Chances are, if you’ve been to Missoula in the summertime, you’ve probably taken a tube down the Clark Fork before.

Or if you’re a little more daring, maybe you’ve tried your hand at surfing Brennan’s Wave.

If you’re like me, you might be hitting the rivers more than once a week.

River levels are low right now, though. This makes for slow-going floats, and if there is any upriver wind, you might find yourself going backward (like I did last Sunday, and let me tell you, it was not a fun float).

I’m not much of a tube floater; I prefer to stand-up paddleboard so my old man dog can float with me. It’s my first summer spending more of my time on the river than on land, so let me share some insights on how to enjoy your time paddling out there in the late summer season.

If you have fins, ditch ‘em

Tube floaters and kayakers in playboats have a smooth bottom, meaning there’s nothing for their vessels to snag rocks on the bottom of the river. If you have a paddleboard, however, you might have fins on the bottom to keep you facing forward downstream and offer you some balance.

My paddleboard happens to have three fins, and one of them comes off.

Seriously, take the fin off if you can.

One second you could be standing on your SUP as its name suggests you are meant to do, but with the rivers only at 73% the flow they normally are right now, gravel bars come up quickly. Half a second later you could be falling face-first over the nose of your board.

Or just sit. The acronym is still SUP, either way.

Give yourself more time than you think you need

A float from Sha-Ron fishing access, or its new bonus lot that is supposed to keep people from parking along Highway 200, down to Caras Park might take floaters an hour and a half at the start of float season.

But be prepared this August. Unless we get some rain, the speed of the river will test your patience and guarantee it will be necessary to reapply your sunscreen. Plan to be on the river for at least an extra hour if you don’t take any picnic breaks.

Extra time on the water also requires you to consume a little extra water. Don’t leave that bottle in the shuttle car! Keep that thing on you and stay hydrated.

Get grippy river shoes

No matter what vessel you are drifting downstream, away from your problems, on, you’re at risk of dragging your butt on the riverbed. To combat this, you might have to walk yourself from nearing the shore back to the current.

Shoes that grab the slippery river rocks, like your trusty Chacos, will also be useful to get yourself to the shore when you need to stop and wait for the rest of your crew.

When I flipped my paddleboard for the first time a couple of weeks ago on the Blackfoot—remember when I said rocks come up quick?!—my fellow floaters quickly paddled to the bank and got out to wait for me.

Lastly, those grippy shoes will ensure you can walk further into the river than all your friends, just so you can find that perfect skipping stone.

Dogs in life jackets like to float, too. Credit: Kai Williams
Dogs in life jackets like to float, too.
Credit: Kai Williams

Bonus tip: if you float with your dog, get him a life vest so he can easily make it to shore, too.

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