The Inimitable Fishing Float Tube Still Thrives—Consider These Top Models our Experts picked for You!
At one time, float tubes simply consisted of an inntertube with a skin of nylon or other water-durable fabric that included a hole for the tire’s air valve. A poor man’s boat to the fishing holes he couldn’t reach from shore.
Today, the ever-evolving float tube (aka belly boat or kick boat) is flush with pockets, back and head rests, multiple air cells, D-rings for storing extra gadgets and even U- or V-shaped tubes for less water drag while kicking and a less precarious entry/exit than a full-circle tube.
Despite all the more protective, more maneuverable off-shoots of the belly boat—e.g., inflatable fishing boats like pontoons, dinghies or kayaks —the float tube’s utility remains unencroachable in the marketplace. It is still a hot item and nothing you can float in is more compact.
If you’ve been hanging onto your old one a bit too long, however, and are now in the market for yet a more efficient and accommodating tube, consider one of the top six tubes put through the most severe belly, kick, catch and cast tests our field of tube testers could muster.
- Best Fishing Float Tubes 2018
- How to Choose a Float Tube aka Belly Boat for Fly Fishing – Buyer’s Guide 2018
- Fishing Float Tube FAQs
- Best Float Tube Fins
- Float Tube Fins FAQs
Best Fishing Float Tubes 2018
1) Editor’s Pick: Caddis Sports Premier Plus
Best for: Beginner or veteran float tuber who wants all the basics in a tube, plus some extra amenities and ease of maneuverability.
- Tracks well
- Durable and strong
- Ample storage compartments
- Easy to enter and exit
- Comfortable raised seat
- Enough rod-holder strap to store two rods
- Fly patches are a bit flimsy
- Though plenty of D-rings, it does not come with the shoulder straps for carrying
- Cup holder is located in a fish-on busy zone
For its expedience, its relatively high and adjustable seat, tracking acuities and toughness—let us not forget its affordability—the Caddis Sports Premier Plus earns our top-of-the-list rank.
A tear-drop design and a strong, sturdy Premier Plus tarpaulin bottom provide optimal tracking on water, thereby saving the angler a lot of leg energy.
The seat sits relatively higher than a lot of float tubes to allow better visibility and casting to rising trout or finning bass, not to mention a dryer beltline and belly for the angler.
All the integral seams are double-stitched on a skin of durable, rip-stop. The two noses are also made of the same tough tarpaulin used on the bottom. Four inches of foam in the seat and two inches in the back rest provide the angler with plenty of comfort.
The pockets on each side hold plenty of boxes and containers to complement a storage area behing the seat for extra garb in a dry bag. Fly patches within convenient reach of the angler adorn the front-end of each side pocket
A strapped-in stabilizer bar in front of a stripping apron with 18-inch ruler, not to mention and a cup or can holder, frost the comfort-convenience cake for the angler.
This is not the toughest of tubes on the market, nor the Cadillac of tubes, but it is enough to last the entry level angler a long time while enthusing the longtime tuber who has held onto his or her current belly boat a bit too long. Further, it won’t cost all that much more than a month’s worth of lattes at Starbucks.
2) Classic Accessories Cumberland
Best for: Beginner or experienced tuber who wants convenience, full functionality and durability for an affordable price.
- Good value on the dollar
- Good tracking and maneuverablity
- Pockets with plenty of gear and out-of-the-way cup storage
- Cushioned, adjustable seat
- Storage space for secured cooler or dry bag with gear behind seat
- Not among the lightest tubes for carrying
- Lacks reinforced buffering on the pontoon noses
- No rod-holder straps up front
Compared to the editor’s pick, the tube of the Cumberland doesn’t rise as high, but its four-inch foam padded seat rises just enough to keep your knees showing above the water, depending on your weight.
Again, a first-time tuber will appreciate this inflatable as much as a seasoned tuber who just needs a newer, better belly boat—one yet more economical than our first pick.
At 14 pounds, a pound lighter than the Caddis Premier Plus, this Cumberland is also heavier than a lot of tubes but can still be packed into a lake with relative ease by using the shoulder straps included in this package.
A rugged PVC bottom resists tears from any drags over gravel or jagged rocks at shoreline. Because it sports a tear-drop design, it is also easy to enter and exit—something for beginners to consider as stepping into a full-circle boat with fins on can at times result in embarrassment at the least.
Like the editor’s pick, its bottom and design allow for easy tracking and maneuverability on the water. The Cumberland’s two beverage holders are conveniently tucked at the rear of the ample side-pockets—roughly parallel to angler’s armpits. A mesh line-stripping apron and stabilizer bar, along with a high, adjustable backrest round out this very sound float tube.
