Float Tube Fishing vs Boat Fishing

Float Tube Fishing vs Boat Fishing

How about the comparison between fishing from a boat versus a tube or toon?  Naturally, there are some advantages in favor of the boats.  First and foremost boats allow anglers to cover more water.  They are faster and enable you to fish much greater distances from the ramp.  Of course you can also store more “stuff” and carry passengers in a boat.  But, for those of us who prefer the simple and solitary aspects of floatation fishing those are not advantages.  You can always go afloat with one or more other fishing buddies and you don’t have to worry about crowding them or babysitting them.  In a tube or toon you are on your own. That’s about it.  Speed and range are the only real advantages to fishing from a boat as opposed to a tube or ‘toon (without a motor). That’s why more than a few dedicated boat-owners lash float tubes to their boats before blasting off up-lake.  Once they get to that special creek channel, rocky shoreline or flooded forest, they tie off or anchor their boats and crawl into their tubes or toons.  Getting to the best spots sometimes requires a boat.  Getting fish sometimes requires the flotation approach. One BIG minus is that boats are noisier.  Even “quiet” boats make more noise than tubes or toons.  And, even the most jaded fish, accustomed to constant boat traffic, don’t bite as well when a noisy boat or Jet Ski has just strafed them.

The quietest trolling motors can spook touchy fish…whether on a boat or pontoon craft. And, the rattle of anchor chains, dropped tackle boxes, banging oars and other boat noises can shut down the fishing in a hurry. Flotation fishing allows you to approach your quarry in stealth mode. There have been many occasions when I have been enjoying regular action and seeing lots of fish on my sonar screen.  Then, the first motorized watercraft comes roaring by, shattering the silence.  The fish on my screen disappear and my rod remains unbent thereafter.  Game over.   This scenario also plays out in reverse.  There have been many late afternoon and evening excursions that I mark fish on my sonar but only began to get strikes after the boating traffic subsides.  This is why the fishing on heavily trafficked waters is often better at night. Flotation fishing seldom spooks fish.   I have had lots of trips on which my craft has become “floating structure”, a shady gathering spot for crappie, bluegill or other fish.  When I recognize this situation I keep my legs still, remaining perfectly motionless.   The fish marks on my sonar screen increase.  And, when I drop something down to the new arrivals it is frequently accepted.  You can often catch fish right below your tube or toon in very shallow water.  No spooking here.

One of my most vivid memories of becoming a fishy attraction occurred while tubing on Pineview Reservoir, east of Ogden, Utah. I had been absorbed in tying on a new lure, not paying attention to anything below me in the water. It was a beautiful calm day with no breeze to move me out of position.  I was sitting absolutely motionless without kicking my fins.   As I looked up from completing my knot I peered into the clear water and was startled to observe a “sea of eyes”.  There below me was a conglomeration of fish looking directly up at me.  There were lots of bluegills, several nice crappies and even a couple of juvenile largemouth.  I chuckled to myself as I imagined them saying “Okay, guys, on three we pull him under.” Since that memorable trip this lake has been stocked with tiger muskies.  If I had seen a couple of those toothy critters eyeing me I probably would have done a pretty good impression of a Jet Ski blasting across the lake.  At the very least I would have walked on water. Quiet is a prerequisite for stealth.  Early and late in the day some fish cruise close to the shorelines, either searching for food or enjoying warmer waters in the shallows.  Little fish don’t grow up to become bigger fish if they are not cautious.  The survivors are more likely to be more sensitive to danger.  Any unnatural sound or vibration triggers a quick departure to deep water.

This is a picture of a first-time tuber and the mixed catch of redfish, sea trout and flounder he caught.  He was already an accomplished angler on the brackish water canals of southern Louisiana, but we were able to fish a spot he had always wanted to try but never could.  No boat access and very difficult to fish from shore.


float tube fishing vs boat fishing

The fish were in shallow water, and very spooky.  We had to approach them from the deeper center of the canal and cast into very ”skinny” water where they were feeding.

