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Float Tubes vs. Kayaks For Mountain Lake Fishing

Guest Blog by: George Nielsen , Utah 4/30/2018
If you want to escape the crowds, then hiking to remote mountain lakes in the Tetons or Rockies is the way to go. If you REALLY want to escape the crowds, then you need to hike to those remote lakes and fish from a kayak or float tube. 

Kayak fishing and float tube fishing have become popular fishing methods for anglers that want to venture beyond the bank, but can’t afford (or don’t want the hassles of) a fishing boat. Fishing from one of these craft can give you a lot of versatility as you scout out your next fishing destination. If you’re considering buying a float tube or kayak, it will serve you well to know the pros and cons of both. Let’s take a closer look.


Float Tube 

Pros
  • Light/Portable - Float tubes are inflatable and not rigid like a kayak, so they’re relatively light and easy to transport. Float tubes can weigh as light as 7 lbs. and as heavy as 35 lbs. Many float tubes come with backpack straps, or can be packed into a hiking backpack. 
  • Positioning control - Having your legs in the water and using fins is the most unique part of fishing from a float tube. The hands-free control you have when fighting a fish is invaluable. You don’t need to constantly grab a paddle or steer a trolling motor. You can be hands-free and control your positioning with your legs. Fly fishing anglers tend to gravitate towards float tubes, as they prefer the full body of motion when casting cast. 
  • Stealth - Most anglers understand the importance to not spook the fish. Using fin power alone allows you to keep nice and quiet as you stalk the fish. After all, fishing is more like hunting than ‘sitting there with a pole in the water’. 
Cons
  • Feet in water - Having your legs in the water can be uncomfortable or ‘weird’ to some anglers. Even with warm neoprene waders, the cold water in the spring can freeze your toes. 
  • Limited accessory options - Float tube fishing is a small niche within the fishing industry and there aren’t many accessory options as a result. There aren’t many manufacturers in the space and many float anglers craft their own solutions. There are some float tube rod holder options on the market and you can also find solutions for mounting a trolling motor or fish finder. 
  • Slow - If you want speed, then a float tube is not for you. Kicking with your fins is slow and steady. Many float tubes have mounted oars, but these still don’t generate the speed of a kayak or motorized fishing boats. Trolling motors can be mounted… for trolling, not speed. 
  • Limited room - Fishing in a float tube is like fishing in a floating recliner, it can be comfortable, but extremely limited on space. 


Kayak

Pros
  • More space - Kayaks are much larger and usually have storage space towards the front of the kayak and in the back. You can stretch out your legs without getting them wet and store plenty of gear in a milk crate behind you. Fishing kayaks will often have several internal compartments, and some even have live wells. 
  • Speed - Kayaks are narrow and built to glide through the water quickly. You can cruise to your fishing spot faster than any fishing craft without a motor.
  • No feet in water - You can stay nice and dry, which is especially convenient during spring ice off and in the fall. 
  • Plentiful accessory options - Kayak fishing is significantly more popular than float tube fishing. This can be attributed to the familiarity of kayaks and the sport’s popularity in the south. You can imagine that most southern anglers prefer not to have their legs in the water where alligators, snapping turtles, and sharks exist. Because of kayak fishing’s’ popularity, there are many manufacturers in the space and a vast array of accessories to outfit your kayak with. 
Cons
  • Heavy/Difficulty transporting - Because they’re long and rigid, Kayaks are much heavier than and not as portable as float tubes. You definitely couldn’t fit one in your backpack. However, they can be transported in most truck beds and on top of most jeeps and SUVs with tie-downs. There are also several kayak trolley cart options to choose from to pull your kayak along the trail.
  • Difficulty maintaining positioning - When fighting a fish, it’s extremely difficult to control the positioning of your Kayak when your hands occupied. You need to occasionally grab your paddle while reeling in your fish to try and hold position. Anchors help, but you’ll still be drifting. Some kayaks do have pedal systems, but these function more to cover water, than to hold position in the water

So, what’s the best choice? 

This may be the ‘boring’ answer, but it comes down to your situation. Both fishing craft options have their merit and benefits. If you’re headed to a remote lake that requires extensive hiking, then a float tube will serve you best. On the other hand, if the mountain lake has a trail or dirt road that takes you close to the water, then wheeling your kayak the rest of the way won’t be a problem. If you’re fishing early spring ice off or in the fall, then the water will be too cold to have legs in the water, take a kayak. If you’re a fly angler, then you’ll find the built-in stripping aprons of float tubes quite convenient. The casting motion in a float tube will feel much more natural as well. Anglers have so many tools and float craft to choose from these days. Find what suits you best and get out on the water.

Blog content © George Nielsen
Member comments
Coyute, CO   5/1/2018 10:26:51 AM
Good info. Another Danish belly boater? I dig it! I still believe that float tubes are more for purists. Kayaking is getting as complicated and pimped out and as marketed as the guys in their billboard jerseys and their fancy bass boats. To each their own.
 
opencage, CO   5/3/2018 4:28:06 PM
This is a ton of solid info. I have an old tube I don't use enough. I've always thought about taking it up to the Loch in RMNP, might just try it this year.
 
Scot, CO   5/13/2018 6:17:59 PM
I have to agree for the most part with Coyute. Float tubing is about being in close to the fish. A buddy kayaks and it has all the same overhead as a full size boat with less room I have a 12 foot aluminum boat and I usually reach for my float tube when I don't want to deal with my boat and batteries etc.
 
George Nielsen
"FloatTubeFishing.com"
Guest Blogger