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March 31, 2016

How To Catch Big Bass WITHOUT A Boat

Want to know how to catch big bass without a boat?

Is it possible?Float tube fihsing

It most certainly is possible to catch big bass without a boat. I’ve even done it!

One morning I was floating around in my Hobie Float Cat 75, paddling with my fins, and 2 BassHoles in a $40,000 boat drifted past me. I asked how they were doing, and they said they’d caught a couple of 2 pounders. I said, “Great!” I didn’t tell them I’d already caught a couple of 3+ pound smallies (smallmouth bass) on 2 consecutive casts!

What are the options for fishing for bass without a boat?

There are 3 main ways to fish for bass without a boat with a motor:

  • Shore fishing
  • Float tube fishing
  • Non-powered craft fishing

Shore fishingGirl_stands_on_shore_and_fishes_with_her_fishing_rod

I’ll talk more about shore fishing and other non-powered craft in future posts. When I first started bass fishing, I did do a LOT of shore fishing. Basically it was my only option. I was fishing in public waters (back when I was in California) where BassHoles were allowed to walk around the perimeter of the lakes (impoundments). No entry into the water was allowed.

Float tube fishing

Eventually I found places where BassHoles WERE allowed to enter the water, in float tubes or other non-powered crafts. This revolutionized my fishing experience!

What IS a float tube?

Originally called “belly boats,” the first float tubes were large rubber inner tubes with a seat affixed to them. As they became more sophisticated, they developed elements that offered the fisherman back support. Eventually they were completely covered in canvas or nylon, and included pockets for storage, an actual seat with back, and additional bladders to increase support as well as provide security in case of a leak in the main chamber.

How does a float tube work?BLACK-BASS_FLOAT-TUBE

With a float tube, a BassHole sits in the seat, and moves by pumping his or her legs. The key is to have flippers on your feet. You can wear the exact same flippers skin divers and snorkelers do, or there are special flippers designed just for float tubes. These allow you to wear a boot or shoe on your foot before adding the flippers.

Since you are pushing with your feet, you propel yourself backwards, and cannot see where you are going. So you cruise over to the area you want to fish, then spin around, and float and fish.

What types of float tubes are there?

Float tubes (or float devices?) have come a long way since the original “belly boat.”

Since those were made with inner tubes, they were completely enclosed. Getting in and out of the tube could be a challenge, especially when it’s floating and you’re standing in the water with big flippers on!

Now there are many shapes for float tubes. The 3 major shapes are:

  • Roundround float tube
  • U-Tube
  • V-Tube
  • Pontoon

Every type of float tube sold today generally has multiple bladders, so if the main one springs a leak, you still have something to help you float to shore. OR, they contain foam pieces that offer the same security.


You can still purchase a classic round float tube. The main advantage of these is they are generally the least expensive option.


The U-Tube has one chamber in the shape of a “U” with a stabilizing bar in front. A U-Tube is much easier to get into and out of, since you can open up the front and pull the “U” around you, sit down, attach the stabilizer, and you’re on your way. My first float tube was a U-Tube.


The V-Tube is very similar to a U-Tube. But it has 2 bladders that come to a point and meet behind the angler. The “V” shape cuts through the water better than the “U,” and again, you have at least 2 chambers rather than a single one. My second float tube was a V-Tube.


My third “tube” was a Hobie Float Cat 75. I purchased it while I was working at Orvis on the weekends, so got it for half price! It has two pontoons, with a seat built between them. A large frame holds the pontoons and seat in place. It came with two oars.

The pontoon version of a float tube is, in my opinion, the best option. It is more stable, you sit higher up out of the water, and as with my Hobie, you can use oars to help you move through the water.

What advantages does a float tube have?Float Tube Fisherman

There are some advantages to fishing from a float tube.

  • Stealth. You are a lot quieter and lower, which allows you to “sneak up” closer to the fish without spooking them.
  • Quiet. A float tube generates very little noise, there’s no metal or engine.
  • Maneuverable. You can get right up into the weeds, float over rocks, and so get to spots where boat fisherman fear to go.
  • Additions. You can get all kinds of pieces to add to your float tube, including a trolling motor!
  • Costs. No gas, no oil, no mechanics, no trailer; a float tube is not expensive. In fact, once you pay for the tube, the expenses pretty much stop! It’s why I’m fishing from one!
  • Restrictions. There are many areas where only non-motorized fishing craft are allowed. You’ll be welcome!

What are the disadvantages of a float tube?

