Float Tubes, Belly Boats,and Kick Boats
The U or V float tubes have an open front that allows easy entry. They also have a lounge chair and positions the angler higher above the water. Float tubes are great for fishing otherwise inaccessible areas.
Choosing The Right Float Tube
The type, make and model of the craft you choose will be a personal thing. Before making any final decision you should get as much input as possible from knowledgeable tubers and tooners. Advice from others can be valuable but the ultimate choice needs to be based upon YOUR own wants, needs and abilities. And, a good policy is to always try before you buy…when you can. This chapter highlights the most important considerations to review during your evaluation process. Some are obvious. Others less so. For many newbies the budget thing is the single biggest hurdle to becoming properly outfitted. Belly boats and pontoons are less costly than boats but can still take a big chunk out of a tight budget.
Other factors in the review process are mostly related to your personal angling preferences along with your physical abilities. Equipment and design options might also influence your final decision. Then there are the potential limitations you might have for storing or transporting whatever craft you choose. In the “olden days” we didn’t have many choices. We could choose either a round tube…or a round tube. The early models were simply fabric covers sewn together in a “donut” shape that held a 20” truck tire tube. These would float up to about two hundred and fifty pounds depending on the manufacturer and the cut of the cover. Later options included covers to fit the larger 22” truck tubes and would float anglers up to 300 pounds.
During the last 20 years of the 20th century great strides were made in the floatation fishing world. Manufacturers responded to the growing awareness and more knowledgeable demands of tubers and tooners and came up with a bajillion new designs. It is increasingly rare to see a round tube on the waters anymore. Today’s floatation anglers tend to prefer open kick boats, pontubes or pontoons with oars and/or electric motors. But, when shopping for a new craft fancy design alone should not be the only basis upon which you make your final decision.
Launching Your Float Tube
There is an old saying: “The longest journey begins with the first step.” Every fishing trip in your tube or toon begins with getting in the water and ends with getting out of the water. But, there can be a lot of variables in those processes depending upon the type of craft you are in and the conditions of your launching and beaching site. Successful launching and beaching is not just a matter of getting in the water and going fishing. There are also safety issues involved. It is during these times that the floatation fishermen is most at risk for injury and/or loss of or damage to equipment. That is why you should be careful in your choice of launch sites and why you should follow the proper steps for getting in and out of the water.
CRAFT DESIGN VARIABLES:
Before the mid 1980s, virtually all float tubes were “donuts”…round craft consisting of covered truck tire inner tubes. At some point in the launching process the tuber had to get down inside the round opening and waddle into the water while wearing fins. There were lots of us “donut-dunkers” who put on a pretty good show for onlookers. I’m sure that many of our episodes would have won big bucks on the funny videos shows. There are still a few “round boats” being sold and many still in use by those who haven’t upgraded. They are probably the most difficult to get in and out of the water so we will definitely devote some instruction to properly launching and beaching them. Most of today’s tubers are buying the open-ended craft known variously as U-boats, Vboats, kick boats and pontubes…according to their shapes. The main thing they have in common is that they are much easier to get in and out of the water than the round models. That is because you need only sit down backwards to launch and rise forward to get back out. And, in most cases, you can launch in shallower water because your lower extremities do not extend so far down out of the bottom of your craft as with round tubes. Pontoons are decidedly the easiest to launch and beach. Tooners typically sit high and dry in elevated seats. And, you can launch a pontoon in only inches of water and then use the oars to move out into deeper water. Similarly, when coming back to your vehicle you can float your craft right into the shallows before standing up and bringing it in the rest of the way.
Scouting A Place To Launch
Part of the scouting process while looking for suitable launching and beaching sites is to verify the bottom composition where you plan to get in and out of the water. Sometimes you cannot tell just by looking that the bottom has soft muddy places. It is a good idea to wade out a ways to check for firmness and/or to locate any potential large rocks or other obstacles to a safe launch. When faced with launching through deep mud consider the same advice given for impassable rocky conditions. Try to find another place to get in and out of the water. While it IS possible to launch and beach through anything short of quicksand the experience is potentially unpleasant and may be dangerous and/or costly. Solitary tubers have been known to become hopelessly mired in sticky mud and have been trapped in place until somebody shows up to rescue them…or call in a helicopter. Anyone who has
experienced or witnessed this kind of situation learns two things. One…don’t launch in sticky mud. Two…always go fishing in the company of someone else in case of problems. Even if you don’t sink into the ooze, to become a fossil for future archaeologists to ponder, you are at serious risk of losing your balance and taking a dirty nasty tumble. Sometimes that stinky mud is worse than skunk. You can also lose fins and booties to the sucking muck.
