designs, sizes, weights and colors. This played a big part in the growth of the float tubing industry too. With efficient and affordable propulsion options float tubes had greater appeal.
Today there are several different fin manufacturers, each making various designs in every color of the rainbow. Tubers and tooners can easily find what they want to fit their body size and strength and to match the kind of floatation fishing they will be doing. Okay, with so many choices out there how do we make an intelligent decision about what to buy? First, look at the high priced bells and whistles objectively. Are they designed for divers or for float tubers? The easy answer is that only a very few are designed for floatation fishing. All we really need is a fin blade and a heel strap. Most of the fancy schmancy stuff is wasted on us.
There are some basic differences to consider when buying fins for tubing or tooning. The first would be the size of the fin blade. The larger the blade the more water you can displace on every kick. But, if the blade is too big for your size and strength you will not be able to use the fins very long without getting a hernia or having a heart attack. At the very least you will get muscle cramps. So, the fin should be large enough to provide good propulsion but small enough for you to be able to operate it over a full day of fishing.
The stiffness of the fin blade is a related factor. The stiffer the blade the more energy is transmitted directly into propulsion on each kick. The “softer” the blade the more of the kicking energy is absorbed by the flexing blade. A slightly flexible blade works best for most tubers and tooners unless they have legs and ankles like Superman.
Some fins feature unique blade designs such as “V” shapes, “flow through” channels, or grooves in the blades to help direct the force of the kick for maximum efficiency. In some cases these “innovations” actually help. In other cases they are not only ineffective but may actually diminish the force you expend on each thrust…wasted energy.
Fin blade designs and efficiency are pure physics. The blade of the fin pushes against the water. The greater the amount of energy transferred from the kick to the fin to the water the greater the push…and the more thrust per calorie of energy expended. Large stiff fins are harder to move fast but they propel you farther with every kick. Smaller and more flexible fin blades are easier on the legs and ankles but often lose thrust power when the flexing blade absorbs energy without transferring it to the water. Tubers and tooners who buy wimpy fins are likely to expend more energy in a day on the water than will those who wear larger and stiffer fins. But, they may still be able to walk when they exit the water at the end of the day. Straps and buckles are also important components to consider when buying swim fins for floatation fishing. Some fins are “strapless”. A few models have a soft molded “full foot” pocket, which covers the entire lower foot of the wearer.
These are very comfortable for diving, with bare feet or over thin neoprene, but are potentially impractical for tubing and tooning. True, you can wear them for floatation fishing in warmer water when you do not need
waders. But, you must wear protective footwear before and after wearing them or else you will be walking barefoot to and from the water. That can be hazardous to foot flesh. Some fins have been especially designed for floatation fishing. They are typically a “onesize-fits-all” situation, with adjustable straps to allow you to attach the fins over any type of shoe or boot. This is a good concept and they are the only fins some tubers can use. For example, if a tuber chooses to wear fly-fishing waders and bulky felt-soled wading shoes none of the standard divers’ fins are likely to fit over those boots.
“Lash-on” fins are good to have if they are your only option. However, those may not be your best choice in fins if you wear something like neoprene “flats boots”, divers’ booties or water shoes over your wader feet. You will get better performance and greater comfort from good diving fins. And, with a properly sized foot pocket and adjustable heel straps you can get all season use from the same set of fins by merely making adjustments as you add or reduce layers during different water temperature conditions.
I should probably point out that there is no rule that you cannot own more than one set of fins or more than one type. If the budget allows, it could be wise to have at least a couple of sets in your arsenal. If you fish many different waters, under different conditions and varying temperatures throughout the year, owning more than one set of fins is justifiable.
Fishing throughout a full year, in colder climates, you will be launching in waters from just above freezing to midsummer bathwater temps. If you wear a size 12 shoe you will need one set of fins that can accommodate your feet while encased in a bulky wrap of a couple of pairs of thick wool socks, neoprene waders and perhaps a neoprene divers’ bootie. That means that you will likely need an X-Large size foot pocket in your fins…depending upon the manufacturer. And, if you cram too much “insulation” into the foot pocket it may still be cramped in the largest fin. As spring water temperatures rise you can omit a layer of socks and the X-Large foot pocket will be more loose and comfortable. By early summer you will be down to 1 pair of cotton socks under the neoprene feet of your ultra light waders. Now you have probably tightened up the straps on your X-Large fins as far as possible and they may still feel a bit loose.
