Riding High

Samuel English takes to float tubing in the South Island

I had always wanted to try a float tube, and with some perfect little lakes close by I knew I just had to get one, so I hit the internet and splashed out. A couple of weeks later it arrived and I took my first trip in it. It was absolutely splendid, but it was lacking something… The following day I went to the local building merchants. I told the guy I was after some polystyrene and a few rolls of duct tape. He took me round the back to where it was all stacked and he said, “Getting your house insulated ready for winter?” I laughed and told him it was for a raft, for my dog, so he could come float-tubing with me. I got a confused, vacant look and I think he just pretended to know what I was talking about. When I got home I chopped the sheet up and triple stacked it, lashed it with a few rolls of duct tape and stretched some netting over it to protect the tape. I then poked two holes through and tied it on to two plastic rings on the side of the float tube. Perfect. We took it for a quick trial and I swear Hebe knew it was for him before we even got to the water. I sat in my tube, flippered-up and gave Hebe the instruction to hop aboard his new vessel. No hesitation whatsoever. He loved it. Nicky saw the fun we were having, got jealous, then decided to get herself one too. BEAUTIFUL THINGS Float tubes are beautiful little things and have come a long way in the last ten years or so. The old ones were ridiculously awkward. You sat very low with a strap through your crotch to stop you falling out. And if you ever did slide out of one, it wasn’t exactly comfortable… The new ones, however, are fantastic. You ride nice and high with your bum above the water, you can adjust your backrest to ‘serious’ or ‘chill’ mode and you can easily spend a full day in one. Especially with a beer or two tucked into the pockets! They are totally safe and you’d have to be an absolute plonker to fall out of one. Mine in particular is very comfortable and my advice to anyone is to buy American. They really do have this sitting down malarkey sussed. You will pay a little extra and in my case about $200 shipping but it was so worth it. Nicky’s tube is from New Zealand and was fairly cheap, but it’s not quite as comfy as mine, but as soon as we swapped out the inflatable seat inners for some polystyrene so she wasn’t sliding about, it was much more manageable. DOG PADDLE If you’ve ever been to your local swimming pool and seen one of those people who can’t do breast-stroke legs properly, well that’s what it’s like trying to kick about a lake with a Hungarian Vizsla strapped to the side of your tube. You’re constantly trying to keep your drift heading in the right direction, and when it comes to travelling any distance across the water you need to lean over to the side and exaggerate one of your kicks, or you will just go round and round in circles. Hebe also never stays still. He is constantly leaning over the edges looking for a fish, believe it or not, thus tipping his raft right under water, often making me yell at him and forcing me to kick backwards to stay in my spot. But would I ever leave him on the bankside? Hell no. Partly because he whines like a spoilt child but mainly because he’s my best pal and having him by my side floating in the middle of the lake is one of my favourite things in life. Float tubes won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Fat lazy people won’t like them, and they are only suited to certain types of water, which means mainly small lakes. Don’t bother buying one if the lakes you want to fish are any great size as you get nowhere fast in them and any kind of chop makes them very difficult to use. You can get away with large lakes if you’re concentrating on small, sheltered bays. But for the fly angler who likes to get in shallow weedbeds and along the tree lines that aren’t accessible from a bank, they are truly lethal. One day in particular with Nicky and Hebe, we were on a lake we’d never fished before. We inflated the tubes and chucked them on our backs like a backpack. They are extremely light and easy to carry. We marched to a stream mouth and fished the weedbeds close by. We were absolutely smashing them in the shallow water, and all would have been just out of casting distance had we been fishing from the bank. After bringing a load of fish to the net, we had two separate trolling boats come blasting up to about 50 metres away from us and shout, “What you using?” I could see huge silver wedges and spoons hanging off their rods and I just rolled my eyes when they powered away at full speed, creating mini tsunamis all along the bank. As long as you’re careful not to kick through water you’d like to cover, and you keep bow-waves to a minimum, you can get incredibly close to fish. I’ve caught trout that have risen only a few metres from the tube. Once hooked, many of them like to get beneath your feet, just like they do when they try to get under boats. You often have to raise your arm high and frantically kick to get out from on top of them. Great sport! WHAT A BUZZ The fishing that we do mostly in the float tubes is with buzzers and nymphs under an indicator. There’s a lake close to home (Twizel) that we hit quite regularly. It’s small enough to park up in the middle with a buzzer or two only a couple of feet down and you can lean back, relax and cast your flies out whilst slowly turning in circles, covering every bit of water possible. All with a tiny rotation of your foot. Another area where they come into their own is flats fishing. Some lakes I fish at home in the South Island have large areas of mud flats which always hold fish, but sometimes getting close enough to a fish whilst wading is difficult or dangerous on the soft ground. Removing the flippers and pushing along the bottom with your heels is a super effective way of moving around shallow water. You can stay low, move slowly and create minimal disturbance on the bottom. I keep the tube tied to my wader belt so that if I need to stand up or if I do want to start wading it just follows me. You don’t even realise it’s there. Yes, you may be slightly lower in the water and it may be harder to spot fish, but it has certainly been an outstanding method for me. They really are joyful things. It’s very difficult not to be smiling when you’re out in a tube. We’ve also done quite a bit of fishing in them at river mouths or in flowing water. Jumping in at an upstream location and drifting down the area you want to fish can be very productive. Controlling your drift is so easy. Some gentle kicks will slow it down or you can even ‘anchor’ yourself by kicking the same pace as the flow, although this can’t be sustained for long unless you have legs of steel. Sunk line Woolly Bugger fishing is deadly using this technique. Casting across the flow and stripping across whilst drifting down produces many fish. Obviously, make sure you don’t pick a dangerous waterway to do it in, but if you do, make sure you wear a life jacket, even though these float tubes are very difficult to tip or fall from. Other areas we like to fish are the large power-station and dam areas in Twizel. Although it’s usually deep water, fish love the structure and will hold very close to submerged concrete walls. Again, sinking line tactics and some common sense not to go into any heavy flow is all that’s needed. GET ONE I seriously can’t recommend float tubes enough. In my opinion, they are the ultimate flotation device. They suit my needs and style of fishing perfectly. Wherever you are in the world, search for some ideal water to try these techniques. And before heading out and buying an expensive boat with an excessively large outboard motor, or a kayak/canoe with awkward paddles, spend a few hundred bucks on a float tube. You won’t regret it. You’ll also become a better angler for it. Oh, and don’t leave your dog behind just because he doesn’t have a seat, you goof.

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