Pontoon Float Tubes are more advanced fishing crafts and provide the ultimate in performance durability and portability. Pontoons boats offer quick-turn maneuverability and superior balance, their seats are positioned higher which offer heightened visibility and greater comfort.
Considerations When Choosing A Pontoon Float Tube
As Dirty Harry said, in one of his films “A man should know his limitations.” That is good advice for tubers and tooners. You should never buy more system than you can comfortably afford, carry, launch or maneuver on the water. Conversely, you shouldn’t buy less craft than you need. If you are XXL or larger you should buy something that will hold your bulky self without constriction and a craft that will float you without concern for capsizing.
Most manufacturers rate their craft with a suggested safe weight load. To avoid potential litigation they typically underrate them. Most tubes and toons will float more than the suggested maximum without danger. You can fudge a little on weight but there is no reason to buy less than you require to keep you comfortably afloat and fishing efficiently. There are just too many good options available at reasonable prices.
You should also not buy a craft that is larger than you can handle by yourself. Tubing and tooning are sometimes best enjoyed as a solitary venture. It can be great therapy to be alone out on the water and enjoying the wonders of nature. Also, fishing buddies sometimes flake out at the last minute and don’t show for a planned trip. You need to be able to go it alone in loading, unloading, launching and handling your craft…and then loading it up again afterward.
You should also be able to power your craft around efficiently upon the waters without getting a hernia or stroke. If you are out of shape you should get back in shape…at least enough to be able to work your fins or oars for a day of fishing. If you have a pontoon with an electric motor you still need to be able to use the fins or oars in the event of battery or motor failure.
No matter how tough you are never push yourself to the brink of endurance or unnecessarily challenge the elements. As will be advocated elsewhere in this book do not put yourself or your craft in harm’s way. This includes avoiding motorized watercraft and getting off the water whenever there is the threat of dangerous weather.
FREQUENCY & DURATION OF USE
The harsh truth is that most newbies do not yet know enough about system options to appreciate the differences reflected in bigger price tags. Think about it. If you do not plan to go afloat very often, or very seriously, there is no need to put the family on welfare just so you can keep a “prestige” model tube or toon in your garage.
If you are still trying to decide whether or not floatation fishing is right for you buy a used system or settle for a basic unit that is rated to handle your weight and is affordable. You can always upgrade later once you become a full-fledged floataholic.
Those who upgrade later on can either keep their first craft as backups…or spares for family or friends who want to join them on the water. If not, you can sell your “starter kit” to recover some of your initial investment and to defray the costs of a newer and better system. If you plan to sell your “firstborn” you need to keep it clean and undamaged. Used tubes and toons are generally not hard to sell. There are always other newbies coming into the sport who appreciate the opportunity to get started “gracefully” and economically.
Dedicated and experienced floatation-fishing addicts who spend lots of time in a tube or toon can easily justify upgrading. Once you know and appreciate the advantages of better quality and more efficient designs you are qualified to spend more money. However, that doesn’t mean you can ignore the mortgage, car payments or feeding the family.
Buying a better craft as a long-term fishing investment does not mean buying something with the most “bells and whistles”. Look for the features and options you want and need but also focus on real quality…in construction and in safety features.
You can’t put a price tag on comfort and safety. The wrong time to regret buying cheap is when you have an “equipment malfunction” while you are a long ways from the safety of a shoreline. There is an old axiom that says, “It is better to spend a bit more than you wanted than not quite enough.”
Tubes and toons are often perceived as a “poor man’s boat”. They ARE less expensive than all but the oldest derelict boats. But, there IS an initial investment required to become fully outfitted…with tube or toon, waders, fins, boots, net, sonar, etc. No matter how prices escalate you will probably always be able to buy a “low end” round tube for well under $100. Better quality U-boats and V-boats are available for a few dollars more (sounds like a Clint Eastwood movie). But a quality float tube will usually be well over $100, and the best will cost at least two or three “Benjamins”. A good compromise between affordability and quality can get you a decent tube for less than $200. Pontoons cost more. Because of their two separate large air chambers and metal frames there are simply more costs in time and materials to produce one.
