Float Tube Fly Fishing

Float Tube Techniques

For the most part we will be using wet lines and mostly wet fly patterns for our fishing. Grab your 4 – 5 weight rod, attach a 10-foot leader and lets go tubin’.

Searching a new lake

One of the most common problems an angler faces in a new water body is that he or she has no idea how or where to fish it. Lets take a look at a few simple ways to get started on a new lake.

The First thing we will do is examine any insect activity you may see around the lake. Damsel flies, Caddis flies, Chironomids… do you see any fish rising? What I am getting at is pay attention to your environment and what action is happening in and around the water. Even if you have no idea what these insects are you can imitate them in shape, size and color with your tied flies.

If you are not seeing any surface action or any bugs on the water, a black Doc Spratley or an olive Wooly Bugger is a great way to start off in any lake in Alberta, Western Canada or anywhere for that matter. The Wooly Bugger is a fantastic trout fly that’s been tried, tested and true and both of these flies are great searching patterns.


Performed pretty much like you would in a regular boat you want to position yourself in about 8 – 10 feet of water (in my local lakes that’s about 50 feet off shore) and start off nice and fast. Choose a side of your tube to hold your rod on; you may even want to lay your rod horizontally across you tube (hanging on tight to your rod and ready for that big strike). Troll parallel to the shoreline maintaining your depth and use an “S” shape as you travel. The “S” shape changes the speed of your fly. On your rod side it will speed up and on the opposite side it slows your fly down, causing it to sink deeper. Fish will usually strike the same type of movement so if the fish are hitting the fast side you’ll want to increase your trolling speed. If you don’t get any hits, move yourself out to a depth of 10 – 12 feet and try again. Continue this ‘til you are in about 16 – 18 feet of water. Hot weather in mid summer will drive the fish down into colder water so a slower, deeper presentation may be necessary.

Calculating Depth

Fish finders work amazingly well. Prior to adding one to my float tube, I would use a piece of rope with one-foot increments. This assisted in confirming the depth of the lake but gave me no idea where the fish were holding. Once I would catch a fish I could then estimate the depth the fish were holding at. Note your surroundings and continue fishing this area. Many people leave the active feeding zone looking for more fish. Occasionally you will pick up more fish by moving but more often that not, if you camp yourself in an area and work the fish hard before moving on, you will be more successful.


Casting to the weed beds, drop offs, bays and points; produce fish when no other methods seem to work. Position yourself as far back as possible while being able to maintain control of your casts. Cast your presentation into likely spots and allow your fly to descend while counting. Take note of how many seconds it takes to hit bottom or catch weeds and on your next cast, count one second less. Continue to do this and move along the points and drop offs. Once you have established a general feel for the bottom, you can work the point effectively. Disrupting the fish while casting and calculating depth often means coming back later and trying again but occasionally you will hook a fish while doing your homework on the lake.

float tube

How to operate your float tube

The following information should help you get an idea of what to do the first time you get to a lake with your equipment.

Entering and exiting the tube

So you’re at the lake with all of your equipment together. Your waders and flippers are on, all of your safety equipment is in place. Now what?

With a Regular donut style tube, you have a couple challenges. The first thing you do is place the tube on the shore with the back of the tube facing the water. Now use your rod holder to secure your rod (most tubes come with Velcro straps to hold your rod or if you purchased a rod holder, even better). Place one finned foot in the tube and slide it under the tube. Now place the other foot on the tube and bend over placing both hands and some of your body weight on the tube. Place your other finned foot in the tube and slide it underneath as well. You may have to lift the tube some to slide the fin under. You should now be standing upright in the center of the tube ready to go.

The hardest part about getting into a round tube is getting your flippers inside the tube. This may sound easy but rest assured, it will take some practice.

When I exit my tube I remove my flippers before trying to step out. Usually your legs are tired and your balance seems off when you get out of the lake.

Walking in and out of the water

Ok, so you’re standing in you tube. Now what do you do? (Be careful that your are not standing on you seat for this next part.) Bend over and grab the side handles with both hands (there is one on you left, and one on your right). Lift the tube until it’s waist high and begin walking backwards into the water. When the water is knee high, attach the safety latch on you seat and continue walking backwards. When you feel the seat touch you butt, you can then sit down. You may now attach the two straps to the stripping apron and guess what? You’re floatin’.

As with the entering procedure, make sure you walk backwards exiting the water as well. If you’ve ever tried walking forward with flippers on when you were a kid, you know what will happen. You’ll fall flat on your face.


This is a very natural movement, much like doing leg hyperextensions in the gym. For the best performance, you’ll want to alternate legs in an upward motion while the other leg returns to the lowered position.

Remember you have all day, so don’t try to race around the lake (your fins seem to get bigger when you’re tired). The wind will change direction over the course of the day and it seems that you’re against the wind up the lake and then back down again. The wind has a cruel sense of humor sometimes.


Turning is probably the easiest thing to do in a tube. To turn, just spread your legs like you are doing a jumping jack. Then extend one leg forward, one backwards. Now bring your legs to the center of your body. You should be able to pivot your tube 180 degrees very easily. This is an excellent way to switch direction when casting to a rising fish.

