Float Tube For Little Water Bream

Jeff Ragland, a full-time fishing guide with Kingfisher Outfitters of Callaway Gardens, fights a bream that he hooked along a bank that isn't conducive to bank fishing. Jeff used a float tube to access the remote waters.

Don Baldwin | May 12, 2006


Jeff Ragland, a full-time fishing guide with Kingfisher Outfitters of Callaway Gardens, holds a bream that he caught while fishing in a float tube.

We’ve all been there. You find a quiet little isolated pond that you know holds the world-record bluegill, it’s spring and you can see the light color of the bed way back in the corner of the lake, and there is absolutely no way to get there. From your vantage point the vegetation is thick on that end, and the cattails reach well out into the lake from the swampy shoreline. The pond is well off the road and there isn’t anywhere to launch even a small boat. That is if you could get a boat to the lake in the first place. Frustrating, huh?

Well there is an answer that can turn this frustration into success; a float tube.

Float tubes are small personal watercraft which are light, maneuverable and relatively inexpensive. They are tailor made for applications just like the one described above.

We decided to do some investigation into float tubes and how they can be used effectively in remote small pond situations.

I recently had the opportunity to fish a private pond with Jeff Ragland of Columbus. Jeff is a full-time guide at Kingfisher Outfitters of Callaway Gardens, and he regularly uses float tubes for fishing ponds on and off that property.

For our trip we were fishing for bream (bluegill and shellcracker) with a fly rod. It was mid April, and the fish were staging in relatively shallow water in preparation for the spawn. We were just a little early for the real action that would occur when the fish got on the bed, but Jeff felt we could still make a pretty good day of it.

When Jeff picked me up at the Callaway Gardens Inn, he had a pair of float tubes secured to the top of his vehicle. I was a little surprised when I saw them. My image of a float tube was just that; a “tube” that you float in with a seat in the middle of it and two holes for your legs. What Jeff had were miniature boats. They consisted of two pontoons that were connected in a point to form a bow. There was a seat with an adjustable back secured between the pontoons, and there were storage compartments to hold the important things you always need when you are on the water. From the size of the pontoons and the position of the seat it was clear that once afloat you would sit high in the water. This was going to be interesting.

When we got to the lake we unloaded our gear, put on our waders, and got our tackle ready. The water was still a little chilly so the waders were going to feel good. Jeff recommends that you always wear waders when float tubing for a little added protection.

“If you are in the water for long periods of time you can lose body heat through your lower body,” said Jeff. “The waders will help prevent that, but more importantly they will protect your legs from the limbs and rocks that you inevitably encounter when you are probing the shallows.”

With waders and boots donned we carried the tubes down to the edge of the lake. For their size they were remarkably light, about 12 pounds, and quite easy to handle. In this case we could park right next to the lake, but it wouldn’t have been a problem to carry the tubes several hundred yards to a remote pond if we had to.

Jeff handed me a pair of fins to attach over my boots and gave me instruction on how to get in the tube. When you are in the tube, you face to the rear with the “bow” to your back. The whole back of the tube is open making it very easy to get into it. You simply turn around and take a seat. The most difficult thing is walking and turning around with the fins on your feet. But it doesn’t take long to get the hang of it. Once seated, a webbed flap goes across your lap strapping you in to the craft and offering a sort of table in front you. This can come in quite handy.

Pushing off from the bank the small tube glided easily across the surface. With a little instruction from Jeff, I learned to maneuver the tube with the flippers and was controlling direction pretty easily within a couple of minutes. The tubes sit high in the water and a few kicks of the flippers will push them along at a pretty good clip. Your overall profile is low compared to a normal boat, however, so the tube isn’t affected very much by wind.

We started down the bank making short casts to shoreline cover. We were fishing four-weight fly rods with 3X or 4X tippets. Our choice of flies was a size 10 Wooly Bugger with a size 14 beadhead pheasant tail nymph on a dropper about 18 inches below the booger, a size 10 rubber-legged dragon, and some topwater poppers. Within a few casts Jeff had a strike and fought a fat bluegill back to the tube.

We were floating in 10 feet of water, according to the small device Jeff had to measure the depth. He also had a device that read water temperature. Both devices hung off the tube. This float tube was beginning to feel more like a well-equipped bass boat than a well-dressed innertube.

It didn’t take us long to reach the end of the lake, and we continued to pick up fish all along the way. Although we were fly fishing, I’m sure a light spinning outfit would have produced just as well and would also have been easy to fish from the tube.

This ain’t your daddy’s float tube. The author says his borrowed float tube was so roomy and had so many compartments that he felt like he was in a bass boat.

One thing that is important to remember about fly casting from a tube is that you are much closer to the water than you are in a boat. Jeff said that effectively casting is probably the most difficult thing for fly fishermen to master at first.

“Keep your back cast high or your fly will drop into the water at the back end of the cast,” says Jeff. “This can cause the forward cast to come back too low and cause tangles and other problems. Think about reaching for the sky and stopping the back cast at about 12 o’clock and you should be fine.”

Chris Martin of DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division says that the state’s Public Fishing Areas (PFAs) are great candidates for float tubing.

“Two of the PFAs that are particularly good for float tubing are Charlie Elliott PFA in Jasper County and the Paradise PFA in Berrien County,” said Chris. “Both of these PFAs have small ponds, some of which are remote, with good populations of bluegill and redear sunfish.”

Float tubes are allowed on these as well as other PFAs in the state. They really do offer the bank fisherman the opportunity to get to some remote, out-of-the way places where you’d normally have to have a boat to fish. May is the month to really take advantage of a float tube while bream are up shallow spawning.

Charles West is the area manager at Paradise PFA, and he agrees that float tubing is a good option for fishing the small ponds there.

“There are good float tubing ponds here, and the fishing for redear sunfish should be good through the first of June.”

It should be noted that the farther south you go in Georgia the more you should be conscious of the fact that there could be alligators in a pond. However, Charles says that they almost never see a gator in any of the ponds. It’s usually very dry before these reptiles move into a pond as adjacent swamps dry up. Caution is recommended and a call to the Paradise PFA office at (229) 533-4792 is a good idea before you head out. Also, you can stop by the office and ask for Charles before you get in the water. He’ll give you the scoop and probably some advice on where the fish are biting.

For those who fish around Atlanta, float tubes are also very effective when fishing the Chattahoochee River for trout, bass, or bream. The water is cold year round, so waders are a must and you also need to check the generating schedule before heading out. If you are in your tube when the rush of water comes from the dam, you may find yourself quite a bit farther downstream in a hurry. Again, caution and common sense is the key to safety.

The tubes, or more precisely small pontoon boats, we used on our Callaway trip were Super Fat Cats by Outcast. They are available at the Fish Hawk in Atlanta. You can check out the various models available at <>. There is a complete set of accessories available including hand pumps, motorized pumps that work with your auto electrical system, even rod holders!

Other places to look are Orvis, Bass Pro Shops, and other major tackle suppliers. The products range widlely in features and can fit just about any budget. One thing is certain, the float tube will add a whole new dimension to your fishing and let you get to some of the remote places where you know that trophy bream is just waiting to stretch your line.

Float tubes range from $50 to $500, depending on how many bells and whistles you want. The one I fished from ran $350.

If you want to experience float tubing before you invest, give the folks at Kingfisher Outfitters in Callaway Gardens a call, they run full- and half-day trips complete with instruction and equipment. They can be reached at (706) 663-5142.

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