New pontoons can be found on special for under $300 for a lightweight and basic craft. At that price range they are okay for infrequent trips on smaller waters for anglers on a budget. But, I would never risk taking a cheap toon down an ugly river. Depending upon various options in quality materials, construction, size and design, better one-man toons will range from about $400 to over $2,000. Plan to spend a lot more for a craft that will float two or more anglers.
If you buy a tube you will also have to buy fins, for propulsion. You can find adequate tubing fins for under $50 but better quality diving fins will run from $75 to $200. If you have oars you don’t need fins for a pontoon. But, they can be useful for hands-free fishing when there is no breeze to fight. They can also help you recover an oar or steer when under power.
Waders will put some more scorch marks on your plastic (credit cards). You can get by with one set of lightweight waders and just add layers for warmth in cold water. But, most serious tubers and tooners have both lightweights and neoprenes. The cheapest waders may be less than $75 but “cheap” is usually the most expensive in the long run. They do not hold up well under serious use. Better waders will cost much more but should last several times as long. See the chapter on “Dress for Success.”
Depending upon the type of waders you get, you will probably also need a pair of “wading boots” or neoprene “flats boots” to wear over the soft neoprene foot pockets while tubing or tooning. These protect your waders while walking in them over rough surfaces. Protective footwear will run anywhere from $10 to well over $100. Again, see “Dress for Success”.
That’s about it for the basic system. If you still have “discretionary” funds available you can further reduce your bank balance by spending it on nets, baskets, sonar system, GPS, walkietalkies, etc. Suggestions are covered in two other chapters…”Add-ons” and “Pimping”. Let’s not even bring up the subject of costs for tackle and lures. That’s a whole ‘nother area. Unless you are independently wealthy and price is no object you should not buy a floatation system without consideration of your family’s financial situation. As much as we would like to consider fishing to be a necessity, for most of us it is a recreational luxury. As such, it cannot take priority over basic needs.
If your credit cards are maxed out and your kids have to beg you for lunch money you should not think about spending the money for even a modest floatation system. On the other hand, if your bills are current and you have some “net spendable” left in the bank then you have my permission to join “Floataholics Anonymous”…and our “12 cast program”. By the way, that’s where we all go fishing and nobody knows who we are.
When buying on a budget price is only one of the factors to consider. There is an old saying, “Good things aren’t cheap and cheap things aren’t good.” That is applicable to tubing and tooning. It is always a good idea to buy the best quality you can afford. After all, it’s only money. Right? Projected usage should be a part of the budget consideration. If you are not going to be doing a lot of tubing or tooning you should not buy the most expensive stuff. However, if you plan to get serious about this new sport then go ahead and spend what is necessary to make your experience safer, more productive and more enjoyable.
Fishermen become skilled at rationalizing their “investments” in new goodies. Spouses grow weary of listening to our often-feeble attempts at justification. But, if you anticipate using a new tube or toon extensively over several years it can make sense to buy a quality craft that will last longer, keep you safer and increase your fishing enjoyment.
Okay, let’s put a pencil to it. Let’s say you become $500 “lighter” to get fully outfitted for floatation fishing. First of all, if you were buying a fancy bass boat that would not even be enough for a down payment. For some of the pricier bass boats $500 would hardly be a monthly payment. For a floatation system, that is the end. That’s all there is. Furthermore, there are no insurance costs, gasoline expenses, repairs, storage or other high maintenance outlays as with the boat. There is really no comparison on a “cost-per-trip” basis. It costs you a lot of money just to keep a boat even if you don’t use it. Tubes and toons just rest patiently without expense waiting for us to take them to the water at our convenience.
Finally, because you can more easily afford to own and operate a tube or toon, and because you don’t have to mess with a trailer on every trip, you are likely to go fishing more often. Life is better for tubers and tooners.
For the sake of analysis, let’s say you use your craft only ten times a year over the next five years. Simple math suggests that you would be using it 50 times. That computes to about $10 per trip. Heck fire! You can’t even go to a movie for that amount of money…even a bad movie. And, you probably spend at least that much more on fattening goodies and a drink. Tubing and tooning are a better value…and not as hazardous to your health.
