I used to head out on my float tube with a single outfit and one or two spare spools. It was great in theory but I think I actually changed spools twice in about ten years. It just seemed like way too much effort on a float tube in the middle of a lake.
These days I head out with two or three complete outfits instead. I realize that the minimalists are now groaning, but maybe the gear junkies are intrigued? The rods get rigged on shore and whatever isn’t in my hand is lashed to the tube with a couple of Velcro ties. Swapping one for another takes about a minute and I have no qualms about changing things up whenever the need arises. The last trip I took for bluegills is a great example…
It was a July evening and I launched my tube at about 6 PM. I had a moderate action 3 weight in my hand; a clear intermediate line ran through the guides. This is my “go to” rod for sunfish. I can’t keep piles of running line from tangling on my stripping apron, so most casts are short and the moderate action rod lends a good feel to this. The intermediate line is effective because the sunfish are often quite shallow.
I also had a 2 weight with a floating line on board. If the ‘gills started rising later in the evening, this stick could lay out small dries for them. My last rod was another 3 weight set up to pick off suspended fish in deep water.
That last statement might strike some people as being a bit of a contradiction. Generally speaking, 3 weights and deep water aren’t mentioned in the same breath. Neverthess, you can use a fast action 3 weight to deliver a home-made shooting head capable of dropping flies to depths of 10 or 12 feet. To make a shooting head like this, cut off the first 30 feet of a 5 weight sinking line (Type 3) and then attach it to 60 or 70 feet of 20 pound Amnesia with an Albright knot. The Amnesia, naturally, is the running line and gets attached to your backing.
I found some fish after only about 10 minutes of prospecting. They were in scattered submerged weeds between a couple docks. The water was only about 4 feet deep and the intermediate line – with a scud pattern attached – worked like magic. Jeepers, can a 9 or 10 inch bluegill pull! They don’t run or jump, but they put an amazing bend in a light rod. After about half a dozen tussles like that, I decided to try another spot.
I paddled up to a line of reeds growing right beside some thick, sunken cabbage. The intermediate line had no Mojo in this location; it didn’t seem to be getting the fly deep enough into the weeds, so I pulled out the shooting head, and did my best imitation of a Bassmaster flipping a heavy jig to penetrate cover.
I had about ten feet of the sinking line outside the rod tip. I paddled along the reeds, lobbing a micro-leech into reedy, weedy pockets. I wouldn’t strip the fly in but simply dance it around with the rod tip before picking up and lobbing it into the next pocket. The bluegill seemed to like this approach and several sucked in the leech. Although usually reserved for deeper water, the shooting head proved it had a place in the shallow jungle.
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Here’s the outfits I carry when I’m not going after sunfish:
Smallmouth or largemouth bass… I carry a Sage bass rod and a couple of 8 weights – one with a type 2 sinking line and one with a shooting head. The bass rod, naturally, gets used for poppers around shallow cover. The type 2 line helps me hit deeper weed beds and the shooting head – either a type 3 or type 6 – is handy for dredging.
Stillwater trout… A 6 weight with a floating line lets me throw dries to rising fish or dangle chironomids under an indicator. For the bulk of my stillwater trouting, I wield a different 6 weight with an intermediate line. Lastly, I carry the same shooting head system that I would for smallies and LMB’s.
Crappies… I use the same outfits that I do for bluegill. However, I swap the 2 weight for a specialized 4 weight that delivers small poppers and gurlers. More details about this rod are in my Pisciaphilia article called, “Canadian Fall Fishing: Topwater Crappie Action.”
Pike… I am often throwing BIG flies for pike. The outfits I use are like the bass selection above but I trade a couple of 10 weights for the 8 weights.
One final note! Be careful if you’re paddling your tube around with a couple rods hanging off the side and extending behind you. Don’t back into anything!