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Float tube

Reporter Brian Smith's float tube and fly rod dry off after a morning of fishing at Dierkes Lake. The lake, beautifully set among the Snake River Canyon's basalt cliffs, has great rainbow trout fishing.

With so many fishable rivers in the Magic Valley area – Silver Creek, the Big Wood, the Malad – it’s easy to forget about offerings at local lakes.

Often, when the rivers run low during the shoulder seasons of spring and fall, anglers look to an area’s lakes as a first opportunity or last chance to snag a few trout, smallmouth bass or walleye.

The problem with fishing lakes, however, is usually the same: access. Usually the best lakes are surrounded by thick brush and aren’t very accessible from the shore. And lakeside vegetation is notoriously hungry for flies (especially if you are a rookie roll caster).

But the lake’s calm appeal remains.

I once walked along a lake shore in my sandals and swim trunks hoping to escape the clamor of a crowd gathered near a boat launch. With each step the ground became mushier. And mushier. Bouncing like a trampoline, I considered my options.

I could keep tiptoeing to the edge where I could see a few rocks in the water to stand on. Or I could turn around and not risk it.

I swung my hips around and lifted my foot.

WHOOOSH!

I went straight down into the mud and murk up to mid-chest.

Luckily I made it out alive. The guy who taught me how to fly fish doubled over in laughter when I told him about my mud bath.

“Get a float tube, man,” he said.

A what?

A float tube – also known as a belly boat – is basically an inflatable fishing vessel smaller than a raft that allows a fisherman access to the water by using his flippered feet as propulsion devices.

You could probably make one by gluing a bunch of Styrofoam to a lawn chair and duct taping a bunch of inflatable arm floaties to the side. They also sell a wide variety at sporting goods stores ranging from about $60 to $300 if you’d prefer something a little nicer.

The float tube advantages are many: You can fish shorelines that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to access, you can cruise from spot to spot easily and troll behind you as you go, and it's extremely relaxing.

But getting in a float tube can be an intimidating thing if you’ve never done it. I had my first float on Dierkes Lake this weekend, and I learned a few things.

(Hint: Dierkes has really good rainbow trout fishing in the morning along its boulder- and weed-filled shorelines. Try a small grasshopper pattern. A 4 weight rod with a 9-foot leader would do fine.)

1) Prepare. The night before you hit the water, make sure that you know how to inflate your tube, and make sure your inflator (I used a pump from an inflatable mattress) has fresh batteries. I inflated mine and left it full overnight to make sure there were no leaks.

2) Dress warmly. Your usual shorts and waders won’t work here. I had a set of thick sport leggings and a thick pair of work pants on under my waders, and my legs were very cold by the time I got out of the water. Thick wool socks, a knit cap and multiple layers are encouraged; you can always hang shed layers on a tree branch or rock for later retrieval. Don’t bother with gloves; being so close to the water will get them wet immediately. Bring a dry hand towel to stash in your tube’s watertight compartment.

3) Practice. Once you are all dressed and ready to get into your boat, find a wide and shallow area to access the lake. I think it is easiest to back into the boat and push off with your legs. You’ll want to spend 30 minutes or so getting comfortable and learning how to propel yourself through the water. Practice how to pivot your tube in the water and how to lean forward and back with ease. That will allow you to cast and retrieve fish more comfortably. It’ll feel foreign at first, but by the end of my day on Dierkes, the tube felt like an extension of my body.

4) Don’t be afraid. You are floating in 15 feet of water, wearing waders and tossing sharp objects through the air mere feet from an inflatable tube – don’t sweat it. I was very worried about how I was going to keep my hook away from my tube, but I found that false casting is so easy in the tube that you rarely get anywhere near danger. If you're still worried, buy a float tube with big pockets and ditch your fly vest in favor of a life vest.

5) Make an exit plan. As you fish, eye the shoreline for an area you can exit if you don’t want to kick your way back. Chances are your legs will be hurting after the first time. By noon on Dierkes the wind had kicked up, and I’m glad I found a nice location to hop off instead of having to slog all the way back.

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