My co-worker wanted to buy the tube I had let him use, but he was happy with the new one I helped him find.  Another tuber was born.

As previously mentioned, even the quietest trolling motors can send nervous bank-hugging foragers scooting for deeper water.  You might be throwing long casts well ahead of the boat but the larger and more cautious fish could have already beaten a retreat.  Go ahead and curse the moon phase, a weather front, the fisheries management folks or whatever.  The truth is that the fish heard you coming and were smart enough to move out before you got there. Fishing from a tube or toon is inherently quieter.  But, ultra spooky fish can still hear you and depart before you can reach them.  I have quietly approached potentially productive shoreline only to see big swirls as fish in the shallows bolt toward deeper water.  It may have been the result of a change in my kicking rhythm, the noise of a lure box being snapped closed, a couple of rods rattling together in my rod holders or who knows what else?  The point is that I made some sound or vibration that was out of the ordinary and the fish boogied.  As a general rule, however, you seldom spook fish under normal conditions.  I have been able to sneak to within a rod length of feeding fish in extremely shallow water.  That is always a fun experience. It’s a hoot to get up close and personal and to observe fish doing what fish do without being alarmed by your presence.  By avoiding unnecessary movement or noise I have literally been able to “force feed” my fly or lure to active fish…dropping it right into their mouths.  Call it cheating if you want.  I think it’s sorta neat to pull off something that probably couldn’t be duplicated in any other way. One of my favorite recollections of this type of situation happened on a float tube trip on a brackish water canal on the Gulf of Mexico side of the Mississippi River delta south of New Orleans.  I launched my tube through the gooey mud at the edge of the canal and kicked a hundred yards or so west of where the rutted road ended…far beyond the longest casts of the bank tanglers.  This was one of my first exploratory shots at redfish and speckled sea trout.  It was a new spot and I was prepared to accept a skunking if I couldn’t find fish or figure them out.  My first few casts made it back to my tube unmolested.  I changed lures and tried different retrieves.  Then, I got into a school of sub-legal sea trout.  These ten to twelve inch juniors (14 inches to be legal) hit every cast for about a half hour.  I had my fun with them until they drifted away on the falling tide.   I floated down with the flow toward a junction with another canal flowing in from the south.  As I approached I saw “tailing” and other fishy activity along the far bank.  I kicked across the current of the outgoing tide and positioned myself just upstream from the swirls.  I didn’t know what the fish were, how big they might be or what they would hit, if anything. My first cast was with the same lure the sea trout had liked.  This was a 2 ½” white twister with a 1/16 oz white head and a hot red eye.  I pitched it along the outside edge of the activity to avoid frightening whatever was there.  As soon as the light jig touched bottom in the shallow water I raised the rod tip and began hopping it back toward me.  It didn’t get far.   A 16” redfish whacked it and took off like a bonefish on the flats.  The drag on my light reel sang and I said through my smile “Well, this is what you came fer.”  That’s a little ritual I go through whenever everything works just right and the song of my straining reel is accompanied by the hum of my taut line. What’s the rest of the story?  I dug my heels into the mud with my back facing the flow of the tide.  This helped reduce the ruckus since I did not have to kick to maintain position up current from the feeding reds. Once I was “anchored”, and made no noise or movements, some of the school moved up around me and beyond me.  I was surrounded by tailing fish and felt them bumping against my wader-clad legs in the murky water.  I caught fish after fish, cast after cast. Then, one of the “locals” came motoring up the canal in a flat-bottomed wooden boat.  Long before he got near me the water in front of me boiled.  The tails and the swirls disappeared all together.  The fish were gone.

The local roared up directly below me where he had seen me hook my last fish and heaved over a heavy cinder block anchor.   Next, he brought out a stiff boat rod onto which he had rigged the locally popular popping cork outfit.  To add insult to injury, as I watched with unbelieving eyes, he heaved that cumbersome rig right at me.  Danged near hit me too.   I “diplomatically” suggested that he was taking my fishing spot and that he had already scared off all the fish.  He just glared at me and challenged, “Ah bin doon dis a long tam!”   The fishing was over, the water was getting too shallow and I had “over-funned” anyway.  I kicked back upcurrent to my launch spot and floundered out of the muddy shoreline without getting bogged down or losing anything.  I never went back to that spot.