Now if you get serious, and use your craft more than 10 times a year, for more than five years, your cost per trip drops to pocket change. Not to be judgmental but I might suggest that if you only fished 50 times in 5 years you are not a serious fisherman and you ain’t worthy of owning floatation fishing gear anyway.
VENUES AND LOGISTICS
Where do you fish most right now and where WOULD you fish most if you had a tube or toon? As the old admonition goes, “Don’t bring a gun to a knife fight”. Don’t spend more and buy bigger than you need. On the other hand don’t take on big water with a small craft. If most of your fishing is going to be on ponds, small lakes or in protected coves of larger lakes, you can do very well with a float tube and fin power. A decent float tube system will handle almost anything except covering long distances on big waters…or floating through class 1 rapids. Float tubes are ideal for backpacking. There are several models on the market that are especially made for the pack-in contingent. These specialized tubes are fabricated with light materials and usually have accompanying pack straps. Some are sold as complete backpack systems, with their own pack, air pump, etc.
Special backpack float tubes can be “spendy”. The good news is that you can assemble your own tube packing system through careful shopping and focus on weight reduction. Being able to get out amongst the risers on remote mountain lakes makes packing your tube well worth the effort. Consider just how far you have to move your craft between your vehicle and your intended launch site. Even if you don’t need a backpack you may need to carry or drag your craft a ways to the water. Float tubes are lighter and easier to manage by yourself. If you have to move a pontoon very far you might need a buddy to help you carry it. Otherwise you have to drag it (not recommended) or rig some kind of wheel transport system. (See the chapter on “Transportation”). If you plan to run rivers or work large areas of big waters you need a sturdy pontoon. Pontoons are inherently more “seaworthy” and offer greater floatation and safety. Plus, the addition of oars and/or an electric motor will let you safely and efficiently cover more water and help you to better handle current, wind and/or waves.
What about tubing and tooning in salt water? The same considerations apply. Float tubes with fins work fine when fishing in protected bays or marshes with little current,. You can also take your tube out off the beach into the open ocean on calm days with no wind and/or surf. Just be sure to monitor the tides and the weather to avoid taking an unscheduled international cruise. Pontoons are great for fishing harbors, bays, channels, canals, marshes and most other protected salt-water fishing spots. Unlike tubes, however, they can also be efficiently and effectively fished in more open water ocean conditions. The additional speed and range provided by oars
and/or an electric motor makes toons a better choice than tubes for fishing in less protected waters. You can brave mild surf conditions with either tubes or toons. Doing so requires that you time your launch between pesky waves. A pontoon’s oars will make a quick scoot out to calmer waters once you launch. Of course the waves should be manageable. You should never try to launch in surf heavy enough to “hang ten” or flip your craft. Be sure to read the chapter on Launching and Beaching.
That brings up a final point of comparison between tubes and toons in fishing salt water. Since pontoons float in shallower water, they are easier to bring in to the beach…at least during mild surf conditions. They can ride small waves right up onto the beach. Trying to beach a float tube can make for a hairy ride even in mild surf. It is worse in a round tube because your legs hang down further. You have to be prepared to plant your feet as
soon as the waves bring you into water shallow enough to stand and then avoid getting tumbled by the next waves as you shuffle backwards up beyond the reach of the surf. Launching and beaching with open front tubes is better but still not as simple and safe as from a pontoon. If you sit up high, in one of the high floating tubes, you can also ride right up onto the beach. But, you still have to get up and out of your craft while avoiding the next waves. And, if you get turned around you can get washed butt over teakettle.
Just as important as the kind of waters you will be fishing is the set of conditions under which you will be fishing on any given day. Mama Nature can pitch a hissy fit and can quickly turn a quiet pond into something resembling the North Atlantic during a “perfect storm”. What beganas an ideal tubing venue can suddenly becomes questionable for anything less than a battleship. Of course the reverse scenario might also apply. Pontoons are the only safe option on a big river while it is running full flow. However, many such rivers experience a drop in flow during the late summer. That usually leaves a few deep holes and backwaters without any current at all.
When you find such calm spots you can safely launch and fish them from a float tube just as if it were a pond or small lake.