Of course, there’s a reason not every fisherman is in a float tube.

  • Coverage. You really can’t go very far in a float tube. And I learned that the hard way — on multiple occasions! Better to stick to a very limited area, and fish it thoroughly. It’s always tempting to go farther, but remember, you’ve got to fin yourself all the way back, AFTER you’re getting tired!
  • Wind. Fishing in the wind is tricky with a boat, but can be really difficult in a float tube. It will keep you moving when you are trying to stay put!
  • Current. Even lakes can have currents. And if you are in a river, of course there’s going to be a current. Fighting against the current can get tiring. But here’s a very important tip: START by fishing AGAINST the current. Oh, believe me, it’s tempting to let the current pull you along, but then when you want to return, you’ve got to fight that current all the way back. I’ve made that mistake TOO MANY TIMES! Don’t you!

So, if you’re a BassHole who loves to fish in lakes, but can’t get a boat (perhaps you’re married?), a float tube is a nice option.

And they are tons of fun.

Let me hear about YOUR float tube adventures!

Tight lines!

Roger, The Smiling BassHole


Matt’s Mom’s comment reminded me to add that typically the angler wears chest waders to keep warm and dry. Sometimes you CAN tube “wet,” in which case it’s good to have quick-drying nylon pants with built in mesh underwear (like a bathing suit).

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The Smiling BassHole

I'm a BassHole!Kickin' Bass and lettin' them go.

Roger, The Smiling BassHole

  • Oh, I have done a lot of fishing in my life. Mostly shore fishing, fishing off the boat, or right off airplane floats. Tube fishing sounds so fun! I think I would enjoy floating in a tube fishing. I think I would like the pontoon the best. Seems the most stable to me. You’ve done a great job of covering the advantages and disadvantages. I am going to have to mention this to my dad. Would you have a need for any hip weighters then? I would not want to get wet and cold.

    • Matt’s Mom,

      You are correct! Usually when float tubing, you do wear waders to keep you dry and warm. However, there are times and locales where the water is quite warm, and so you can do without the waders. It is good to have nylon pants, though, especially with built in mesh underwear. That way, when you get out of the water, everything can dry in just a few minutes.

      It’s a load of fun and combines exercise with fun fishing.

      Tight lines!

      Roger, The Smiling BassHole

  • That’s a real good solution when you want to catch big bass and you don’t have a motor boat. Float tubes seems to do a lot from what you have written here and since it has been developed a lot now, it might be real fun to go fishing with that, but I wonder it might take a little while to get good in operating it, like the movements isn’t it initially a little hard to control?
    Nice Post Roger 🙂

    • Hari,

      Thanks for the kind words!

      You’re right, maneuvering does take a bit of experience to get used to it. But after a short while, it becomes more intuitive. Though sometimes when you try to move quickly: OOOPS, you turn in the wrong direction! Experience will make it more automatic.

      And then it IS real fun! Even BassHoles with boats will sometimes use a float tube for the fun of it. Especially since there are some very great lakes and ponds that ban boats with gasoline engines from their waters.

      Have fun floating, and

      Tight lines!

      Roger, The Smiling BassHole

  • Another great post! I’ve been waiting for this one as I was curious to see how you can fish successfully without a boat since I don’t have one. The float tube actually looks pretty relaxing and seems like you can just fall asleep on a nice sunny day. As for the type of clothes you wear, in particular the pants, do you just wear a rubber suit or just wear whatever as if you were going for a swim? I take it that if the water is cold you’d want to be in something waterproof and something that will keep you warm. Are there float tubes that have a bottom built in so that you just step inside and not have to worry about buying waterproof pants?

    • Andy,

      Thanks for the kind words!

      A float tube IS a lot of fun. And it’s pretty relaxing, but I’m not sure it’s such a great idea to take a nap in one!

      You CAN wear a bathing suit if the water is warm, and you aren’t worried about burning your legs. I have ever “wet tubed,” but I wore special nylon pants with built in nylon underwear. Pretty much like a bathing suit but with long pants legs.

      Most of the time I do wear chest waders. They keep me warm and dry, even in the rain!

      There are no tubes I know of that have built in pants. Maybe that’s an idea just waiting to happen?!

      Have fun and do let me know if you decide to try tubing!

      Tight lines!

      Roger, The Smiling BassHole

  • Hey Roger

    I do most of my fishing from the shore and occasionally from a boat when I can. Float tube fishing isn’t something I’ve really considered before, but your post might change all that!

