Late July St. Joe report

Discussion in 'Trip Reports with Pics' started by cabezon, Jul 26, 2008.

  1. cabezon

    cabezon Sculpin Enterprises

    Several friends and I spent Sunday to Thursday on the St. Joe, exclusively in the area between Gold Creek and Spruce Creek Campground. To no ones surprise, the flows are high, about double of their usual seasonal values and about three times higher than on some of my previous trips. Also, the water is cool; I measured 10oC (50oF) on my thermometer on Thursday morning. At these flows, the river is running from bank to bank, with little exposed rocky shore. Adding to the perils of high flow and a full river, there seems to be much more slippery filamentous green algae covering the rocks. Thinking beyond my own narrow self-interest, the fish seemed to be quite healthy and spunky in these cool temperatures. As I am left-handed and the road is along the left bank (looking upstream), I generally picked my spots to fish along the right bank (keeps my backcasts over the river and out of the trees). I took a few dunkings in 4 days, but none were serious.

    On the mainstem St. Joe, there were solid concentrations of spinners above rapids at dusk. I think that these rusty brown mayflies were flavs. We saw a few similarly-sized (#14-16) olive mayflies (flav duns?) emerging during the afternoon. Elsewhere, we also saw a few large gray mayflies coming off. They may have been Gray Drakes. I was expecting to see good number of yellow sallies or golden stones, but I remember seeing only a very few. There were some large tan caddis flying around; a friend observed that these were forming mating swarms in the evening over some of the riparian pine trees. They would occasionally fly out over the water too. [I fished dries exclusively.]

    While there were multiple types of bugs flying around in the evening, we generally did not see cutts switch to consistent rises in the tailouts at dusk that we have seen at lower flows. At the present flow rates and these water temperatures, I think that we were seeing mostly reaction strikes. Anything that looked buggy that floated overhead in a slower water was a possible food item for the cutts. At these flows, they really didn’t have much chance to examine passing items closely. It was eat it now or never. During peak early afternoon or evening hatches, I did see the occasional fish rise more consistenly; casting a fly in their vicinity (pays to advertise….) usually produced the desired result. For most folks, and for us, the evening hatch was less productive than in previous years. I think that as the light fell, it became harder for the fish to see the flies from their feeding locations in these currents. During one drizzly afternoon while we lounged in camp, we did see small fish rising pretty consistently in some slow water. We never had an opportunity to fish a slot with a quiet tailout in the evening – too much competition for these spots even midweek.

    Attached Files:

  2. luv2fly2

    luv2fly2 Active Member

    steve, very good report and some good pics, especially the under water one, nice. where did you camp? i would post pics on this site but i dont know how, duh. mike w
  3. cabezon

    cabezon Sculpin Enterprises

    Hi Mike, The underwater shot was serendipity; point the camera underwater in the direction of the fish and hit the button. We camped just above Gold Creek (about 40 miles above Avery) and then traveled to various spots from there. We were there midweek and there appeared to be plenty of space in the established campgrounds and some open spots in the undeveloped camping areas along the river.

    If you have fished there before, be warned (or heartened) that everything seems like its 2 - 3 weeks late. On the plus side, with all the cool water in the river, the fish fight hard and revive quickly.

  4. Dan Massaro

    Dan Massaro Member

    I just got back from the Joe as well, but we were fishing quite a bit lower in the system (couple miles above avery). Big buggy dries were big producers for us in early afternoon. We took most of the fish on hoppers and yellow stimulators. However the largest fish of the trip, an 18" cutt, was taken on a size 18 pmd. But yeah I have to agree no real point fishing late evening, the hatch really died.
  5. cabezon

    cabezon Sculpin Enterprises

    Hi Dan,

    Did you see golden stones where you were? We didn't, but with everything so late, it could be that they were working their way up river and hadn't reached where we were yet.