3) Caddis Sports Pro 2000
Best for: Anglers who wish to pack the tube on their backs and want a space-thrifty, very affordable, high-sitting floater.
- Fairly light for packing into a lake
- Good organizational storage compartments and fly patches
- Sits relatively high to keep knee areas dry
- Narrow apron
- Can lose fly patches in strong winds when detached
- Lacks reinforced pontoo noses
- Small rod holder straps prevent the storing of two rods
The Caddis Sports Pro 2000 is a lighter, slightly narrower, smaller load capacity brother to our Caddis editor’s pick—sans a beverage holder.
Like its brethren, it sports secure, efficient Boston valves, double seams and a durable, rip-stop skin. Though this tear-drop tube sits a littler lower in the water, its seat is raised proportionally higher than the Premier Plus to sit dryer and more elevated if you are well under its 250-pound capacity.
Removable fly patches at the ends of each armrest storage pocket make fly selections easier for the angler. Two zippers on each armrest pocket are tethered to an easy to grasp loop that closes and opens each zipper simultaneously.
The elbow end of each armrest includes two small, single-zippered pockets for a little extra storage. The Pro 2000 also affords space behind the seat for a small cooler or dry bag with gear. Its line apron with stabilizer bar ends up lying a little lower and more narrow vertically than the Premier Plus, but still big enough to measure fish up to 18 inches.
4) Classic Accessories Bighorn
Best for: Anglers wishing for a lot of comfort without the extra packing weight and gobs of storage space in a tube that rides you high on the water.
- Large load capacity
- Many pockets with large zipper heads
- Two rod holders
- Efficiently appropriated for fighting fish up front
- Stabilizer bar
- Very good value on the dollar
- Lacks some reinforcement on bottom and front ends
- Storage at rear is for on-land accessibility unless you’re as stretchy as the superhero, Mister Fantastic
You may ask yourself, “Is this a float tube or a raft?”
This puffy, comfy, mondo-pocketed, U-shaped tube deceives the eyes with its volume. The Bighorn is indeed wider and longer than many float tubes, but it weighs in at only 11 pounds when inflated, making it easy to pack on your shoulders.
Besides its girth, you cannot miss the size of its armrests and their accompanying 10 pockets—five pockets on each side for easy organization. A mesh pocket also exists on the backside of the head rest. D-rings allow for additional accessories.
A deep, quick-release apron with ruler up to 14 inches and two rod holders—efficiently attached to the inside of the armrests (rather than the tube pontoon)—all lend to a space efficient, fish-on working space.
Two fluorescent-red straps and a high-sitting seat (with adjustable back rest) offer you great visibility on the water for pilots of oncoming motorized craft.
If you and your gear reach in excess of 300 pounds, this is your inflatable Cadillac—even offering two colors from which to choose. You get a lot of tube without paying more than our first three picks.
5) Outcast FishCat 4-LCS
Best for: The angler who relishes a dry upper, as well as a light, down-to-business tube skin that tracks well and holds up to wear and tear.
- Well constructed
- Sits high
- Tracks well
- Packs light
- Ample space behind seat for extra gear
- Does not include shoulder straps
- Sparse on pockets
- Spendier than other tubes
A tear-drob tube for straight-ahead tracking efficiency, durability and dry upper legs, the Fish Cat 4-LCS can be called lean: Short on amenities but strong and purposeful.
Its design and tough fabric amount to great tracking while its high seat makes for easy casting and visibility for skippers in oncoming watercraft. The four-sided line apron sits a bit high, which usually means sagging if you were to max out the 250-pound capacity.
A pocket resides at the rear end of the ample armrest pockets and space behind the backrest offers plenty of room for gear in a dry bag once you get to shore for lunch and a stretch. Two D-rings rest at the base of the armrest exteriors.
What it lacks in rod holders, deep cushions, number of pockets and other bells and whistles, it compensates for with toughness, including a 500 denier PVC skin and reinforced noses on the pontoon ends.
Though pricier than even more embellished tubes, you are paying for durability and functional proficiency.
6) Outcast Super Fat Cat LCS
Best for: Anglers who use a float tube more than 30 times a year and want a well appointed, strong tube that keeps you relatively high off the water.
” color=”#5ad602″ type=”fa”] Pros:
- High weight capacity for its size
- Three air chambers
- Reinforced noses
- Two rod holders
- Sits high
- Tracks well
- Spendiest of our choices
- Hiking with it over long distances can be taxing
If the Bighorn is the Cadillac of float tubes, the Outcast Super Fat Cat is the Ferrari, including its sticker price as belly boats go.
