After reading books, magazine articles, watching presentations and seminars, going to fishing shows, there is little that I think I could talk about hear that has not already been beaten to death. I started reading Fly Fisherman Magazine in 1968 and find it interesting to read articles today that say the same thing they did back then. Sure, technology has changed our sport a lot, but the general principles are very similar. I fish lakes and spring creeks a lot and get a many questions about what boats, float tubes or other watercraft are best for different situations. I have read with great care most of the articles and field tests about everything that floats and can get you to where the fish are. I have come to realize that most analogies are just the writers opinions. I will discuss some general opinions (you know what they are like!) on different watercraft, and then give some useful advice that can help everyone.
When I started, boats were the main way of getting around on large or moderate bodies of water and float tubes were what duck hunters used to hunt in the tulles. I still have one of those old green doughnut tubes. Everyone had a Valco, MacGregor, or some other aluminum or fiberglass boat and a small motor. Others were lucky enough to combine a ski boat into a reasonable fishing boat. I never could get my 17ft Sanger with a 500 hp 427 Chevy motor to work well as a fishing boat. A lot of fishermen soon developed a love of flat long jon boats that they rowed or used a small motor on. Fly anglers found they were even easier to stand in without to much trouble. Valco and other companies recognized the need for small wide stable boats that you could stand up in and the pram was born. Now some people had already realized they could use their dingy or someone else's from a large sailboat or boat. That led to some of the first fiberglass prams from TPL, Livingston, Columbia and other enterprising boat builders. Now we have the same aluminum and fiberglass boats that have evolved into fishing machines, bass boats, flats boats, prams, inflatables, etc etc etc.
They all work. That is, you can make them all work for fly fishing and some are really good for the job. I fish some big lakes and use a small bass boat with flat areas on either end for casting without tangling the line. It is comfortable and very stable. I have friends that use the v hull aluminum or fiberglass boats that are modified to do the same thing almost as well. In addition to the bass boat, I have a drift boat that is ready made for fishing open rivers and water up to class 3 rapids. Inflatable rafts have improved with rowing platforms and durability to also take their place on the same rivers. I have recently exchanged my drift boat (the causualty of my daughters unbraked car, but another sad story ) for a raft that works even better on rivers for me. To fish small lakes and impoundments, I use either an 8ft or 10ft fiberglass or kevlar pram (now added a 10ft Valco aluminum pram ). I like the glass prams over the metal ones because my brain tells me that the noise level in metal spooks fish. I have actually seen this! Unfortunately, the glass prams and boats wear out more than the metal ones and always need upkeep. So it is a toss up. I hear about Spring Creek's new lightweight 8 footer and think how nice it would be to put on top of my truck. Some guys are putting bigger hp motors on small prams and making them into nice boats for getting quickly around large lakes. That is a great strategy, but can be dangerous if you are not on top of things and or mother nature springs up her ugly head. So how do I suggest you decide on a boat? Easy, pick the type of water and type of fishing you do most and try to pick an all around boat to fit your needs. Or you could be like me and own an armada. It is ok until the registration letters come in the mailbox, or I have to clean, paint, reglass, etc in the spring. Another choice might be a pontoon boat or float tube, which leads me to the next topic. By the way, check at the end of this long winded and mostly useless discussion for some pointers on setting up your boat.
Foat Tubes and Pontoon Boats
I already mentioned that I still have one of the first bass fishing or duck hunting float tubes. No back rest, small size and not very comfortable. It worked, but I really hated the kick fins that strapped to your boots and never got you anywhere. I keep it because I am a packrat. I have a pontoon boat that is 10 feet long and comes with oars and a place for my dog or ice chest, I have some old kick boat pontoons that make me feel uneasy unless overinflated, and I have some round newer float tubes that i use specfically for floating on Silver Creek in Idaho. I am getting ready to order a new v shaped u boat style to replace my old Buck's Bag Top Gun that had a blowout a while back on the lake when I was with clients. It lasted 12 years and worked great. I have seen 2 float tubes pop this spring and am really thinking about some of those suspenders that inflate. Swimming back to shore with just the backrest inflated does not sound fun. I have 2 Fat Cat u boats that I feel comfortable in, but seldom use when a can take a pram or my bass boat.
Anyway, hear is my opinion. They work great, have relative low cost, are pretty safe, can travel well in small packages, and are relatively light especially with the new bladders. I use tubes a lot on trips when I don't want to take a boat and am really happy. I really like the kickboats for tubing the Truckee and other rivers where I can wear my shorts and some waterproof sandals and float and just stand up to fish when I want. That is it, they are functional but not very controllable in the wind. While I am at it, I really like my pontoon boat because I sit up high, can move fast, and can go down moderate rivers or float large bodies of water. However, it is a pain in the wind, even with some of the suggestions I will make later. I know I need the exercise, but don't want to continually have to kick fins to keep myself in place or compensate for the wind. Lastly, float tubes, uboats, and vboats are very functional and have ability to be set up in seconds. There are some places, where only float tubes are allowed. No matter what I had for a boat, I would still always have some form of small inflatable to use in specific places. They can be very stealthful in most cases. Fish are not as afraid of these as they are of boats most of the time.
