Float Tube Rod Holders

Some tubers and tooners still go afloat with only one fishin’ pole. How silly. Of course if you are a fly flinger, or just fishing for one species in a small area, using one type of lure and the same presentation, then one stick will suffice. I have always been a multi-species and all-tackle kind of angler. I often fish where there are several species and I usually like to vary my fishing routine to target whatever might be available and willing. That’s why I take multiple rods and several boxes of assorted lures and/or flies on most tubing trips. And, that’s why I have long been attaching four-tube rod racks to my craft. There is no standard, universal, single rod rack design that will work for all anglers on all tubes or toons. There are some commercially made models sold for boating applications that work fine on floatation craft too. Just don’t screw them directly to an air chamber (joke). I have tested several of them. My personal opinion is that the rod tubes are usually too close together and the reel slots are often too shallow, too deep, too narrow or too wide. They are okay for starters, but you will probably want to modify them or make your own to fit your needs. My first “store-bought” float tube was a FishMaster. This pioneer float tube manufacturer also sold a line of various float-tubing accessories including a strap-on rod holder. I bought one, and then two more. I eventually had one on the front of the tube…on my casting side…and two more on the opposite side, toward the rear, for spare rods.

old float tube rod holders

These strap and buckle rod holders were designed for short handled pistol grip casting rods used mostly by bass fishermen. The tubes held the rods out at an angle…not vertically. They were too wide and too short for spinning handles and didn’t hold my spinning rods snugly or securely. They were also subject to loosening and rotating around the tube if the bladder lost pressure from an air leak or cold water shrinkage. That cost me a favorite rod and a couple of near misses.

There’s nothing like losing tackle to get my creative juices flowing. I began tinkering with a series of rod holder contraptions utilizing PVC pipe. Since this was in the days before float tube covers included a lot of D rings my early rod-holder models were lashed to the float tube with plastic clothesline or small rope. Most of them worked. Some worked better than others. In the early nineties, I frequently fished on the Sea of Cortez, in Mexico. There was seldom any surf but there was the potential for getting sand and salt water into my reels. The PVC rod holders I was using then carried my spare rods low to the water. That dunked the cork handles in salt water. Not good. I put on my thinking cap and came up with a wooden frame arrangement that held my rods higher above the water and made them easier to see and reach too.

The wood frame rod rack worked wonderfully. However, it added to the total weight of my system. It also made my fully inflated craft bulkier and more difficult to transport, especially if there was another aired up craft in the same vehicle. TubeBabe liked to go too. I addressed the “bulk” issue by modifying the setup. I attached a permanently mounted frame, into which the four-tube rod rack was inserted only after arrival at the chosen destination.
Mission accomplished. It was easier to load into a vehicle, but added a bit more weight. Total weight and bulk were increased even more when I employed the wooden rod rack to mount the PVC transducer shaft for my early sonar setups.

float tube rod holders

By the time I carried all that, and a battery too, I might as well of had a car top boat. The upside was that I was catching more fish and enjoying it more. The extra weight was more of a problem in transporting my craft than it was while I was launched and fishing. It was not heavy enough to make me list to portside. As mentioned, boating accessories outlets sell ready-made PVC multi-tube rod holders. Guess what? They work fine on flotation craft too. They save a bit of work, and are not too costly. But, as previously mentioned, some of the designs are not as efficient for tubing or tooning as models you can custom make for your own needs…and to fit your personal craft.

float tube rod holders1

The increase in the number of D rings and other improvements in design and fishability have made it possible to simplify both the construction and the attachment of rod racks. I no longer use wood on any of my rod holder designs. Most of them are made entirely of lightweight schedule 20 PVC and are quickly installed or removed by means of D ring loops or snap connectors. My rod holder system consists of two parts. The first is a single tube that I mount on my casting and rod handling side…to hold the “active” rod while rigging tackle or handling fish. This holder should be installed on your casting side where it is convenient to reach without looking. My
favorite design puts the single vertical rod tube at the front of my “utility rack”…which holds tools and my landing net at the rear. See picture.

float tube rod holders2
rod holders for float tube

I have also fashioned several different models of rod holders that do not use PVC tubes butrely on having the rods rest on either a horizontal or slanted framework. As long as they ride high enough above the water to avoid getting dunked, they are ideal for carrying extra rods flat and reducing the potential for whacking them with other rods or tangling them on the cast. This design works especially well for fly rods and fly fishing.