A little heavier but shorter than its mate, the Fish Cat 4-LCS, the Super Fat Cat loads up to 300 pounds of angler and gear. It hosts three urethane air chambers and a fully inflatable seat arrangement, unlike its unidentical twin.
Seams are welded for maximum strength and its skin consists of a blend of fabric denier, 500 PVC and 420 PC. The large line apron lies well above waistline to avoid conflict with your glutes, but like the Fish Cat, it can sag when nearing its weight capacity.
Popular with veteran tubers, the Super Fat Cat features two zippered side pockets with double zippers and a smaller zippered pocket at the rear of the armrests. An additional zippered pocket resides behind the back rest.
It includes two wide-banded loops at the forefront of the armrests to serve as beverage holders and two D-rings along each side, just below the armrests. Expect to pay nearly a couple-hundred more for the Fat Cat than the Fish Cat.
If you are new to belly boat fishing, watch this Beginners Guide:
How to Choose a Float Tube aka Belly Boat for Fly Fishing – Buyer’s Guide 2018
Like rock-n-roll, the float tube will likely never die. It may change shapes or designs, but the main concept will remain:
Taking an angler (perhaps two in the future?) with gear out to the depths of a lake in something that almost fits inside a standard cooler.
No racks, no trailer needed. Just a car. Well, almost. We do need to mention float tube fins and waders, but all of this will come later in this guide.
A float tube comes in three basic shapes, but since their inception, popular demand circles particularly around two: U-shaped and V-shaped. You can still find a few diehard donut-pod anglers bobbing in pond and lake, but the water drag they create is quickly getting old among today’s anglers, specifically their fin-clad legs. Besides, U- and V-shaped tubes are much easier and safer to enter and exit.
Moreover, the opened-ended tubes tend to ride higher than the full-circle tube. This allows for keener casting and a dryer waistline.
As for safety, if you flip over in a donut-shaped tube, your exit is much harder than an open-ended U or V tube. Occasionally, if you fish enough, you will witness the neophyte stumbling and falling at waterline in attempt to step into a donut-shaped tube. It really requires a backward entry—stepping fin heel to toe.
If this convinces you enough to shun the original style and step more easily into a V- or U-shaped belly boat, please read on.
U-Shaped Float Tubes
This design allows easy, as well as safe, entry and exit at shoreline or in the water should you tip it over. It packs small, but perhaps a tittle larger than some older donut-shaped tubes.
The water drag is minimized by the open-ended front, which also eliminates the wind catch that a full-circled tube invites.
Though U-tubes normally sit higher than the donut-shaped ones, you will find them sitting a little lower than many V-tubes.
V-Shaped Float Tubes
These tubes offer all the advantages of a U-tube with a couple of exceptions.
As for storing or packing it, the V-tube scrunches up as well as a U-shape unless the seat is not inflatable, which is the case with many V-tubes.
As for finning and tracking, these tubes usually outperform the U-tube. The elevated V shape behind your back allows for less water drag.
The V-tube also sits slightly higher than a U-tube as a rule. Furthermore, you can store things in a dry bag behind the seat rather than the more restrictive zippered pocket built into the back-rest as in U-shaped tubes.
As for price, you will generally find good V-tubes a little higher priced than good U-tubes, depending on the quality of construction. A double-seamed, nose-reinforced or well-welded U-tube might cost more than a V-tube without such hardy construction.
Construction & Materials
Durability is more than skin deep in a float tube. The tube’s skin or jacket needs to endure, but not as much as the bladders beneath them.
As for the skin, the thicker the better in general. You can eyeball the seams at the joints to gain a decent assessment of their lasting power. Also examine the base of the air valves; some are glued and stitched for double security. Note the thickness of the plastic that comprises the valve. Make sure it is not flimsy.
The skin protects the bladders from abrasions or tears, making the bottom of the skin more important than the top. Some tubes apply extra-thick material—e.g., tarpaulin, PVC or a mix with polyurethane—to add extra protection. Same goes for the noses of the U- and V-shaped tubes.
As for bladders, most float tubes use vinyl/PVC combinations, cheaper than the more expensive and durable polyurethane. The former is less resilient to temperature changes and UV rays than the latter and therefore prone to becoming brittle, eventually leading to cracks that result in leakage.
A tube, no matter its jacket or bladder construction, will last longer if you attend to factors within your own control. Don’t let them sit all day in the sun when not in use. If you need to set them aside for an extended period, find a shady spot or drape something over the tube.
Just as importantly, inflate them only to the manufacturer’s recommended psi (pounds per square inch). This should keep its tracking ability on the water satisfactory while not stretching the jacket or bladders excessively.
