I originally wrote this a number of years ago when float tubing and still water fly rodding were relatively new. Since then this aspect of the sport has skyrocketed. Where once you had to order round 'belly boats' from companies in the USA now you can buy full sized pontoon boats at Canadian Tire or Costco.
Having said that much of the info in that article is still relevant and I have rejigged the rest to suit our new reality
The Float Tube
I had been fly fishing a long time before I moved to
. But in that first fishing season here I didn’t see one fly fisher. Not until I was camping in the Manitoba in 2000 . I stopped off to look at 2 mile lake (listed in the guide as containing stocked brook trout). All of a sudden a couple of pick up trucks pull up. The drivers took their float tubes out of the back of their trucks, donned their flippers and launched their crafts. Stripping off some line they proceeded to ‘chug’ their way down the middle of the lake trolling their flies from their under inflated tubes. Then they chugged their way back the same way with a white froth trailing behind them as their flippers repeatedly came out of the water. Going fishless on their 2nd attempt they got out of the water, loaded their trucks and headed off to their next destination. A short while later a family showed up with a cedar strip canoe and a trolling motor. The father had a fly rod and after launching the canoe he stripped off a bit of line and trolled his fly using the trolling motor. Their end result was no different despite using a more subtle form of transportation. This was my introduction to fly fishing in Duck Mountains . Two things struck me right away; 1) if I am going to fly fish in Manitoba I am going to have to get myself some kind of watercraft and 2) there has to be a better way of presenting flies in a lake. I mean, with all that tackle and boats of some kind, the fly fishers went fishless in a trout lake while a family fishing from the dock with worms had success. Now of course since then I have learned that this was not the only way to fly fish lakes but, as it turns out, it is a very popular way. Manitoba with its dearth of streams and preponderance of lakes
The float tube was originally designed to get the fly fisher onto lakes. The early tubes were little more than a truck or tractor rubber inner tube covered with nylon and with a seat sewn in. The idea was to give you access to a lake that could not be fished effectively from shore or by wading. One would paddle to a likely spot and cast and work your fly in and around fish holding structure.
As a fly fisher plying the streams, rivers and tributaries of Lakes Ontario and
I never felt the need for a float tube. Almost any kind of fish was at my disposal by merely finding the right river or right section of a river to wade. When you fly fish rivers one learns to read water, look for runs, look for breaks and look for primary and secondary lies in each. One learns the habits in common and unique to each species of fish and one learns to ‘present’ the fly to the fish. All of this can and should be used when float tubing and fly fishing a lake. Erie
Float Tubing/ Lake Fly Fishing 101
Here are some basic techniques and ideas to help you as a tuber. Most of these will require a good and consistent casting technique. While in a tube one does not require long casts but you should be able to cast forward a decent distance, 40’, and do it without hitting the tube or yourself as well as not splashing the fly and/or line on the forward casts (a real fish spooker).
- When you leg kick your tube to move; the flippers should not come out of the water and should not disturb the water surface.
- Although there is talk of a ‘float tube rod’ there is no such thing but you should use a rod that is 8½’ or longer. That 7’ 4wt should not be used in a tube until you are very experienced. The longer rod gives you a better chance at keeping your line away from splashing the water or hitting the tube with the hook and puncturing.
- Work the shore line: A basic but very effective tactic is to kick around the lake paralleling the shore line while casting towards the shore. Stay far enough away so as not to spook the fish but close enough to effectively work the water.
- Learn to cast or make sure you are casting with your arm and not the swaying of your upper body (as can be a bad habit for the wading fly fisher) Before getting in a tube, or as a casting check up, you might want to do some casting in a chair. Remember when in a tube you are very close to the water so any deficiencies in your casting stroke or plane will have the fly and/or line splash the water.Matching the hatch: this is an over worked expression in fly fishing and should really be stated as “match the forage base”. What is in the lake, what are the fish eating and where in the water column is the food?
- Location, location and location: Structure can be an over looked aspect of lake fly fishing particularly with our prairie pothole style lakes. But even some ‘saucepan’ lakes will have variations that make one section of a lake more productive than other areas. Look for sunken logs, over hanging trees, weed beds, drop offs, mid lake humps or anything that is different.Watch the shoreline contours; the way the shore line is above the water line is an indication of what it is like below the water.
- Match the gulp: Learn the difference between the various ‘takes’ that fish have. If they are trout are they chasing, swirling, splashing or sipping? At what point in the water column are they feeding?
- Avoid trolling through productive water. Many fly fishers think that their little old tube won’t spook fish. But I have seen swimming beavers spook fish. Beavers are no threat to fish as they are herbivores but fish are spooked nonetheless. So imagine a 4’ wide tube with giant dangling legs and flippers. And remember your tube will go over the fish before the fly gets near them.
- Use flies that match the forage base. Remember; when a fish takes a generic searching pattern like a woolly bugger or it's fancy name cousins it is mistaking it for something else. That something else can be minnows, scuds, damsel fly nymphs, dragon fly nymphs, crayfish, leeches etc. Better to find out what they are really feeding on and match that forage and increase your hook up rate.
- Learn to ‘work’ the fly. Whatever the pattern is imitating learn the retrieve, or lack thereof, that best suits that fly, those fish or the prevailing conditions.B
- Back bays can be trout hotels and usually have a drop off where they meet the main lake.
- During the warmer months confine your trout fishing to the earliest and latest parts of the day. The trout have to eat sometime and these are the times.
- If on a Rainbow or Brook trout lake or pond and the fish start randomly rising about you, cast near the last ring (it can be great fun guessing which direction the fish heads after the rise) using a nymph, emerger or midge fly.
- Trout in lakes don’t head back straight to their ‘lie’ after a rise like their river brethren and are very likely to be near their last rise.
- Learn as many presentations, and their variations, as possible and be prepared to use them. Clearly I am not a fan of trolling flies but when nothing has work I have given it a go mostly for me it gets no better result but once in a while it produces fish, (though I have no idea what desperation would have me indicator fishing with midges).
- Wear a PFD. Yes you can swim but can you swim with waders full of water, fly vest and associated gear while extricating yourself from a deflated tube? No fish is worth dying for. This is even more important if you are going to tube on rough water, early season cold water or on water that allows power boats.
- And you can add sun block, snack, water, whistle, rain coat, net, stream thermometer, polarized sunglasses etc to the things you might want handy (tubes are wonderful that way) and what you forget on the stream is merely a short walk to the car on the lake it is a bigger deal to go back.
On the Prairies you do not absolutely need a boat to have fun with a fly rod. Actually I feel the float tube has become the beginning and end of what is called fly fishing for many locally, while time honoured practices of small streams and rivers go unappreciated which is a shame as these too make up the glorious variety that is fishing with flies. There is also the practice of fly fishing lakes by wading beaches or fly fishing the big surf on our big lakes that tends to go ignored. Anyhow it might be said that a float tube is a much needed thing for the prairie fly fisher and I hope this has helped you at least a little.