Fish Cat 4 float tube test

The Fish Cat 4 costs more than most float tubes, but is easier to fill with air, is more durable and more comfortable than most float tubes.
The Fish Cat 4 costs more than most float tubes, but is easier to fill with air, is more durable and more comfortable than most float tubes. The Wichita Eagle

The first float tube I bought was a canvas cover over a regular car inner tube, with a seat and two holes for my legs to hang below the tube. Back then they were called belly boats, and seen as huge improvements over the days when some sat in an inner tube and fished.

I’ve purchased five or six other tubes the 40 years since, each better than the one before

The one I bought this summer, the Fish Cat 4, is much better than any of the others.

For about the past 12 years I’ve been fishing from one of two Caddis U-boats, and doing pretty well.

Last summer I did an article on fishing with Bill Hartman, a float tube fishing guide in the Flint Hills. He equipped us with his Fish Cat 4 tubes. They were nice, but with suggested retail of around $240 kind of pricey.

When I found I needed a new bladder for one of my personal tubes a few weeks ago, I ordered a Fish Cat instead. Monday evening I gave it a test float.

There’s no question they’re a much better float tube in terms of construction. The outer covering seems much more durable. I already knew I’d like the two-stage valves on each side of the tube.

Basically the top of each valve is opened so air can be pumped in, but won’t come out. The bottom of the valve is opened when it’s time to release air from the tube. It’s the best system I’ve found in a float tube.

Like Hartman, I purchased a small electric air compressor, on sale for $9, that hooks up to the energy outlet inside my pickup. After two or three minutes of pumping it had each side of the float tube full enough to fish from. Connecting and disconnecting the pump’s hose from the valve is by far easier than on any other tube I’ve tried.

Two great features are that both the seat, and the seat back, hold thick and stiff pieces of dense foam. That makes both more comfortable, and could provide added floatation in case one or both of the tubes lose some air..

It also does a much better job of keeping your tush out of the water, though it will still occasionally get damp. The stiffness of the foam within the seat also keep the points from the float tube from coming together .

Most U-boats require a brace between the two points, to keep the front from closing.

The Fish Cat comes with a similar brace, though it’s mostly used to create an apron between the two sides where an angler can coil extra fly line, measure fish or sit things like flies, lures or the reel when not fishing. I didn’t have mine on Monday evening but it will be there next time. Without it I was constantly afraid I was going to drop something and it would be gone forever.

The tube was propelled easily with standard fishing kick fins. As with most float tubes it didn’t seem to bother the fish, or the snakes and turtles that swam by. One young whitetail buck did give me a long, strange look, though.

With only about an hour of light, I was able to catch about a dozen largemouth bass on a foam popper cast with my fly rod. The biggest was about 15 inches. The size of the fish wasn’t the float tube’s fault.

My only complaint was that three different times I backed over loose fly line and it got tangled on one of several plastic d-rings on the bottom of the seat. They’re there to accommodate a carrying harness, in case the tube needs to be backpacked. Two of the three times the line became synched tight, and I had to go to the shallows so I could stand, flip the tube up to free the line.

Fortunately that never happened when I was far from the shallows or, worse, fighting a big fish.

Hopefully adding a little more air to the tubes will get the seat, and those d-rings, totally out of the water and fix the problem. There may also be a way for me to cover the d-rings.

I’ll check with Hartman to get his advice. I know it didn’t happen to any of us the day we fished together last summer.

I’m not worried. All new things take a little tweaking, we all know that’s always a fact.

Also a fact is that the other float tubes I have at home won’t be getting used much any more.

There’s no question the Fish Cat is better.