If the waters you like to fish have predictable weather patterns, it becomes easier to plan floatation trips and to select the type of craft you will need to handle the situation. For example, if it is usually calm early, but windy after mid-morning, you can fish from a tube while it is calm. If a breeze comes up you can either quit fishing or switch to your pontoon.
Once aboard the toon you can either anchor up in a protected cove or use the oars or electric motor for trolling…and to get back in later. Float tubes can be carried farther and easier than pontoons. They can also be launched on smaller waters with less room for launching. However, if you have to launch over sticky mud or rough rocks pontoons are better. Toons will float in only a few inches of water and allow you to sit up high without your feet below the surface.When you launch a float tube you need depth to comfortably sit back and start kicking. In shallow water with a gradual slope away from the bank this means that you may have to slog your way across long stretches of rocks or mud to get launched…and while returning to shore. The longer you stand up and shuffle backwards the more potential there is for unpleasant outcomes. If the waters you will be fishing are choked with aquatic vegetation pontoons will let you cruise over the top of the “salad” with no hang-ups. Tubers can become hopelessly bogged down inweeds that grow toward the surface. On the other hand, if your favorite ponds are full of shoreline reeds, brush and stickups, the tube might well be a better craft than a toon. Float tubes are smaller and more maneuverable than pontoons. You can work a tube through smaller openings in reeds or shoreline vegetation. This can get you in position to flip big bass out of tight cover where they have been unmolested by boaters, tooners and bank tanglers.
COVERS AND COLORS
Early float tube covers were made of canvas, plastic-coated cloth or plain plastic. Some of my first tube contraptions were fashioned from denim strips and burlap. Today, most commercial covers are assembled from high denier nylon. The higher the “denier”, the tougher the cover. As previously mentioned, some of the better quality craft include PVC coatings on the bottom or other strategic points to reduce wear and to increase puncture protection.
Tubes and toons are available in a wide variety of colors. You can choose from solids or combinations of red, blue, green, brown, black, purple, yellow…and some really wild hot colors too. There are even camouflage prints for those who are also hunters …or who just want to sneak up on the fish. Lots of floatation folks like to “cast and blast”. One color that is good to have on your craft is “safety orange”. Several models, from several manufacturers, include patches of this hot color incorporated into the covers. This makes anglers more easily seen by boaters, water skiers and others. Some states and many waters actually require that floatation anglers display a specific amount of the orange on their craft. Unfortunately, it sometimes seems to act as a magnet for power squadron bozos who delight in buzzing float tubes. Some potential floatation fishermen express concern that bright colors might spook fish. In reality, that does not seem to happen. Experiments have been conducted amongst groups of tubers…some with brightly colored craft…others with darker colors. No significant affect on the quality of fishing has ever been attributed to cover colors. Of course, if you are already a lousy fisherman, cover color is not going to make any difference. But, good fishermen can usually do well even when forced to fish under handicaps.
ATTACHMENT POINTS…D-RINGS, SNAPS, VELCRO STRIPS, ETC.
Tubers and tooners are seldom satisfied with an uncluttered craft. No matter how nice their new ride, they gotta mess with it. It starts by adding nets…and then goes to fish baskets…and then to rod holders…and ultimately to sonar and all kinds of other add-on goodies. In the “olden days” if you wanted to add anything to your basic float tube you had to lash it down…with cord, strapping, etc. Thankfully, modern craft usually include a sufficient number of D-rings, straps, Velcro strips and other standard provisions for securing your add-ons and extras.
The first D-rings to appear on tubes were for securing the corners of stripping aprons. Later models included more D rings for hanging stuff off the sides of the tubes. Tubers pleaded for more D rings and manufacturers responded. Most craft today have a veritable plethora of the handy hangers. By rigging your add-ons with snaps and clips you can take advantage of the D rings to quickly set up or dismantle your tricked out ride.
Velcro strips were originally provided for the benefit of fly flingers who wanted to secure their long rods across their craft while launching, beaching and relocating. For non fly-guys these Velcro strips also serve for anchoring down cords and straps for rod holders and sonar display mounts. Velcro is available in most fabric shops and hobby & craft outlets and is easily installed. Some creative tubers and tooners attach Velcro strips and patches to facilitate quick on and off for adding pockets or other frivolities.