The St. Joe River in North Idaho from a Yakima River Guide’s Perspective.
Well…if you know me…let’s start this off right. Holy Fuck!
I have the amazing opportunity to guide one of the most awesome rivers I’ve ever had the pleasure of fishing. Guiding it for the first day was something I have looked forward to since this off season. More than that, since I’ve started fly fishing, and guiding, that need for adventure, a challenge, pitting my skills against a new river, countering different trout, a new puzzle…its something I am always chasing.
The St. Joe is one of the best rivers I’ve ever fished and guiding it was exhausting…in the best way possible.
Fish right from the get go. I was on a double boater with a family, father and sons. I had two sons and the other guide and dad and son. When we arrived that morning I think our first impression with the clients was unexpected. Here are two rather trout bummy dudes who look like they’ve been camping and fishing for a week. Yes I’m super beardy, and I’m not in the latest waders and boots, hell I’m in board shorts and a t shirt with a sweaty old flat brim hat filled with flies that isn’t even a fishing endorsed hat. I know that I may not look the part of a fly fishing guide to some.
So that initial impression had us a little on edge. But, once you get people like us on the river…it all changes. You’re not looking at the guide all day.
The other boat was into fish at the put in. The put in was a fun one. So I pushed down river and looked for some proper nymphy water. Wasnt hard. Around the next bend within 15 minutes of starting and boom, big ass trout on then off. Woo. We pulled over, and nymphed on foot. Missed another one. Feeling the pressure of not having landed one yet with that friendly guide competition brewing I had the clients switch to streamers.
For two reasons…its wicked fun for clients when a fish takes a streamer. And because as a guide, a streamer eat makes the trout do the hard part and the angler just has to hang on, listen, and land the fish. It takes a lot of the intricate work out of the process and gets clients on a fish quickly to help kickstart the energy level and focus for the day. It was needed as it was early and everyone knew it was my first day. I read a sweet run below a 90 degree turn that had a rapid, big boulders and a deep water tail out with a gravel bar on the inside that created a shelf where a large trout could lie in wait for prey. 20 swings layer…and the client is yelling “I got one!”
The chaos begins, walk up the bank, tip up, let ’em run, strip strip strip, hold ’em, walk back, pull up, reel reel reel, and in the net! Awww ya.
“Holy shit you weren’t lying Nate, he tried to take the rod from me!” Mmmmm. The energy between the two clients climaxed post release when they started chatting and breaking down how the fish hit and fought between themselves as I chuckled to myself listening. Boom.
The St. Joe is beautiful and at 2400 cfs and gin clear…you see everything. So many fish. There are areas where laps can be run by back rowing up and running multiple drift lines, with fish hooked in every pass. Was doubled up two times during the day. At lunch the boat had already landed over a dozen and missed that many plus. By the end of the day it was 2 dozen landed and that many plus missed. As many as you can catch.
I would run a lap at one depth, land or miss fish. Change depths, back row, pick another lane, run it, miss and land more. Multiple times. As a guide I wanted to keep doing it just to see how many times it would produce. Clients were getting a kick out of it.
The trip turned into a blur of trout. Trout missed, trout landed, trout talked about. One of the troutiest days I have ever had guiding.
Crazy thing about the Joe. We nymphed all day. Fish just weren’t interested in dries on our section. But 10 river miles down the other two boats we had out fished dries all day and had almost identical days fish wise. Mmmm. The Joe changes a lot, but westslope cutthroat make it an easier fishery as they are a more eager species. The puzzle of the Joe is one I am also eager to put together.
I haven’t had to guide, read water, and put anglers on fish cold like that. Haven’t floated it, haven’t fished it, haven’t read it…having to do it live was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had guiding. Especially when it just keeps working all day. The Yakima I can fish from memory. I know every inch of it. The Joe is new and intoxicating because of that.
Deciphering, interpreting, and discovering a new fishery via guiding is pretty fucken rad.
I’ll be back up there Tueaday to take my lady on a float and to spend some more time learning the water.
I plan on being on the St. Joe all of August as the Yakina will be in full drought mode at that time. I invite you all to come experience the St. Joe this year with White Pine Outfitter and myself. It’s one of those places you’ll never forget and always want to keep coming back to. It’s one of those perfect yearly trip kinda places. Two three days, take a trip one day, fish it on foot the others, explore the local area, visit the local businesses, soak up some of that rugged north Idaho culture and take in one of the most pristine, wild, and scenic rivers I’ve ever fished.