Floating our Michigan Waters
By John J. Cook
(Reprinted with permission from the author, John J Cook)

Picture this. It's a warm summer evening. The sun is beginning its final descent, casting
a crimson hue across the westward sky which is reflected in the perfectly still,
mirror-like surface of your favorite lake. You gaze across the surface of the lake, taking
in all the splendor, when you notice a ripple in the water. A minute later, there is
another ripple, and then another. Suddenly the surface of the lake comes alive with fish
in a feeding frenzy. Although the evening is perfect in every way, you did not come
here just to admire the sunset. You came to fish. You begin casting in the direction of
the feeding fish. But if your luck is anything like mine, the feeding fish always seem to
be several yards farther out than your farthest cast on your best day.

You leave your favorite lake that evening a little disappointed. The disappointment
does not stem from a realization of an inadequacy in your casting ability, for you can
cast accurately and for long distances. The sole reason causing your disappointment is
that the fish are just too far out and there is nothing you can do about it. Or is there?

I have witnessed this scenario, firsthand, many times, with the fish rising just past my
casting range. That, coupled with the fact that it is pretty difficult to find good shore
access on many of our lakes has led me to investigate some of the personal fishing
crafts that are now available. In this article I will summarize some of the advantages and
disadvantages of each type, compare prices, and provide some links to some of the
manufacturers that sell this equipment. This article only deals with non-motorized,
inflatable, fishing crafts such as float tubes, U-Boats, and inflatable Pontoon boats. I
chose to only include these types of craft as I have personally used each of these
types and would rather write an article about something I have personal experience
with than something I have learned from a book or article I have read.


Round Type

The round type float tube (aka. Belly Boat) consists of a main air bladder that is
completely round like a donut. This bladder may be made of heavy rubber in the form of
an inner tube like you would see in a small car tire or it may be made of a lightweight
material such as PVC. Nearly all modern float tubes will also contain a smaller air bladder
that also serves as a backrest. This bladder is typically made of a lightweight material
such as PVC. These bladders will be enclosed in a shell of fabric typically made from
heavy nylon material (420 or 600 Denier, etc.) which also makes up the "frame" of the
boat and includes such items as the backrest, seat, and the side pockets.



Advantages of Round Type Float Tubes

This type boat is typically the least expensive of the three types that will be considered in
this article. The price range roughly varies from $50-150 on average. The round type float
tube is very stable in still water such as lakes and ponds. It is typically lightweight (if
lightweight bladders are used in the design) and can usually be packed into a backpack if needed.

Disadvantages of Round Type Float Tubes

The main disadvantage of the round type float tube is that it is difficult to get in and out of.
This type of tube is only rated for still water use.

To use this type float tube, it is better to enter and exit the tube while on dry land near the
edge of the water where you plan to enter. First make sure you have all your equipment
nearby (within arms reach). Place the float tube on the ground with the back of the tube
facing the water and the front, where you will enter, facing the land. Before you enter the
tube you should have your waders and fins already on. Waders are not entirely
necessary. If the water is warm enough and you don't mind getting wet, you can opt for
wearing a swimsuit instead. Now you are ready to go. Lift one foot up and over the tube
and place it into the opening. Then carefully lift your other foot up and over the tube and
into the opening. Lift the tube up around your waist and buckle any straps that may be
included with the tube (most tubes of this style have a crotch strap). Grab your fishing
gear and begin to slowly walk backwards into the water. When you get about waist deep,
just sit down and you will begin to float. To maneuver to where you want to start fishing,
kick with your fins and you will travel there, backwards.

U-Shaped Float Tube

The U-shaped float tube is very similar to the round type float tube in general design,
materials used, and method of propelling the tube through the water. The main difference
is that the main air bladder in this type tube is, you guessed it, U-shaped. The tube is
entirely open in the front area where you enter and exit the tube. The air bladders are
typically made of lightweight material such as PVC.

Advantages of U-shaped Float Tubes

The main advantage of the U-shaped float tube is the ease of entering and exiting the
float tube compared with a round type float tube. These tubes are typically a bit more
expensive than the round type tubes but the price range sometimes overlaps and the
U-shaped tube still provides a relatively inexpensive option. A rough price range for this
type tube is $70-200. The U-shaped tube is also lightweight and can usually be packed
into most backpacks if needed.

I own a U-shaped float tube and this is how I enter the water. I first put on my waders at
my car and blow up my float tube with a small air compressor as I am putting on my
waders and gathering my fishing gear together. After the tube is blown up, I place any
tackle I have in the side pockets of the tube, and I place my fins in the rear pocket above
the backrest. I grab my fishing rod in one hand and carry the tube, on my back (using the
included backpack straps) down to the edge of the water. I then put my fins on, throw the
tube into the water right near shore, grab my fishing rod and then slowly walk backwards
into the water, holding my fishing rod in one hand and placing my other hand on the float
tube so it doesn't drift away without me. When I get about waist deep, I sit down and begin
to float. I then place the stripping apron across my lap and attach it to the Velcro straps
and then I begin kicking with my fins to where I want to fish.