    • Andre,

      Yes, I started out fishing from shore as well!

      I resumed fishing about 30 years ago. My late wife pointed out that every time we went to Sears, or any other store with fishing rods, I would look them over, pick them up, waggle them around, and then put them back. “Why don’t you buy one and start fishing?”

      Years later, she may have regretted her suggestion!

      And so my first few years were spent fishing from shore, or wading in rivers. I fished for trout in rivers, and then discovered bass fishing when reading a book about fishing in California by Tom Stienstra. Tom opened my fishing world up to many new possibilities, including impoundments that held bass. I can still remember a few spots I could pretty much count on catching bass whenever I fished them!

      I joined the BassHoles and fished from a boat with bellow club members. But I wasn’t able to afford a boat of my own.

      I COULD, however, afford a float tube! Even with fins and waders, I was able to make the purchase. Heck, soon I was even buying a fly rod, reel, line, boxes, vest, and flies (see how my wife may have wondered what she had gotten herself into?), ALL for much less than a boat.

      The float tube was an awesome piece of fishing equipment. There were even places that ONLY allowed float tubes, kayaks, and canoes. There was one lake that I hiked up to with my float tube and gear on my back. I definitely got my money’s worth out of my tubes!

      And as I’m still using the pontoon float craft I bought nearly 20 years ago at Orvis (for half price with my employee discount!), it’s been a great bargain.

      In short, I can’t recommend getting a float tube enough! Unless you CAN afford a boat! Then, good for you!

      Hope you try one out. Then let me know what you think.

      Tight lines!

      Roger, The Smiling BassHole

  • Awesome post as usual Roger! Float tube fishing seems a little bit scary to me though. Have you ever had any mishaps when trying to reel one in? I’m not much of a swimmer so the thought of wrestling on a float is a little intimidating:)

    • Wes,

      You COULD wear a lift vest while float tubing, but it’s pretty safe. I’ve never had any real mishaps in the tube, but I did flip my pontoon float and fell into the water once, reaching for a dropped rod (now I have floats on my rod). But in a tube, you are very low to the water, and it would be VERY unlikely to flip over. Your center of gravity in a tube is below the surface.

      And should the worst happen, you can always hang onto the tube as a float. Even if your main tube punctured (never happened to me), there are always other bladders or pieces to keep you afloat.

      I appreciate the feedback!

      Tight lines!

      Roger, The Smiling BasHole

    • Thanks, Nicole!

      How great is you dad! I hope you kids enjoy the fishing trips. I’ll be writing a post later on about taking kids fishing, so if your father has any tips for the article, I’d love the hear them! And of course I’d give him credit!

      Thanks, again!

      Tight lines!

      Roger, The Smiling BassHole

  • Hi Roger!, Darn! I didn’t know I wanted to catch a big bass much less catch it boat-less until I read your post! Looks like its a lot of fun! Is it true you have to be super quiet when you fish otherwise you’ll scare all the fish away?

    • Thanks, Zinette!

      You DO need to be careful about sounds that the bass can hear, and they have great hearing, as I said in this post. So noises on the bottom of the boat (one reason many have carpeting), and clanking on the side, that sort of thing.

      HOWEVER, you can laugh, talk, and even sing without bothering the bass. The sound waves traveling through air cannot penetrate the water. But a lot of fishermen are “quiet” non-talking guys, so they want YOU to believe YOU have to be quiet. Tell them the BassHole said you don’t!

      Thanks for the comment!

      Tight lines!

      Roger, The Smiling BassHole

  • This is fantastic!!

    I was a keen fisherman fishing in the canals of central London!

    Lost touch with it over the years with kids and life etc, but coming across this article I think I have my mojo back!

    I new there were possibilities out there not just to sit on a bank or boat, but actually becoming emmersed within the life of of the Water too is fantastic!

    I’m back!

    • Welcome back, John!

      I lived in London, working as a breakfast cook for 6 months in my youth. But wasn’t fishing then. So even this BassHole had some periods when I wasn’t fishing.

      Check out the posts, ask any questions, and be sure to share your new fishing adventures!

      Tight lines!

      Roger, The Smiling BassHole

  • Thanks for the comment!

    I get my information from various sources, researching, watching videos, and of course my own experience!

    I’m writing a new report on “How To Find Bass Fast.” If you are interested, you can sign up for the report here:


    Tight Lines and Kick Bass!

    Roger, The Smiling BassHole

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