Lighter Side

What is life if there is not laughter? Welcome to the lighter side of flyfishing! We welcome your stories here!
January 3rd, 2004

The Float Tube
By Frank Reid

A few years back, I got my first tube. It was a "surprise" birthday present from my loving wife (I suspect she had a boyfriend and wanted me out of the house or she had gotten my signature down well enough for the insurance papers).

I say surprise because it truly was. I had filled out the order form and used one of my daughter's alphabet magnets to secure it firmly to the fridge. This had been a standard, if useless tactic of mine for years. A very subtle hint on my birthday wishes. My lovely bride of course always knew me better than that. Saw right through this clever charade. Normally got me things she knew I really needed and wanted. Like that bathroom cozy set that can turn a toilette seat cover into a bear trap.

When she trotted it out for my birthday, well actually, she came in to the living room, dropped the form in my lap and told me to "order the damn thing," I boldly informed her of the extra costs associated with a tube, i.e. breathable waders, vest, flippers. She immediately agreed that these items had to go with the tube. Well, not immediately. I first explained the purpose of the different items and she gradually built up a mental picture of her masterful husband in waders, flippers with brand new float tube firmly ensconced on his hips.

I did have to get the less expensive waders though. Had to pay for that emergency room visit for her right about then. She had this terrible episode characterized by hysteria. Almost couldn't breath, it hit her so hard. Kept saying something like "donut hole."

When the whole package arrived, I immediately took the whole kit and kaboodle down to the lake. On the way, I stopped off at the gas station and gave my tube its first breath of air. Just left it in the trunk, didn't even bother to take it out and inspect it. Filled and off to the lake! Fish beware!

When I got to the lake, I pulled my waders out of the back seat and quickly donned them. Put my rod together, hooked up a crawdad fly and finally, the last step, I put on my flippers. I then went to the trunk and got the tube out. Well, not exactly just then. See, I'd filled it while it sat in the trunk of the car. It was now too large to get out of the trunk. All's I wanted to do was a bit of fishing, but my spatial cognitive skills had been less than perfect. That's something else my bride always told me.

I found that if I deflated the float tube about 1/3 of the way down, I could get it back out of the trunk. Didn't really have to deflate it that far, but it took that much air out of the thing before I figured that one of the "D" rings was caught on the trunk spring. I could go back up the road to the gas station and fill it back up, but it still looked pretty full so I decided to go for it.

It was about 200 yards from the parking area to the lake. About 150 yards across the field, I discovered that you can walk much better if you carry the tube over your shoulder and take off the flippers. You can understand my need to get at the fish had slightly clouded my judgment. No more hanging out on shore with those other slobs, I had a boat.

I finally got down an area that looked like a good place to launch. I had talked to a friend with a float tube and had heard of the problems with mud at a launch site. Not this bubba, no sir. Found a good rock ledge to launch from. There was a rock in calf deep water that dropped off to about 12 feet. You couldn't see the bottom but I figured it was the same distance swimming to the bottom as at my high school swimming pool.

I stood on the ledge, had my tube around me, my rods in my right hand and I launched. I needed a bottle of champagne to drink or break on my tube. It was a joyous feeling. Right up until I found out what that little crotch strap is for. See, when I stepped out off that rock, my butt hit the saddle of the tube, the tube folded up like a chocolate taco and I shot through the bottom, right past that dangly little strap. Didn't even have to worry about a life vest to slow my hi-speed passage through that torus from hell.

Had to let go of the rods as I felt them flex in my hand and was afraid to break them. Came up struggling for air. Be amazed at the water temp in Omaha, Nebraska in the third week of April. I now know how Jesus walked on water. The water was cold as ice and as soon as he hit it, he was on his feet moving. Felt like I was in one of those "polar bear clubs."

I reached out and quickly grabbed my tube and dragged it back with me to the rock ledge. One of my two rods had caught on the right side handle by the reel and I was able to quickly retrieve it. Unfortunately, it was the cheap rod. The good rod was at the bottom of this rock ledge somewhere. This is how I learned how deep the water was.

I stripped off my boots and waders and dove in before I realized how cold, cold could get. Water was a bit chilly to say the least. On my fourth dive, I found a rod and brought it to the surface. It was a wonderful three-dollar Zebco. Went back down and finally found my rod after about two or three more tries.

Now I had a bit of a problem. Hypothermia was setting in. An inability to stop shaking was my first clue. But ever the fisherman, I thought, "wonder what other rods are down there?" I shook off that thought put my wading boots back on, piled my stuff in the tube, SECURED IT WITH THE CROTCH STRAP, and headed back up to the car. The air temp was a brisk 40 degrees with a good wind. I did have to stop after about ten feet and drain the water out of the float tube cover. That area not filled with inner tube from the deflation was now filled with water. Added about 60 lbs to the whole package.

When I got to the car, I dumped my stuff in the trunk but didn't have anything to dry off with. My jeans were soaked and the only thing dry was my sneakers that I'd left in the car.

I now knew there were three opportunities to die on this day. I'd just lived through one, a drowning. I was in the middle of another, hypothermia. I got my clothes off and covered myself with a small rucksack. I then found a rag t-shirt under the seat that I used to check the oil. I turned the engine on and luckily, the car hadn't had much of a chance to cool down and the heater was soon up to full speed.

Now, I figured there would be one other way to die on this day, the most horrible of the three. Not the panic of the drowning, not the slow loss of consciousness of hypothermia, but the death of a thousand I-told-you-so's. If the mother of my children found out about the fact I couldn't get more than three feet from shore without killing myself, what chance would I ever get to go out on a quiet morning and go fishing by myself? She had already insisted that I wear an international orange hat to keep me from turning into the marine version of the lane turtles on the interstate, on a no-wake lake no less!

Couldn't go home. Explain my new oily-t-shirt-and-wet-underpants outfit to the wife. Not on your life. Couldn't go to a laundry mat. The mid-west populace does not look kindly on some shirtless blue character in chest waders wandering into the laundry mat and scaring hell out of old Aunt Sally.

But, as a fisherman, I had the answer, duct tape. I had to get my pants and shirt dry. I duct taped my blue jeans to the inside of the hood of my car. This was rather fun as I was now wearing the t-shirt as a toga wrap-around. I then duct taped my flannel shirt to the heater underneath the passenger seat dash. I closed the shirt up with tape so all of the hot air would have to go through the shirt.

Hopped on the highway and took an eighty mile drive to Lincoln and back.

Got back to the lake and in a secluded area checked out my handy work. All, except for the seams of the shirt collar, was dry.

I went home and strolled in, bold as brass (and smelling of gas). My wonderful wife queried me about my fishing. I answered quite honestly that I'd not gotten a bite all day (except frostbite). The poor woman will never really understand me as a fisherman. Her next comment was "I don't know why you just don't fish from the bank. That outfit looks like more problems than its worth."

Ah, but I got a tube! ~ Frank Reid

About Frank:

Born and raised in Southern California, my mother taught me to love fishing. I would fish from the piers around Los Angeles as all my friends hung out on the beach. At age 19, I joined the U.S. Air Force to see the world and liked what I saw, so stayed in for 23 years, finally retiring in 2000. I've lived and fished all over the US and the globe, from the deserts of California to the Philippines, Germany, South Korea, England, beautiful Omaha, Nebraska and about 1,000 other places in between. These travels taught me to fish for whatever happens to be in the local water. I now work in the Baltimore area as a computer consultant trying to earn enough to buy that next new rod or go on that next trip. My wife is Brenda (who's quilting addiction rivals my fly fishing/tying obsession) and we have two lovely daughters. ~ FR
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