Size and Weight Capacity
The size and weight capacity is often overlooked by the casual consumer-angler. Try to find out the specs for the tube that catches your eye.
All tubes maintain a maximum weight standard. Most often, it ranges from 225 to 350 pounds when it comes to U-tubes and V-tubes. Whatever the maximum, account for your own weight when buying a tube. The heavier you are, the more that attachments such as seats and even line aprons will sag or dip. Things then get wetter.
Some anglers—mostly spincasters—like to attach a light fish finder or sonar device to their tubes, along with rod holders similar to those in a boat. A V-tube is more amenable to such accessories than a U-tube. The former sits higher in general and a battery, well encased and braced, can rest behind the seat if your accessories require such.
For the most part, try to avoid adding such accessories. They will tend to create sags and compromise the tube’s original tracking ability.
As for size of your tube, this can range from 40-something inches wide to nearly 60 inches wide. If a U-tube, the wider it is, the more inflatable seating and back rest volume for comfort. Armrests are not as interfering as well, especially in fish-on situations. Your apron is likely to hold more fly line as well.
A V-tube loses less tracking ability if wider or longer than the U-tube because of its raised V design in back.
Just remember that the larger any tube is, the more it will catch in the wind and the heavier it will be to pack into lakes or ponds. Speaking of toting a tube, try to buy tubes that include shoulder straps rather than having to buy them separately. Also find tubes with sturdy grab handles; they serve well for toting the tube on your back with one hand behind your neck for only short distances sans shoulder straps.
Your Tube is Worthless Without These Accessories
Of course, your float tube will never make it to the lake unless you own waders and effective fins. Don’t try a short paddle, lest you quickly find the answer to the old Billy Preston hit, “Will It Go Round in Circles.” Equally insufficient are your bare feet—unless you are a size 15—or tennis shoes.
If you are fishing in warm water for bass or spiny rays, you might be able to shuck a pair of waders for some shorts, but in most cases you will not find the water inviting. It may be cold in spots or it may be full of algae, debris or leaches—all better left from clinging to your skin.
If you wish to learn more about the best waders to use in a float tube, refer to our article about waterproof fishing waders. Read on to find out about the best fins to use.
Finally, Know a Tube’s Limits
For the sake of safety, don’t extend the boundaries of usage with a float tube. These aren’t made for streams or rivers with noticeable current—a slough, maybe. Keep them restricted to lakes, ponds, freshwater channels, or backwaters.
If a portable boat is desired for creeks, streams or full-fledged rivers, consider larger inflatable crafts, such as dinghies (rafts) or pontoon boats.
Fishing Float Tube FAQs
What is the best type of seat?
The best type of seat is the one that minimizes how much of your body is submerged in the water and keeps you comfy during the long and slow-propelling hours on the lake. Sometimes an inflatable seat and back rest is more comfortable than an strapped-in foam seat.
It just depends on an angler’s weight and comfort zone for his or her back. An inflated seat and back rest catches more wind but sometimes makes for a lighter tube for packing.
What are the best materials?
Polyurethane is the premier fabric for bladders with an accordingly higher price as tubes go. The more widely used PVC is still a solid option that doesn’t raise the cost of a tube above the working angler’s range.
What will I pay for a float tube?
No matter their design, float tubes will generally range anywhere from just over $100 to $300. If you see one you like that costs more than this, make sure you closely examine and compare its construction or amenities to those in the normal price range. A more durable material, such as polyurethane for bladders or PVC tarpaulin for the jacket, may be the reason for a higher price and is worth the extra money in most cases. Otherwise, make sure you aren’t paying more for something that is just as durable as a cheaper tube.
What are the lightest float tubes for backpacking?
Completely inflatable tubes, those with inflatable seats and backrests, are normally the lightest. For stuffing inside a backpack, the steadily disappearing donut-shape tube is best. However some of today’s V-shaped and U-shaped tubes feature dimensions that do fit into a large backpack with some of your other gear. If you are staying overnight on a high lake, note that any tube will take up a lot of space in your backpack and threaten to displace some of your common backpacking gear if you wish to keep the pack’s weight under 50 pounds.
Overall, look for the fun in Belly Boat Fishing!
Besides safety and convenience, a float tube by nature should retain its “fun” element. Because they so closely relate to the big floating duck or Disney character floater that we used in swimming pools as a kid, not to mention the innertubes we floated on during hot summer days at the lake, these devices bring out a little kid in all of us. Find the tube that not only performs well but brings out the fun while fishing.
Best Float Tube Fins
Fins may seem superfluous at first glance when looking for some to use with your new tube. However, their weight, attachment devices, design, thrust and comfort all come into play once you squat into your tube or take it into and out of the water.
