Not all belly boats make you sit immersed in the water above the waist. The Cumberland Float Tube from Classic Accessories provides a captain’s chair that rides just above the water. The extra flotation needed for that higher vantage point adds some cost but also provides extra storage space. The Cumberland also allows inflation either by mouth (time-consuming and dizzying at best) or by pump via the Boston valve system.
If you want a belly boat that’s less pricey, try the Togiak Float Tube, with many of the same improvements but no Boston valve. Make sure you’re sitting down on something solid and dry when you start blowing up the tubes.
For the most luxurious ride add the BW Sports Float Power Motor. Not so easy to find this year as in 2011, the Float Power motor attaches to most models of float tubes and lets you cruise your favorite fishing hole quietly with a battery-powered trolling motor. (Click the photo below to visit the BW Sports site). Some states consider this a powerboat and require the same registration and licensing as for a bass boat, so look over the local rules first. Here in Indiana, for example, I can fish one of the local quarry lakes from my canoe legally, but I can’t use a motorized float tube there. Probably at Cagle’s Mill Lake I’d also have to pay the fee to use the launch ramp if I took a float tube with a trolling motor attached. Cripes, modern America.
Anyone who only fishes from shore wishes there was a way to get out on the water. When you’re shorebound the best fishing spots always seem just out of reach. I recall watching spring white bass spawning runs pass me by while boaters a hundred yards away caught their limits, and there have been many days when I simply couldn’t get a baited hook past the skirmish line of bream that constantly waits just offshore. From the shoreline I often feel like I’m fishing exactly backwards, pulling in lures that should be jumping off the bank and heading for deeper water. From a boat, presentation seems more natural. For some of us, boats are too much expense or too much trouble, but we want them anyway.
When I was a kid I tried to build several boats, but I lacked the good sense and experience needed to come up with something that worked. I built my first farm pond raft with a couple of inner tubes and two doors I pulled off an abandoned house. I remember it well, because you had to move briskly from end to end or the part you were standing on sank. The second contraption, a side wheel paddleboat, worked much better, but the double wide washtub I used for the hull displayed the stability of an egg balanced on the small end. If I spun the paddlewheels I definitely got going, but one or the other side always dug deeper, making my course less than predictable.
If I knew then what I know now, I’d have rigged up a belly boat. Belly boats will get you there, inexpensively. You can backpack them to back country lakes or toss one in the back seat of the car for a quick trip to the fishing hole. The ride’s a little wet, and you’ll need some warm underwear and good waders if you fish any cooler climates, but the belly boat does offer an easy way to get just far enough offshore to fish the points, the logs, the edges of the reed beds, and catch the big ones.
There’s not much that’s tricky about a belly boat. They’re easier to carry if they’re not inflated, so make the pump a permanent part of your gear. Strapping an inflated float tube to your back could make it difficult to get through the brush and the trees. You’ll definitely be more comfortable in waders if you spend hours in the water, and you do need special foot fins to maneuver. You’ll have to travel light because there’s not much storage room on board — take only the essentials and be sure to rig safety lines to anything you don’t want to leave on the lake bottom, like your favorite fishing pole.
Safety’s a concern with any boat, so a backup flotation vest is a necessary precaution. Get a good one with enough pockets to serve double duty. You’ll only save a few dollars if you buy a doughnut boat that you don by stepping into. If you have to get out of a belly boat while in the water — in many ways the worst-case scenario — an exit-front horseshoe boat allows that without going under. Puncturing a belly boat’s tough casing is unlikely, but always possible. If you do spring a leak it’ll have to be fixed onshore. The most likely problem you’ll encounter is wind. If the wind blows from onshore you’ll need a tether or you’ll wind up far from home. Another potential problem is bottom trash — make sure your footgear protects you from broken glass and old fishing lures. Belly boat kick fins strap on over boots or sneakers.