Canoes and Kayaks
I don't want to leave these out, they have a heritage in fishing and can be great fun. I don't use one (not just because my wife would kill me if I bought another boat) because I don't feel comfortable standing in one and casting. Another minus for float tubes and most inflatable boats. They are light, quiet, and have a multiple function. If you want to combine fishing with kayaking or canoeing, this is the way to go. I do have a platform and stand up bar for my 10 foot Scadden pontoon boat, but it is a little uncomfortable for my old body.
Enough Opinions -How about some Info
Anchors - set up what ever watercraft you use so that it will stay oriented the way you want and stay put in the wind. This means ALL watercraft. Float tubers and pontoon boaters can rig up a great anchoring system using a length (12 to 15 inches) of heavy link chain and a small rope. It will hold you and not be so difficult to get out of the weeds that you have to cut it off. It works better and costs a lot less than those cute little float tube anchors or plastic bottles you fill with sand or concrete. You can purchase the link chain at any local hardware store. If you have a pram or larger boat, you need at least 2 good anchors and some sort of quick release system on each end of the the boat. I know that you can anchor one end into the wind with some success, but 2 anchors will make life easier and help you catch more fish.
Floors and Casting Platforms
No matter what kind of boat you use, you need to have a relatively flat clean area for your line to collect on. A new fly line these days is approaching $80 and will wear out quickly if it rubs the dirty floor of your boat or you stand on it and grind it with your dirty shoes. Put some carpeted platforms or at least carpet in your boat and keep it clean.. I have done one and have a few friends who have done a great job of taking a relatively cheap boat and making it into a first class fly fishing rig.
Those Ugly Line Eaters and Fish Grabbers
Everyone who has fly fished from a boat knows the anguish of having a big fish hook up and then break off because the line catches on something in the boat. (Other than our own body parts!) This can easily be prevented by doing one or all of the following. Put gear in a closed top plastic box or make a compartment under your seat. Rubbermaid makes some nice boxes that will hold most of your gear and keep things dry. Keep the area where you are standing clean and clear. Put things away. I make up small throw covers out of netting and small lead weights in the corners to put over things that seem to catch my line a lot. How about a stripping basket (or just large plastic box) for your boat? Most of us who cast shooting heads on rivers know how well they work. Sure they take up some room, but might save your line from catching on something and tearing the coating off. Find one that fits neatly over your gear box and combine the 2 until you get on the water. When I first started to use prams, they had no seats and I used a 5 gallon paint bucket to sit on and store gear (it worked better then the milk crate I started with). Think about it, and you can make life in the boat much more pleasurable.
Electric Motors, fish finders, etc
I think an electric motor is a great addition to a boat. It helps you get places you may not be able to go with your regular motor and does it quieter. They are available in a wide range of sizes and prices. Check out WalMart, they have some good deals. Most small boat owners want to put the electric motor on the transom, but I would put in on the front of the boat if possibly. It works better and is more comfortable in many cases. (Not always true of very small prams). For the same reason I like electric motors, I like to have a set of workable oars in a small boat. Only one is required by law, but 2 will get you home or into another position quickly and quietly. Fish finders are nice and fun to play with, but don't guarantee fish are going to bite or are even really there. A fish finder can come in real handy if the fish are deep and you don't know where they are hanging out. Some of the new Fish Buddy portables are great to see deep fish and structure. Some of the better impound striper fishermen tell me they are an absolute necessity. I see a lot of people with portable fish finders on their pontoon boats or float tubes. Save your money, buy a good book on fishing different depths of water, buy extra lines with different sinking rates and a good thermometer with a long string attached to find the thermoclines. I have a fish finder on my bass boat and wish I didn't some times. Really annoying have the beeper tell me there are tons of fish nearby and they aren't taking my flies :(. Learn to fish all types of water at all depths and you will rarely need one. (Bet I get some hate mail on this one) If you really want to invest in high tech, by a good GPS and learn how to use it to remember positions where fishing was good and how to get back to that same spot. You can play with it in the car as your buddy drives home and it may help you get unlost on hunting trips. Try that with a fish finder!
Ok, before you send all that hate e-mail or just want to tell me how well the particular watercraft you use is, remember I spent the money on all of them (ok not all, but I am looking for a good sea kayak) and am just giving my slightly biased opinion. By the way, if I had to buy one boat to get me around, I would buy a rocker style small driftboat in either metal or glass. I mean the kind that is 8ft long for one person or 9/10ft for 2 people. I still would need a tube or small inflatable of some sort. Now I don't have to make that choice and my bass boat has a stereo so I can listen to the ball game or a little Lead Zeppelin while I am eating lunch out of the big ice chest. So ninner ninner ninner. Don