Once the summertime water temps are warm enough to fish “wet”, without waders, you need only a minimum of protective footwear between your feet and the fins. You can wear an old pair of tennis shoes, deck shoes, skateboarder shoes, neoprene flats boots or divers’ boots, hardsoled reef walkers or whatever, but you will have a lot less bulk to fit in the fins. At this time you can drop down to the next smaller size in your preferred fins. They will probably fit a lot better, be more comfortable and there will be less risk of losing one or both because of looseness. Fins need not be a major investment but don’t sacrifice quality for price. Also, you should always “try before you buy”. Do not order your fins online unless you know beyond all doubt that the make, model and size you are ordering is exactly what you need. Being able to go with a tubing buddy and try their fins is a good place to start.
If you don’t have any idea as to what type or size fins you want go to a good dive shop or tackle outlet and try them on first. Even better is to take your waders, boots and socks with you to make sure you can get the whole cold water package comfortably inside the fins. You may get funny looks or encounter some resistance. However, you should not buy until you find fins that will accommodate your cold water setup. Otherwise you risk constriction of your feet, cramps and unnecessary numbness.
Some dive shops have swimming pools for certifying their new divers. A few persuasive tubers have succeeded in getting these shops to allow them to launch their tubes to try out fins for fit, comfort and efficiency. It is amazing how much difference there can be between some of the different models on the market and it is important that the fins you buy will serve you well. It should also be noted that there are differences in kicking methods among tubers and tooners. Fishing from a round tube requires different kicking mechanics than fishing from an open ended craft with higher seating. Similarly, using fins while seated even higher on a pontoon will be much different than from even the highest floating float tube.
The lower you sit in the water the more you will be able to utilize both the upward and downward stroke of your kicking action to propel you through the water. Once your lower body is raised above the water level only a small part of your lower legs (and fins) remain in the water. You are able to propel yourself backward mainly with a strong up thrust, after bringing the fin down to vertical. But, you don’t get much propulsion from the short down stroke. These differences in kicking motion and efficiency should be considered in your choice of fins too. The higher you sit in the water the more you should consider buying fins that are designed for maximum thrust on the upstroke…like Force Fins. The lower you sit in the water the more it makes sense to buy good quality diving fins with medium flex and larger blades…to be able to apply full power on both sides of the kick.
There is not a lot of maintenance necessary on fins. Just keep them clean and check them periodically for breaks, tears or abnormal wear. There is more discussion of the different kinds of fins available for tubers and tooners in the chapter on Propulsion. There is also some good information on the prevention and remedies for lost fins in the chapter on “Safety, Comfort and Survival”. Heel straps are probably the most common area of problems with fins. Straps on modern fins are much sturdier and less prone to dry rot and breakage than those sold in earlier times. Nevertheless, if your fins are more than a couple of years old it is wise to watch the straps for
cracking and to carry a spare set on every trip in the event of breakage.
Fins are sold in a wide variety of materials, styles and colors. Some of the more popular diving and floatation fishing fins contain silicone rubber. This stuff is seemingly indestructible and lasts for years. However, it does not benefit by being stored in the heat. If you leave a set of silicone fins in a blazing hot vehicle they may just curl up and die. Cracked, torn, split or cut blades on your fins may be repairable with Aquaseal or rubber glue. Sometimes it requires a heat weld. It depends on the composition of the material. In case of such damage, take them back to the place you bought them and ask for advice. In most cases you will not experience that kind of damage until long after any warrantees are expired. There are also a lot of different designs in buckle arrangements. Some are simple, and easily repaired if they fail. Others are more complicated and must be completely replaced if damaged. You can get longer and better service out of your quick-adjust buckles by keeping the parts clean and lubricated, with a little shot of silicone lube once in a while.