The early models were simple devices, consisting of nothing more than a truck inner-tube fitted with a low-slung canvas seat, where upon the angler sat waste-deep in the water and propelled himself backward with a set of swim fins.
Although simple, the modified inner-tube was a winner. It provided anglers an inexpensive method for getting fishing offshore without the hassles and limitations associated with a convention boat. Nobody appears to know or to care when the inner-tube boat was pressed into fishing service. Within days of its invention would be my guess.
Aside from the awkward moments of learning how to get in and out of a belly boat without either breaking a leg or busting a gut laughing, anglers applauded them. Belly boats caught on quickly, with a following that grew during the 1980s.
Inflatable personal fishing boats continue to spark angler’s interest as the boats evolve into a fleet of fishing vessels that are quiet, unobtrusive, lightweight, easy to transport, and relatively inexpensive.
The original belly boats may be awkward and slow but they are stable, highly portable, and inexpensive. They are suitable for ponds, small lakes, and the protected shorelines of large reservoirs. Most have two tubes encased in canvas or nylon shells, including a main tube and a smaller tube for safety that also serves as a backrest. Technology has replaced the heavy inner tubes with lightweight bladders, and manufacturers have added conveniences like storage compartments and seats that are more comfortable. Even so, belly boats are becoming relics of the past as the fleet retreats in the advance of the U-boats. Belly boats weigh five to fifteen pounds and cost $50 to $150.
U-boats are belly boats with more belly room. Open in the front like horseshoe, the U-boat is a monumental improvement over the round boat due to ease of entry and access to swim fins while on the water. Fishing from a U-boat is sort of like fishing from an overstuffed lounge chair, easy and fun. They are stable, comfortable, portable, and affordable. A removable plastic bar spreads the forward points apart. The open front and higher seat position allow for better propulsion through freedom of leg movement and reduced drag. Newer models called V-boats are high-backed and wedge-shaped, featuring pointed bows for better tracking. Pontoon-style air chambers replace the encased bladders used in U-boats. U-boats weigh five to fifteen pounds and cost $100 to $400.
Pontoon boats are the personal inflatable boats of choice for anglers willing to sacrifice the portability of a float tube for the extended range and speed of a set of oars.
Pontoon boats are a pair of long tubes separated by a metal rowing frame where the angler sits. The angler rides just above the water, low enough to control the boat with swim flippers when fishing, but high enough to reduce drag when rowing. Most have a storage platform behind the seat.
Pontoons come in lengths from six to ten feet and in a host of configurations. The shorter versions are best for still water or slow moving water, while the longer versions also are suitable for rivers. Even the longer boats disassemble quickly for transport in SUVs or small pickups, although some owners prefer to carry them fully assembled on roof racks or small trailers.
Some of the larger boats can carry up to 400 pounds and are equipped with mounts for electric trolling motors. Pontoon boats weigh 50 to 100 pounds and cost $300 to $900.
Rafts are not particularly suited for fishing but there is a lot to like about the WaterMaster raft. It is an oval-shaped inflatable that has the seat in the middle and is open in the front to allow the use of flippers. It is equipped with oar-locks and a set of short oars for rowing. The rear half has a floor for storage. The boat is incredibly stable and features two air chambers. The WaterMaster also is good for slow-moving rivers.