Small Waters Are Great for Belly Boat Fly Fishing

By Ken Schultz

Oct 12, 2021

Explanations, angling tips, caveats: here’s the lowdown on what belly boat fly fishing - indeed, any kind of float tube fishing - is all about

While fishing kayaks are great for prospecting small waters, there’s another way to accomplish the same thing: belly boat fishing. Belly boat fly fishing, belly boat bass fishing, belly boat trout fishing/crappie fishing/bream fishing - it’s all doable and fun on ponds, small lakes, protected sections of bigger waters, secluded waters, and small to moderate streams and creeks.

How It Works

Belly boats are inflated float tubes that you sit in and move using swim-fin-equipped feet. Manually propelled, they’re not boats in the formal sense, as in requiring state registration and meeting industry safety certification. They’re light, easily stowed, and most can be inflated on site.

The general fishing scenario is that an angler floats on or in a nylon-covered tube, wearing chest-high waders and a pair of semi-rigid fins on his or her feet. Wader type and material vary depending on the season and water temperature. The float tube is propelled and positioned by leg power, which frees the angler's hands for casting and allows for constant positioning adjustments.

Belly Boat Fishing Tips


1. Use shorter swim fins

Swim fins should be shorter than fins used for swimming and diving. You must move backward in fins virtually all the time to get anywhere, and they are tough to walk in on land or on a murky lake bottom.


2. Pay attention to you backcast

Since belly boats are quiet and unobtrusive you can get close to fish and cover, which makes belly boat fly fishing especially worthwhile. When belly boat fly fishing you have to pay attention to your backcast and not let the rod tip drop down; also, the low-to-the-water belly boat requires a lot of roll casting, double-haul casting, and shorter length regular casts.


3. You'll need an apron

If your belly boat doesn’t have an apron you’ll want to improvise one, as it’s convenient to have a secure place to rest a pair of pliers, a fly box, or other lightweight item.


4. Wear a high-chest style fly fishing vest

Most belly boat are covered in nylon packcloth that features several compartments for gear storage, but you might consider wearing a high-chest style fly fishing vest (especially if it doubles as a PFD) for quick access to a fly box or small accessories.


5. Plan ahead

Since you can’t cover a lot of water, it pays to plan your outings and think about where to start and end, and where to concentrate efforts based on the type of water, and species you’re after.


6. Concentrate on key places

In a belly boat you’ll be well served to concentrate on key places, spend time at those, and work them thoroughly.


7. Be safe and wear a PFD

Always be attuned to safety and wear a PFD. Inflatable PFDs are a comfortable option.

A Few Caveats

Float tubes are sometimes a bit awkward to maneuver and turn. With the angler's legs hanging down, they tend to get caught in or on objects. Leg power doesn’t provide a lot of thrust, and operators struggle to buck strong current, heavy wind, and wave action. They can be effective under appropriate conditions for fishing, but they cannot cover ground in the timely and effective way that a small boat equipped with an electric motor can.

Nevertheless, for anglers who don't have a boat and boating-related accessories, they provide a good way of reaching otherwise unreachable spots, and they invite a simple, different, and pleasurable experience attuned to a slower, more thorough pace of fishing.

Ken Schultz
Ken Schultz
Ken Schultz was a longtime staff writer for Field & Stream magazine and is the former Fishing Editor of He’s written and photographed nineteen books on sportfishing topics, plus an annual fishing tips calendar, and his writing has appeared on various websites for more than two decades. His author website is