Photo by Tom Martineau/The Raw Spirit
Float tubing was made for road trips. You can combine the thrill of something you probably don’t do enough (fish from a tube), with the anticipation of something you’ve likely never done (catch a golden trout or a lake-dwelling grayling). As with an elk hunt, the farther you’re willing to go from the parking lot or trailhead, the better your odds of solitude and success. Here’s a great route to follow–plus a few helpful tube tips.
First Stop: Silver Creek, Idaho
You’ll be amazed by how so many big fish can pack into such small water. Most anglers approach on foot, but there are stretches perfectly suited in the Nature Conservancy area, between Stalker Creek Bridge and the wide, slow water below Kilpatrick Bridge, where it’s not so much about floating as it is tiptoeing over the streambed, using the tube as a brace. Silver Creek fish are selective, so visit a local fly shop for a fishing report and fly-pattern suggestions.
Tube Tip: Make a Tinkle
Don’t shut off the bite by creating a lot of commotion. Make yourself go before you get in the water, and bring something to drink and eat to avoid frequent trips to shore.
Second Stop: Copper Basin, Idaho
Golden trout, grayling, and rainbows flourish in most of the alpine lakes in Idaho’s high-desert country. Golden, Big, Rough, and Long Lakes make good starting points. Follow Trail Creek Road from Highway 93, turn south on Wild Horse Creek Road (FS 135) and continue along the East Fork of the Big Lost River. Turn southwest on FS 138 near the basin’s backcountry runway, go 41⁄2 miles, and park at the Lake Creek Turnoff. The trail is suited for ATV or mountain-bike day trips, so if you have one, use it.
Tube Tip: Pop for Trout
In low light, I’ve had success catching trout on small, cupped-face bass poppers along shorelines or logjams.
Map by Haisam Hussein
Third Stop: Baker Lake, Montana
Baker is a favorite trout fishery because of its proximity to the trailhead, and there are plenty of cutthroat trout. From Highway 93, turn west on West Fork Road, then west on Pierce Creek Road (FS 363), then west on FS 5634 for about 2 miles to the trailhead before taking trail No. 234 on foot. The hike is short but steep and offers one of the most scenic perspectives in the valley, so remember to look up from the trail often and enjoy the view.
Tube Tip: Work the Wind**_
Maneuvering a float tube into position is hard enough without a breeze forcing you in another direction. If possible, enter the lake on the leeward side and let the wind blow you along a shoreline.
Final Stop: Fuse Lake, Montana
Fuse is just a short 21⁄2-mile hike off one of Montana’s most scenic seasonal roads, Skalkaho Pass, and offers anglers a chance at something unique–wild, lake-dwelling grayling. The trailhead is just beyond the pass’s eastern downslope, on the north side of the road about 1 mile east of Crystal Creek campground. Use a 3- or 4-weight rod, floating line, and long 5X leader. The fish usually aren’t tough to fool with reliable patterns, such as Hare’s Ear and Prince Nymphs, Elk Hair Caddis, and Parachute Adams in sizes 14 to 18.
Tube Tip: Slow Down**_
Fish here typically strike nymphs and small streamers retrieved with long, slow strips, instead of the short and jerky strips you’d typically make in moving water.