For more than 30 years, bass fishing has been defined by the sleek, beautiful "bass boats" anglers use to pursue their quarry on lakes and rivers throughout America.
There is no doubt these craft, with their speed, comfort, and their sophisticated electronic equipment have not only made fishermen more efficient but also made bass fishing itself more fun.
As today's boats continually increase in size and cost, however, and as the fuel to run them also becomes more expensive, many bass fishermen are exploring alternative ways to enjoy their sport with a more limited budget.
Among the most popular alternatives are fishing from float tubes and kick boats, both of which actually offer several advantages over their larger bass boat cousins.
They're much cheaper. Instead of spending tens of thousands of dollars for a boat, you can be float tube fishing for less than $200 and operating a kick boat for less than $400. Many different models and styles of tubes and kick boats are available, at a wide range of prices.
These craft will get you into lightly-fished waters no full-sized bass boat can ever reach.
In fact, with one of these you'll be able to fish places where bass boats aren't even allowed, such as in parks and private ponds.
Float tubes and kick boats are easy to transport wherever you decide to fish.
You can modify them to suit your personal fishing style. And, because you're literally fishing at water level, you'll get up close and personal to the very fish you're chasing!
Few anglers are as devoted to this style of fishing as California anglers Rich Caro and Todd Iwamoto. Twenty-two years ago Rich formed the Sonoma County Belly Boat Bass Club, which, affiliated with the BASS Federation Nation, conducts tournaments on some of the same lakes where national Bassmaster events are conducted. Another nearby club, the San Jose Bass 'N Tubes, also conducts a regular tournament schedule.
Both clubs have members like Rich, who fishes out of a float tube (frequently described as a "belly boat,") and Todd, who prefers a kick boat.
Each angler enjoys the simplicity of his craft and the advantages it offers. Both float tubes and kick boats are light enough to hand-carry to the water. They're easily transported in a pickup, and if necessary, they can be inflated with a simple hand pump. Once inflated, they'll support hundreds of pounds of weight, too.
At the water's edge, fishing tackle is easily put into place. On Rich's float tube, a simple mesh container, usually called a "follow-me bag," serves as a livewell if he's in a tournament or if he wants to keep a fish to photograph later.
Rich sits high in the tube, which allows him to use different fishing techniques. The seat height is adjustable, too, for different sized anglers. Rich carries as many as half a dozen different rods with him without any difficulty; he can even flip a jig or worm from his tube.
Being able to maneuver quietly to those fishy-looking places is certainly one of the advantages in fishing from a float tube or kick boat. Movement is accomplished by wearing swim fins just like those used by scuba divers. In colder water, Rich wears a pair of waders, too, but in the hot summer they aren't really necessary.
You'll quickly learn how to move your float tube backward or forward or to the right or left, simply by kicking with one foot or the other. With just a little practice, you'll realize that kicking doesn't interfere with your fishing at all and that with the fins only a slight kick is needed to move the tube.
Bass fishing is an obsession for some anglers. It goes way beyond being just a simple hobby or past time.
However, it doesn't have to consume your entire bank account. There are many ways to get involved in
Bass fishing on a budget, two of the most poplular being float tubes and kick boats. Rich Caro prefers a
float tube but fellow Federation Nation member Todd Iwamoto opts for the bigger of the two.
In contrast to Rich's float tube, Todd's kick boat features two easily inflatable pontoons that are connected by an aluminum frame, but it's just as maneuverable as Rich's float tube even though it's larger. Like float tubes, there are numerous kick boat models available in major fishing tackle retail outlets such as Bass Pro Shops. They're slightly more expensive than float tubes, but you can still be fishing from one with an outlay of as little as $200.
Kick boats are also very easy to modify for your particular fishing style.
Bass fishermen everywhere use a lot of different types of rods, and Todd is no different. Because he also fishes tournaments as a member of the Sonoma County Belly Boat Bass Club, he's constructed a special rod rack that allows him to carry six types of rods with him, just like bass boat anglers do.
Like Rich, Todd maneuvers his kick boat by kicking with a pair of swim fins, but he also uses a pair of oars he keeps strapped to the pontoons. These are especially helpful when he's on a large lake and wants to move around a lot, and they also allow him to move more quietly in shallow water.
He carries his fishing lures and other tackle with him in special bags that attach to each pontoon. Because a kick boat is a little larger than a float tube, Todd can carry more gear; he even has an aerated livewell he operates with a small battery. Once the pump is powered up, water flows from the pump through a one inch tube into a cooler that Todd has modified into a livewell. The water level can be adjusted inside the livewell by simply lowering or raising the drain pipe.
And what is Bass fishing without electronics. Most kick boats can be outfitted with the latest depth finders very easily. The unit is connected to the same battery that is used to power up the livewell. The LCD screen is mounted on the pontoon for easy access and the transducer is attached to an arm that Todd lowers into the water when he is ready to fish.
All bass fishermen love the thrill of hooking a rowdy largemouth and playing it to the boat, but in a float tube or kick boat, you experience that excitement at eye level and usually right in front of you.
Float tubes and kick boats are comfortable and they're completely safe when used properly, and just as importantly, they allow you to enjoy your favorite sport without spending a lot of money to do it. It's budget bassin' at its best!