Fins can be slipped over a wader stocking or wading boots, but the latter proves preferable. The fin is less likely to slip off a boot than a wader stocking. If you don’t have a wading boot, however, an oversized tennis shoe sometimes suffices for the fins.
You basically won’t need a “best of” assessment to find some fins that serve your purposes. You will need an idea, however, of which fins are best for the aforementioned criteria.
High Thrust Fins
Don’t equate length of the fin to its thrust capacity. One of the best fins for thrust are relatively short and resemble those used by divers or snorkelers. They contain a back strap along the lower back ankle that tightens as a common belt does. These otherwise step-in, flexible fins prove comparatively easy to walk in along the shore and are vented at the upper end of the blade to reduce water resistance, resulting in better thrust.
Turned or Forced Fins
An almost articulated fin, referred to as force fin by some, also maximizes thrust by its sheer design. The blade turns noticeably upward just in front of the where your toes rest.
These are very flexible and light but more importantly reduce drag as your legs come back up into a crouch position after pushing them forward to motor the tube. A noticeable divit in the front of the fin also reduces drag.
These are also easier for walking than most other fins because the front portion is not touching ground. These fins usually come with a cushioned neoprene (or similar material) step-in at the crown of your foot that is secured by a strap at the rear of your ankle. It is a one-size fits all fin.
Good ol’ frog fins
These predominated the market in the early days of float tubes. They are straight-away fins that widen substantially toward the end and feature a straight bevel running vertically down the blade. The are made according to foot size.
Though they work for divers well, they don’t minimize water drag for tubers whose legs and feet require a more up-and-down motion to move a tube along than the horizontal flapping motion required from divers and snorkelers.
Walking or paddle-pusher fins
These original float-tube fins are fading as fast as donut-shaped belly boats, but they are designed to require more of a walking motion while in the water than an angled pushing-off motion. The rectangular paddles are hinged laterally from a foot platform or sole and flare out under water when you push down to create thrust. These prove more awkard to pack inside a tote bag than the other types of fins.
Hinged or flip fins
Like the paddle pushers, these are hinged fins, but extend vertically rather than laterally. Slipping into them is like stepping into house slippers. They remain as comfy as slippers in the water.
Because you can simply click these extremely light fins up when on dry land, they eliminate the need for duck walking or risking a tumble. They release quickly and engage in the water with a couple swift kicks to click into paddle mode. You can also simply turn them downward by hand while near shore.
About laced fins
These can actually be lighter than the aforementioned fins and minimize water intake because there is less of a cavity or material surrounding your feet.
However, they suffer one major caveat: To make sure you don’t lose your fins in the water, you must cinch the laces rather tight around the crown of your foot, which over a period of time can start to wear on that part of your foot, creating discomfort.
Remember, you cannot adjust them once in the tube and in the depths of your chosen lake or pond, unless you have abnormally long arms. Laces also tend to wear out and snap faster than rubber, nylon or vinyl straps.
Float Tube Fins FAQs
How are fins sized?
Some fins fit all sizes of feet, such as the forced fins that turn upwards. Others, such as frog fins or high-thrust fins—diver designs—come is small, medium and large sizes. These, however, don’t come large enough to fit extremely long feet.
How much should I pay for fins?
If you are seeking anything but hinged fins, your price range should fall in the $30 to $50 spectrum. You can find special, power-kick designs for as much as nearly $100 and hinged fins toward that figure as well. For most float-tube anglers, a fin around $25 to $30 can easily suffice.
What about materials in a fin?
Unlike float tubes or inflatables, the materials in a fin are often very similar if not identical across the board of brands. They consist of plastic or rubber, mostly with silicone. If using silicone rubber, don’t leave them stored in extreme heat or inside our vehicle in midsummer for extended periods. They will curl up, crack and split under such stress.
What best keeps the fins on my feet?
Nylon straps around the back of your ankle with insert buckles are most prevalent. Rubber straps also frequent the market. Some fins come with back-ankle straps and foot-crown straps. As long as it is strong and easy to buckle and release, a back ankle strap is usually more than sufficient on most fins with a tapering tunnel entry.
To ‘fin-ish’ up
When deciding on the fin that best suits your feet and float tube, focus on their heft, comfort and thrust. These three criteria will figure into how easy they are to walk in on land, how comfy you feel in the water, and how efficiently or easily they move your tube along.
Most of the companies that manufacture float tubes also produce fins, including Outcast, Classic Accessories, Caddis and Creek Company.
Image credits: title image by Béotien Lambda (CC BY-SA 3.0 license), product images courtesy of the respective manufacturers.