Fly Casting From A Float Tube

Is fly casting from a tube any different than casting from a regular boat or while fishing a stream? Actually it is, but not that different. The problem with a tube is how close you are to the water. A lot of people think you need the longest rod you can find to keep you line off the water during your back cast. Not true, although it doesn’t hurt, the trick is to keep your back cast up. The way most of us are taught, is to stop you back cast when you’re rod tip reaches one o’clock and stop your forward cast when it reaches 11 o’clock. Of course when you’re casting dry flies, that formula works perfect but not always so great when you’re casting larger flies like Wooly Buggers, casting into a strong wind or when you’re sitting in a float tube.

When I’m guiding clients the one thing I have to remind them the most while on their back-cast, is to cast up, not back (something I learned from Barry White, Bow River Guide since 1977 and Alberta’s first Master fly casting instructor … “STAB THE SKY!” ) A lot of the time when you think your rod tip is stopping at one o’clock, it’s really closer to two o’clock. That’s too low in float tube. Try and concentrate on stopping your rod tip at 12 o’clock instead and if you can stop the tip somewhere between 12 o’clock and one o’clock, your cast should be perfect. One other thing to remember (really applies at any time, not just in a tube) is when you are casting bigger flies like Wooly Buggers, it doesn’t really work to your benefit to stop your cast shorter than 10 o’clock as the fly won’t usually roll over properly for you. You don’t need a delicate presentation when casting these big flies; so don’t be afraid to slap the fly on the water in front of you, it may just get the attention you’re looking for. So the next time you’re in your float tube, say to yourself… “Stab the sky” before you go into your back cast and that should keep that fly and line off the water behind you.

Float Tube Safety

With very little information available on float tube safety, I prepared this document as a common sense guide for float tubing.

You should always get your safety gear ready before you attempt float tube fly-fishing. Familiarize yourself with casting from shore or in an open field before you get in your float tube with your fly rod. Although it’s important to make sure that your tube is filled properly with air ( a float tube bladder should be inflated enough to remove most of the wrinkles in the nylon cover. If inflated properly, the tube should be very firm, with just a little give. Properly inflated tubes will keep you higher out of the water, causing less drag on the float, and making it faster and easier to paddle around), it’s just as important to not over inflate your tube. You could burst the tubes zippers and seams of your bladder or even the nylon shell.

The rear pocket of most float tubes will hold a large amount of equipment, So gather up any of your incomplete or missing supplies and become safety conscious in your vessel.

Personal Safety Equipment

Eye protection

Sunglasses are a must. Polarized sunglasses are recommended and available at most fishing stores. They greatly assist in personal protection along with reducing the glare from the water surface allowing for increased sight fishing opportunities.

The National Society to Prevent Blindness , reports almost 40,000 eye related injuries were due to sports and recreational products.

Polarized Lenses:

These lenses are a must for anyone on the water. Glare manifests itself in what is called polarized light. Glare increases on surfaces such as water and snow. This creates distracting blurs. Polarized lenses absorb 98% of the glare so you won’t need to squint. These lenses are great for fishermen who fish in shallow water, letting you see the bottom and the fish a whole lot clearer.

Lens Material : Since fishing is not a high-risk sport, any lens material can be used.
Lens Color: The color of lens you choose will depend on when you prefer to fish. For early mornings or late evenings, a rose colored lens is recommended. A brown lens is best for midday and offers the most protection from the sun.
Prescription Lenses: Polarized lenses are available in most prescriptions, ask your optometrist for more information.


Headwear provides protection from misplaced casts on windy days. I have frequently taken hooks out of my cap rather than my head and I’m not the best-looking guy to start with so this helps.

Your hat will also offer shade from the sun. When you are low to the water in a float tube, the sun seems to find a way to burn your eyes at the best of times. A hat that protects both your neck and face is ideal.

Float tube repair kit

Nothing can make a trip one or two hours from home more pointless than a flat with no way to repair it. A standard tire repair kit will work for those that have replaced their vinyl bladder with a tire tube. Personally I have never used mine but I am very thankful it’s there. For those using the vinyl tube, keep the repair kit that came with your tube in one of your pockets. If possible, I recommend switching to a rubber inner tube. Ask the manufacturer what rubber inner tube they recommend for your model.

For vinyl bladder users, it may be smart to purchase an extra bladder right when you buy your tube. Some time down the road you might not be able to find a replacement.
All float tube users should have a valve tool kit so they can quickly release the air from their tubes when finished for the day. This will save you a lot of time as it only takes minutes to remove the air from a tube without the valve stem in the tube. Keep an extra valve stem or two sealed in a plastic bag and stored in one of the pockets. They are very small and seem to get lost the second they hit the ground.

Personal flotation device

A life jacket or inflatable fishing vest is perfect and a must. A large hole in your tube will have you swimming rather quickly.

It could save your life if you are in the middle of the lake and for some un forseen reason you have an accident. You do have sharp objects near a plastic floatation craft.

First Aid Kit

A small first aid kit ($10.00 at Canadian tire or Wal-mart is perfect). I have mine in a plastic bag to prevent moisture and water from damaging the contents. Chances are at some time you will need it either for yourself or someone else you are fishing with.

Distance from Shore

Something to think about this while you are on the water. If for some reason your tube was to deflate, have you already thought about how to exit your tube and paddle in while you are loosing air? Plan accordingly when you are fishing alone. I find most of my fish in 12 – 16 feet of water and that’s not very far from shore in most lakes. Rather than cross the middle of the lake when fishing alone, a trip around the shoreline is a lot safer and is usually the most productive for trout fishing anyway.


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