One of my favorite spring and summertime activities is fishing small lakes out of my float tube. Living in Alaska, most people flock to the river to snag salmon leaving the lakes practically empty. Nine out of 10 times I prefer the solitude of fishing for small trout rather than the combat fishing that comes along with swinging for salmon. On a warm, sunny day nothing beats a day on the water in a float tube.
Fishing out of a float tube is the ultimate access to small lakes. Float tubes give anglers an edge in many ways. From shore, anglers are limited by their casting abilities; in a float tube, using flippers, anglers can position themselves as close or far away as their casting talents allow. In lakes featuring thick brush and trees with limited amounts of shore, a float tube allows you to fish spots you couldn’t ordinarily get to. Not only are you able to access every inch of the lake in a float tube, they allow you boat-like access to lakes that are too small for boats or lack launches. For lakes off the road system, there are float tubes that pack up light and compact enough to hike into remote mountain lakes. Float tubes allow you to get off the beaten path and explore lakes away from the crowd.
Without a doubt, one of the most frustrating learning curves for any new fly-fisherwoman is spending hours untangling knots and fishing flies out of trees. When I was first learning to fly-fish my father had the foresight to sit me in the float tube and send me on my way to practice in the middle of the lake. Unlike casting from shore where there are often a multitude of branches, bushes, rocks, your fellow fishermen, waders, your dog and much, much more to hook into and tangle with, fishing from a float tube allows you to cast with few, if any, obstructions in your back-cast. The wide-open waters of lakes are more forgiving and will keep your line in the water opposed to in the tree.
Speaking of casting, one of the highlights of using a float tube is that sometimes you don’t even need to cast. When fish aren’t hitting above water, act like a boat and troll. Kicking backwards with your fins allows you to troll around the lake with the fly (you’ll even get a slight leg workout in). Every aspect of the float tube is designed for the angler’s needs and while there are other watercrafts out there, I’ve found they aren’t as easy. I once fished a lake out of a packraft and it was a sight to see. Even the slightest breeze was just enough blow me away from where I wanted to fish. Every two minutes, I had to set down the fly rod and pick up the paddle to row myself back into position. And when I finally managed a decent cast and hooked into a fish – between battling the fish, the wind and the tree the fish pulled me in to, it was a miracle I landed it. With flippers on your feet, float tubes allow you to keep yourself in position or go anywhere you’d like, with your hands free and clear to fish.
If you’re already hooked up with the basic fly-fishing gear: waders, wading boots, an assortment of flies, net, fishing license, fly rod* and reel – all you need now is a float tube, flippers and lifejacket. Like any piece of fly-fishing equipment on the market, you will find a wide variety of brands and price ranges but the good news is you can easily get an entire set up for under $200. I own the Creek Company U-Boat 2000 Super Combo from Cabela’s. It’s a package deal that comes with a pump, float tube and flippers. I’ve used a few different float tubes and I prefer the u-shaped boats, they are much easier to get in and out of. There are also fancier float tubes that run a few hundred dollars, and come with additional features like elevated seating and more storage. After you’ve purchased the float tube, there are no additional expenses because float tubes don’t require gas, registration or insurance, and it’s pretty much maintenance-free.
*A note about fly rods and float tubes: while I’ve recently become a big fan of longer fly rods for fishing rivers, in my float tube I prefer a shorter rod. The longer the rod, the tougher is can be for me to take the fish off the end of the line while sitting in the water. For float tube fishing, I typically fish with either a 9’ rod or an 8’6”.
Sure, float tubes can provide a slight work out with all the kicking and casting and of course, they can be a lot of fun when you get into a dry fly hatch and the fish won’t stop biting, but the word that I think best describes fishing out of a float tube is relaxing. When you’re surrounded by the beauty of mountains and trees in the tranquil setting of a lake, you can’t help but enjoy the moment. Something about being in the water with the fish makes you feel connected to the world around you. On a hot summer day it’s a great way to cool down and I’ve found even my non-fishing friends enjoy a day on the water. I’ve roped friends into going with me who have spent the day relaxing, taking in the view and reading a book.
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