Next comparison.  While boats can go farther and faster than float tubes or pontoons, they are limited in terms of where they can go.  True, some crazy bassaholics recklessly force their poor boats through some hellish cover and prop-eating structure.  But, there are countless situations where you will never see a boat but are likely to find tubers and tooners. I have a sadistic streak in me when it comes to the old boats versus float tubes conflict.  I’ve had too many boats use my float tube as a slalom pylon as they raced by only a couple of rod lengths away.  I believe in “Don’t get mad, get even.”   I take fiendish delight in working my way back in to spots inaccessible to boats and then proceeding to catch fish after fish…that the boaters never have a shot at.  I love to hear grown men cry…especially during a tournament when they are fighting to put a couple of keepers in the live well and I repeatedly toss back fish that would cinch it for them.  Been there, done that, much fun. One aspect of lightweight flotation systems is that you can pack them in to remote fishin’ holes.  They’re great for small ponds, little oxbows and backwaters that are otherwise inaccessible to everybody but bank tanglers.  Some of my most memorable fishing experiences have been the result of first discovering semi-virgin tubeable water and then finding a way to get my system launched in the liquid…without getting shot, bitten, gored or lost.  There are far more of these opportunities than people would expect.  Many are pure heaven to fish. The next point of comparison might be positioning.  I can’t recall many fishing excursions that have not been at least partially affected by the wind.  It always seems to hit just when you locate a concentration of fish or put your markers out on a great little hump or bit of structure.

The fish were in shallow water, and very spooky.  We had to approach them from the deeper center of the canal and cast into very ”skinny” water where they were feeding.

My co-worker wanted to buy the tube I had let him use, but he was happy with the new one I helped him find.  Another tuber was born.

Once a breeze comes up boaters have to devote time and energy to the trolling motor to keep the boat positioned for fishing.  When fighting the wind from a boat you are blown into the next county every time you take your foot off the controls to unhook a fish, retie a lure or suffer a lapse in concentration.   It is virtually impossible to position a boat to cast downwind without anchoring.  And, if you are pulling the boat into the breeze you will likely be casting into the wind.  That can be tough duty, especially with fly rods or baitcasting gear.  The extra effort makes for hard work and the difference in timing can result in poor casts and “professional overruns” on your reels.  Wind is also a bane to tubers and tooners.  Tubers usually manage better than higher profile pontoons but fishing in the breeze simply means more work.   With a lower profile tubers can often maintain reasonable position and continue to fish “hands free” merely by kicking more with their fins.  This process becomes almost automatic once you get the hang of it.   If you have efficient fins (big), good stamina and a wind-worthy craft, you can hang in there with the best of them when a breeze comes up.  I personally believe that a “fishing ripple” makes for better fishing. It breaks up the surface visibility and makes the fish feel less vulnerable to danger from above.  Fish tend to rise higher in the water column and feed more aggressively when there is a ripple.  When a light breeze comes up I anticipate more action along with more exercise. While dealing with a breeze from a tube or a ‘toon you typically want to keep the wind at your back.  In a boat, trolling motors pull the boat forward.  In flotation fishing you kick backwards.   This makes fishing in the wind easier than from a boat.  You position your craft upwind from the spot you want to fish.  Then, making wind-aided casts you keep your fins kicking just enough to hold yourself exactly where you need to be.  Of course, you can also use a light anchor. By casting downwind you have to expend less energy and you maintain more control and better feel of your presentation.  Fishing a crank bait, spinner bait or heavy jig, it is not difficult to keep a tight line and feel a normal strike.  If you are pitching light stuff; for crappies, walleyes or finicky bass, ”touch” is critical.   Casting downwind can keep you in the game. It’s almost impossible to fish lightweight lures upwind or crosswind.  If the wind doesn’t actually blow your casts awry it will usually develop a “belly” in your line.  That makes it tough to feel a subtle take.  In a properly positioned flotation craft you can easily keep yourself as close as you want for pinpoint accuracy, complete control and maximum sensitivity.  If it ever gets too strong to hold position or to feel your lures it’s time to head for shore.