float tube rod holders3

PVC tubing is not expensive. You can make two or three different racks, each with a different number of rod tubes, without having to go on welfare. If you make each rack the same width it will be a modular system. Just plug in the right rack for any specific fishing excursion. The rear handles on most spinning rods and many casting rods have 1” diameter grips. You can use 1” schedule 20 PVC for the rod tubes. S-20 is lighter than S-40 so the inside diameter easily holds the 1” handles. There is no need for heavier PVC to hold rods. The lighter stuff works fine. The tube walls are thicker for S-40. 1” S-40 tubes will not take a 1” rod handle. You have to buy a 1 1/4” S-40 tube to hold a 1” handle. And, for spinning rods with a thicker handle, or a casting rod with a “pistol grip” handle, you have to use still larger tubes. Measure first. PVC is easy to work with once you get the hang of the cutting, fitting and gluing. For the best fit and uniform appearance you should pre-measure, mark and cut all of your PVC prior to mounting. Preassemble and double check for correct alignment with any D rings that will be used for attaching the rack.

As previously mentioned, I make shaped notches on the top of both sides of the rod tubes, so that the reels rest in them. These prevent the rods from rotating around and tangling lines, etc. The grooves should be just deep and wide enough to hold whatever reels you use. Reels won’t fit down into them if the grooves are too narrow and they will wobble and flop around if the grooves are too wide and/or too shallow.

float tube rod holders4

On my earliest rod holder tubes I used a half-inch drill bit to drill out the basic cuts and then sanded them into their final shape. I graduated to using a small rotary drum sanding attachment on my drill or rotary tool. Coarse grit sanding drums will cut down into the PVC like hot butter. A 1/2” drum will leave a groove of just about the right size for most reels. You can use the same tool to smooth the edges on the rest of the PVC tube. Sharp edges and burrs are open invitations to catching or cutting line…and scratching your tender tissue. Smaller PVC tubes such as you might use for making a transducer shaft can be cut with a PVC cutting tool, available in most places that sell PVC tubing and fittings. The PVC cutter will cut 1” schedule 40 but 1” S-20 has thinner walls and collapses when you apply pressure from the cutter. Use a hacksaw for that or for any PVC larger than 1”.

There are different cements available for connecting the PVC to fittings, etc. Try to get the clear stuff (gold can). It makes for a cleaner installation without unsightly smears. Also, since you are not building a plumbing system that will have to pass code inspection you can get away with shoddy workmanship and still end up with a good rod rack. Try to keep it neat and tidy but don’t sweat it if you end up with something less than beautiful on your first attempts. You can add additional strength and stability to your PVC add-ons by drilling a pilot hole and screwing in a 1/2” flat head machine screw on either side of all joints. This is also a good idea if you want to assemble and try something before gluing it for perpetuity.

Most PVC has a strip of writing along the length of each pipe. If you don’t like it you can remove it by cleaning with solvents or by sanding it off. Acetone will work but is dangerous. Many other commercial cleaners will remove that writing with vigorous rubbing and/or abrasives. The other option is to paint your PVC creation after it has been assembled and glued into its final form. You can paint the PVC any color you want with any good epoxy exterior paint. Finish it with a couple of clear coats of epoxy or urethane if you want the paint to hold up longer. Once a rod rack is completed you need to mount it to your tube or toon so that it will be both stable and handy to reach. That can be extra tricky on a pontoon because you have to factor in the oars. Your rack must be mounted where it will not interfere with rowing or stowing the oars. Some toon designs allow for setting up a rod rack connected to the frame, at the rear of the oar locks, inside the line necessary for stowing the oars. It takes creativity and may require some clamps or drilling and bolting on the frame. On other toons you are better off mounting the rod rack inside the pontoons on the rear deck. That may also require drilling and bolting.

inflatable pontoon rod holders

Mounting rod racks on float tubes can be subject to variables too. The options are different between “round boats” and the various models of open front craft. One common factor is that they are usually secured to the outside. There’s just not room inside the “passenger compartment”. The better modern tubes have two outside D rings on each side. You can use these connectors with snaps or to simply lash down your modifications. If you design your rod rack right, two of the rod tubes will end up exactly “on center” with those two D rings. Then you can fit a couple of permanently attached loops of nylon rope to those D rings and just push the ends of the
corresponding rod tubes down into them at the start of each trip.

It takes some measuring and trial and error to get the length of the loops just right. You want your rods to ride vertically or tipped slightly outward. If you make the loops too short the rods will pull back over your head and will interfere with casting and fighting fish. The other consideration is that you should make the tubes just high enough to keep your reels and lower rod grips up out of the water. No need to have them too high.

The final aspect of mounting a rod rack is a “wobble restraint”. I attach a short length of stretch cord to the bottom of each of the two rod tubes that fit down into the rope loops. I tie a small “carabineer” type clip at the end of each piece of stretch cord and use those to hook onto the D rings on the bottom of my tube. The D rings on the bottom are there for back pack straps but serve to stabilize my rod holder and tool rack too. This system holds everything firmly in place.