A few years ago I read about the St. Joe River in a major Fly Fishing publication. The article talked about numbers of nice sized West Slope Cutthroat that readily pounce on any well presented dry fly. While I was skeptical (as most of us are when a river is made to sound almost too good to be true), the one aspect that appealed to me was the mention of solitude as a result of miles of river only reached by hiking trail.
When it came time for my girlfriend and I to plan a backpacking trip for Labor Day weekend, I dusted off this magazine to present the St. Joe area as a possibility. After some convincing (and a little bit of help from a Idaho backpacking book that listed a 30 mile loop in the area), we decided to head to the St. Joe River area–with my fly rod in tow.
Allow me to say this: the St. Joe lived up to its billing as a phenomenal fishery. More than that, the area turned out to be even more beautiful than we had expected. But, just as the magazine article stated, what struck us the most was the complete and total solitude. Even though the river is paralleled by a road for roughly 80 miles, the number of people fishing the really nice stretches was shockingly small. Once we started hiking at the end of the road, we only saw 6 people on our 4 day, 20 mile hike—all on Labor Day weekend!!!
Then there were the fish — nice fish, after nice fish, all native West Slope Cutties that thrive in the Catch-and-Release, barbless hook only section of river that is listed under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Of all the fish landed, the smallest was 10 inches, with the biggest being a 16 inch fish that hammered a sculpin pattern just after sunset. Even on a 6wt. rod with 4 and 5x tippet, these fish were a handful to bring in, but all of them were stunning examples of what a river can be if it is properly maintained.
Even though it’s a bit of a drive from Seattle, if solitude, a picturesque river, and gorgeous native fish are what you are after, the St. Joe should be on your list of places to visit.