TubeDude fighting a large channel catfish on Utah Lake.  This was during a strong north “breeze” during which it was necessary to keep the tube pointed back into the wind and cast downwind to the holding area for the fish.  Position was maintained by keeping up a strong rhythmic kick to remain in just the right spot.

float tube fishing vs boat fishing1

That brings us to the next point of comparison:  vertical presentations.  If you are fishing from a boat on a calm day, with aggressive fish below, you can enjoy great sport spooning or jigging for fish right under you.  But, if there is even the slightest bit of current or breeze the guy on the trolling motor gets a good workout while trying to keep the boat in position.   Tubes and toons are ideal for vertical presentations.  I devote more words to this style of fishing in the chapter on Tackle and Techniques.  For the sake of making a point in this chapter, let’s leave it with the statement that floatation systems are often superior to boats for vertical fishing.  Under calm conditions there is not as much advantage.  But, when the breezes kick up and you don’t want to anchor fin power can keep you close to your marker buoy with little effort. In the interest of brevity let’s finish off this section with a couple more comparisons:  trolling and bottom-bouncing.  Boats are clearly better than tubes for trolling.  They can cover more water and at higher speed.  Many tooners add an electric motor to their craft for trolling, and to increase range and speed.  But float tubes are totally out of it for trolling at any speed faster than a slow walk.  Although, for slow speed trolling, drifting or bottom bouncing, within a small area, tubes can actually be better than boats or pontoons.

Let’s talk about “bottom-bouncing”.   This is a general term that might apply to anything from dragging a bait on the bottom to imparting an active lift and drop action on spoons or jigs while moving from spot to spot.  It is a great prospecting technique for finding fish.  Of course you can bottom bounce from a boat but it’s so much more fun and effective from a tube or toon.  More on this subject in other chapters. Oh yeah.  What if you get a snag while bottom bouncing?  Recovering your lure while fishing from a tube or toon is usually simpler and more effective.  Just kick back over the snag and wiggle and jiggle it until it comes free.  It works more often than it doesn’t.  This saves gear and doesn’t spook fish nearly as much as running a boat back and forth over the snagged rig. One bonus aspect of flotation fishing is easily recognized by newbies after their first session on the water.  It’s great exercise.  If you are already in reasonably good shape it will help you stay in shape.  It is a good “passive” exercise.  You are not likely to get really beat up unless you try to go too fast or have to kick back to your take out spot against wind-driven waves.  On the other hand you may find that you are using muscles you never knew you had.  If so, you will be reminded the next day and for a few days thereafter. Several years ago I was visiting a small tackle shop.  The proprietor…a friend and fishing buddy…introduced me to an older gentleman in his store.  He had told the old guy that I was an “expert” on float tube fishing.  It seems this gent was interested in the relatively new sport of tubing and had been looking at gear and asking questions.  Once introductions were out of the way the old boy got a gleam in his eye and began a series of queries. One of the first questions was whether or not float tubing was strenuous.  I answered that it did not have to be, with proper attention to location, weather and type of fishing to be done.  The rest of the questions were mostly related to what components were necessary to properly assemble a good float tube fishing system.  I helped him lay out what he needed from the inventory on the shelves of my friends’ store. As my friend finished helping another customer he came over to the pile of tube, waders, fins, boots, net, basket, etc.  The old timer got between us and took us each by one arm.  Then, he made a proposal.  He said he would buy the whole package but only on the condition that I would escort him on his maiden voyage and help him “learn the ropes”.  With my friend giving me a pleading look, I agreed.  We made arrangements to meet the next Saturday morning.   I took the old gent up to Willard Bay Reservoir, north of Ogden, Utah, for some springtime catfish.  I drove my station wagon to within a few feet of an easy launching spot near the North Marina.  We quickly set up the tubes and hit the water.   The catfish were there and they put on a good show for the new recruit.  I almost had to drag him off the water after we had our limits.