Disadvantages of U-shaped Float Tubes

U-shaped float tubes are a bit less stable than the round type float tubes. Some designs
utilize a stabilizer bar that is placed across the front of the tube to keep it open. These
bars can be lost. This type of float tube is only rated for still water use.

Pontoon Style Float Boat

This style boat utilizes 2 pontoons held together by framework. Most manufacturers use
inflatable bladders made of heavy duty PVC and covered with very heavy duty nylon or
cordura. The bladders slip inside these covers and the covers are zippered closed. The
framework usually consists of hollow metal tubing, either steel or aluminum, and
contains the seat, the oarlocks, footrest, attachment points for straps to hold pontoons
on, and pulley and cleat system for anchor (if equipped). On some of the more
inexpensive models, the seat is molded from plastic and contains the attachment points
and straps to anchor the seat to the pontoons. With this arrangement, the frame is
basically just the plastic seat. Also with the plastic frame you usually do not have oars
so you must propel the boat solely with your fins.

Advantages of Pontoon Style Float Boats

The pontoon style float boat is the easiest to maneuver out of the three styles
considered in this article. The pontoon boat can be taken into very shallow water since
in most of these boats you are sitting above the water. The oars allow a person to row
the float boat at a higher speed than can be achieved with the other style tubes that are
only propelled using fins. (A few pontoon style boats, however, are designed to be used
with fins only. These are usually referred to as Kick Boats.) Also the oars allow a person
to propel the boat either forwards or backwards. Rowing to propel the boat backwards
allows for faster speed and more power in the stroke. Sometimes when floating a river it
is more advantages to row the boat in a forward direction. Most pontoon style boats are
designed with a foot rest and a seat high enough above the water to allow passengers
to be completely out of the water. In this type of boat, waders are not necessary if only
the oars will be used to propel the boat (such as drifting down a river). If floating a lake
or pond, usually the oars are used to "run" your boat to where you want to start fishing
and then fins are used to propel the boat while you cast. This allows your hands to be
free to fish while you slowly move around the lake or pond. Most pontoon style boats
are also rated to be used in moving water. Pontoon style float boats are very sturdy. I
have learned from reading some of the posts on this site that a big advantage of this
style boat is the fact that they can be easily customized to meet each individuals needs
by attaching items to or modifying the metal framework. Some of the optional items
available include: cup holders, rod holders, anchor systems, and extra seats to name
just a few. For those who have a lot of gear to carry with them, this style boat offers the
greatest amount of room for storage of gear.

Disadvantages of Pontoon Style Float Boats

Pontoon style float boats are the most costly of the three types discussed in this article.
A rough price range would be $250-$2,000. Most one person models, however seem to
run in the range of $300-600. These boats are heavier than the other two types and
they take up more space when they are not inflated than the other 2 types. This may be
a factor if you fish a lot of remote waters where you have to hike or backpack into your
fishing location.

General Things to Consider Concerning Float Tubes and Boats

1.) Where do you plan to use your float tube or boat? Do you want to only fish small
lakes and ponds? Do you want to also be able to fish moving waters such as rivers and
streams? This will determine what type of boat you should purchase.

2.) How much are you willing to spend? When considering a float tube or boat
purchase, keep in mind the various items you may need to also purchase such as
waders, air pump, fins, etc. Many of the larger sporting goods retailers offer packages
that include the fins and sometimes also an air pump in the price of the float tube.

3.) There are several different types of air valves that are used by the various float tube
and boat manufacturers to seal the air bladders. The four types that I have seen are: a
plastic valve with plug like those used on an air mattress, a Schrader valve like that
used on a car tire, a plastic tube with a Schrader valve that can be unscrewed to leave
only a tube with an open end, and a Halkey Roberts self deflating valve such as used
on Dry Fly Float Boats. I chose the type with a plastic tube with removable Schrader
valve because I can inflate it either with an air hose at the gas station, a foot or bicycle
pump, and, heaven forbid, by mouth.

4.) Determine which accessories you will need and look for a tube or boat that includes
these. Some helpful items are backpack straps, stripping apron, lots of D rings for
attaching gear, large pockets for gear, foam fly drying patches, rod holders or rod
holding straps, anchor, and cup holders.

It's another warm summer evening. As the sun begins to set, the surface of the lake is
broken with the telltale ripples caused by feeding fish. You realize that the fish are rising
just beyond your casting range but there will be no disappointment tonight. You get into
your new float boat and silently head out into the sunset

Manufacturers Links


The Pontoon Store

Waterskeeter Boats