Once thebog monsters claim any of your gear it may be impossible to locate and recover it. After saying all that the unfortunate reality is that sometimes we have no choice. You either launch and beach through the ooze or miss out on some great fishing. Many ideal tubing and tooning venues are shallow boggy natural lakes, completely ringed with nasty mud shoreline. The same can be said of a lot of farm ponds or protected coves on larger lakes.
If you ever get a chance to fish salt-water bays and estuaries you may have to deal with an especially nasty kind of marsh mud. One notable area, from the author’s experience, was along the salt-water canals along the Gulf of Mexico south of New Orleans. Thankfully, there were many great launch sites with a gentle slope and covered with crushed shell. However, some of the best fishing for reds and specks was in remote canals with poor access roads and virtually no decent launch sites. Launching my tube meant fighting marsh mud. It was difficult enough at high tide when only a small amount of the steeply sloping slick mud banks were exposed. At low tide, getting into the water meant literally “skiing” down several feet of mud bank on my fins and into the water. A bobble on the downslide meant taking a muddy swim. But, if I made it safely into the water, afloat in the tube, I had to plan on fishing for several hours before high tide made getting out more tolerable. Getting out at low tide required me to slog and wallow through the mud for several feet, tossing rods, fish and tubes up onto the marsh grass
ahead of me and then having to change out of my muddy clothes for the ride home.
Depending upon the consistency of the mud your fins can either help or hinder. If you use them right, and the mud is not too soft, fins act somewhat like snowshoes. They help you distribute your weight over a larger surface so that you do not sink as deep. But, if you step heel first you sink down in the mud with your foot and ankle at an odd angle. You risk losing both your balance and one or both fins. There will be times when it is better to put your fins on after launching and to remove them before slogging in to shore through the mud. This can be messy but necessary. Carrying a wading staff can provide added insurance against getting bogged down or taking a tumble while negotiating mud. In addition to providing a stabilizing hand hold it allows you to sit down in your tube more quickly and then to pole your way out into water deep enough to allow you to use your fins. Having a wading staff also helps when you come back in. It will give you leverage to help pull yourself up into a standing position and to work your way safely back in to shore after being tired out from a full day of kicking and fishing. Of course, a pontoon floats in shallower water and the oars fulfill the same function. If you have a favorite honey hole that requires navigating through soft mud to launch or beach you can do some temporary or permanent modification to your launch site. That can be as simple as piling up some reeds, twigs or brush over a narrow area to create a more stable surface.
You can also bring in gravel, crushed shell or other material to add to the surface of the mud to make it firmer. It usually takes several trips, adding a bit of stabilizer each trip, but you can improve your own personal launch site. Another quick and effective fix is to scrounge up a piece of old carpet and lay it over your launch site. This works for shorter and steeper banks but may not be practical for long shallow muddy launches. One of the fixes implemented on the steep slick muddy banks of the Louisiana marshes was a ten foot length of board, with 2×4 cross pieces nailed at one foot intervals. When secured on the steeply sloping mud bank this “mud ladder” made it possible for me to step sideways up the plank until I could get out without having to wallow in the mud.
In some spots you will find low grass growing right up to the edge of the pond or lake you plan to fish. There may be gravel, sand or mud beyond the grass but staging for launch on the grass is more pleasant than floundering in sticky mud or hobbling over rocks.
Many of our best potential tubing and tooning waters are largely inaccessible to boats and/or shore anglers. Often the difficulty in fishing these waters is a matter of them being protected by high stands of trees, brush, reeds, cattails or heavy growths of inshore water weeds. There is not much you can do about thick stands of trees that grow right up to the water’s edge. Sure, you can use a chainsaw but only if it is on your own land and you will not be subject to arrest for damage to private or government property. In some areas you might even get shot. If you need to get through heavy brush or tall weeds you can usually clear a path with a machete and/or large lopping shears. Just be sure you are not violating any kind of laws before you start hacking and chopping. And, once you have cleared a path, be prepared to find that other folks are also using your access point on your next visit. Anglers are quick to discover and take advantage of your “improvements”. In fact, you may even find yourself blocked by someone else who has set up camp in your clearing.
Many small ponds and lakes are ringed with reeds and/or cattails. If they are not too dense you can sometimes just push them down and work your way over top of them while launching or beaching. That requires that you secure everything on your craft well to prevent anything from being dragged over the side and lost. This includes keeping landing nets, fish baskets and other “danglies” on top and out of the water during launching and beaching.