The rest of the story?  Once we were off the water the old boy divulged that he was a heart surgeon…and a heart patient himself.  He was investigating float tube fishing as a suitable form of fishing and exercise for some of his other patients.  His verdict?  That float tubing was perfect passive exercise if conducted under mild weather conditions and if it did not involve carrying too much weight too far.  He later formed a heart patients’ float tube club.  Of course I helped. Yes, flotation fishing is a serious fishing system.  To enjoy the full benefits of the positive aspects of this sport you should already be at least moderately accomplished in the basic fundamentals of fishing.  Tubing and tooning will not remedy your bad casting or compensate for poor tackle, improper bait or lure selection, etc.   Putting on a pair of waders and some swim fins and launching an air-filled fishing platform will not transform a “tangler” into an angler. Over time, flotation fishing should help improve both your skill level and your success ratio if you fish diligently and attentively.  When fishing from a tube or toon you are closer to the water and your quarry.  You are more in tune with the elements of each excursion such as air temperature, water temperature, water clarity, current, wind, noise, etc.  In short, you will have a better feel for what you did right and what you did wrong and under what set of circumstances.

float tube fishing vs boat fishing2

There is a logical comparison between tubing or tooning and bow hunting.  An archer must be stealthier, know the terrain better and be an overall better hunter than one armed with a gun.  In the same vein, a flotation fisherman will usually end up being a more proficient angler than will a boat fisherman who starts out with essentially the same abilities.  Flotation fishing will sharpen your skills. It is an interesting development that there are more and more fishing clubs forming around fishing from tubes or toons.  These groups often target specific waters or species…fresh water or salt.  In some parts of the country there are regular tournaments held for flotation fishing only.   The increased availability, quality and affordability of better float tubes and pontoons have helped influence this popularity.  Much of the new generation equipment is more “spendy” and may require more space for storage or transport.  And larger craft are not as portable as lighter weight craft.  But, they provide greater floatation and safety.  These features attract boating- oriented anglers who don’t want to “downshift” all the way to a donut. As I discuss, in the sections on Pimping and Add-Ons, you can “trick out” your flotation craft with sonar, rod racks, live wells and other enhancements.  Once you are fully equipped you are prepared to fish for almost any species in almost every conceivable type of fishing habitat.

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Boat fishing is one of the commonly used fishing techniques the world over. Anglers using this method normally use fishing vessel or a boat and therefore have the luxury of using different fishing techniques including fish traps and nets among other things. Boating as the technique is commonly known allows anglers a greater access to huge amounts of fish as they can easily access different fish species and fishing grounds. Boat fishing can be classified into two major fishing tactics namely inshore and offshore boat fishing and both uses different techniques to make a catch.

Inshore boat fishing is the common method used by many recreational anglers who do not want to venture into deep waters for one reason or the other. Fishermen using this method do not go far deep from land and therefore have an easy view of the land and can easily retreat therein if necessary. This method involves the use of small boats including dinghies, small cabin cruisers, row boats, inflatable or runabouts. Kayak fishing is quickly growing in popularity as a form of inshore fishing. In inshore fishing downtide rods measuring 6-8ft and uptide rods measuring 9-10ft are used. Lines used normally measure between 18 and 50 pounds.

On the other hand, deep sea or offshore boat fishing involves venturing into deep waters away from the land. Experience is required when using this method of fishing as it can be dangerous owing to harsh weather conditions and rough waters. It is not recommended for beginners and if you have to use this method, you will need an experienced hand to guide you through navigation and other safety procedures. The method involves larger vessels which require to be anchored in a marina.

You can enjoy open water fishing by chartering a boat from companies offering this service as owning a vessel or boat capable to venture into the deep sea can be expensive both to purchase and maintain. You will need sea rods including downtide rods which should have multiplier reels and 30-50-pound lines. If you want to catch tuna or marlin, offshore is the best method to consider.