  6. Dan Massaro

    Dan Massaro Member

    Yeah, around 6:00-7:00pm last night, I saw a few adult golden stones. But yeah I expected more.
  7. Itchy Dog

    Itchy Dog Some call me Kirk Werner

    Good report Cab-

    I was there July 20-23, 5 miles above Spruce Tree (St. Joe Lodge), so things were a bit different. Water was, as you noted, higher than normal, but still very fishable although some of the runs were not so clearly defined. We found fish willing to take a dry all day long, and didn't toss a streamer but once, and only one whitefish was caught on a dropper, so didn't fish subsurface really at all. 4:30 was happy hour each day, with a hatch of light tan-colored mayflies coming off sporadically (with brief intermissions) in good numbers and lasting until I left the river at 7 for supper (did not want to piss off the cook by being late!). Size 14-18 Sparkle Duns were the ticket, with refusals on anything else during the hatch. Fished a couple runs where the water was slow enough for the fish to prove themselves quite picky. I wasted on hour of my life trying to get one particular big cuttie to take my fly, to no avail. It was the best wasted hour of my life, though! During the off-hatch fishing, I was surprised that typical attractors were not really as effective as I would have thought. Adams parachutes did a good job, however, as fish definitely preferred smaller bugs as opposed to big stimmies, etc. I picked up a fish here and there on larger dries (yellow being the color of choice), but it was more of a small bug affair, consistently. Temps measured mid-day showed low to mid 50's. We waded wet except for one day when the clouds kept things cool. Did not see any caddis up where we were, and no stones. Talked to a guide who was up there with a client- he said the stones were gone by then. My first time, so it was all new to me.
  8. Evan Salmon

    Evan Salmon Member

    What condition is the road in coming up from St. Maries?
  9. Itchy Dog

    Itchy Dog Some call me Kirk Werner

    Road is in good shape. Between Red Ives and Spruce Tree there was a pretty major washout this spring, but it's temporarily manageable. Not sure I'd want to drag a big RV through it, but a car/truck no problem.
  10. Evan Salmon

    Evan Salmon Member

    Thanks.... I'm going up for the first time this weekend and wasn't sure I should take my camper. I guess I'll be tenting it.

    Does anyone know if there's a shuttle running? I'd like to take my pontoon.
  11. cabezon

    cabezon Sculpin Enterprises

    There is a fly shop, Idaho Fly Fishing, in Avery now. Here is their web site: You might find their number and give them a call. Check this thread for a possible phone number. My friends brought their pontoons and did a few short drifts. I had brought mine too, but I just fished from shore.

  12. Big Tuna

    Big Tuna Member

    Fished the St. Joe from 7/24-7/31. We were camped at the confluence of Ruby Cr. Fished as high as Bacon Cr. Although we caught most of our fish on dries, we used a wide variety of flies, including nymphs and streamers. Fish were starting to take attractors, but most was match the hatch when it came to dries. There were a wide variety of bugs, but PED's in the evening seemed the most prevalent. My best fly was a PMD cripple, but also caught fish on PED and PMD duns, sparkle duns, ants, spinners, BLM nymph, lightning bug, chartreuse CJ, golden stone nymph, yellow elk hair caddis, natural rabbit string leech,...I even caught a fish or two on a 4 inch olive string leech; the fish weren't much bigger than the fly. It was surprisingly busy, even up high. The whole time we were there, there were at least 4 guys camped between us and Bacon Cr. and 3-4 fly fishers at the lodge. Because everything is so late, there wasn't much in the way of hopper fishing. The hoppers are very small at this point. Did raise a few fish on lime and yellow Turk's near the end of the trip. Fishing in the morning was a little slow, but you could scratch out fish w/ a little work and experimentation. Evenings were definitely better. Two evenings in a row I walked away from rising fish w/ about an hour of daylight left. It's a nice feeling when you have enough opportunity to catch fish that you don't feel the need catch every last one of them. Since I generally only get out a couple of times a month, I often fish w/ a certain desperation. With a week to fish, I actually didn't even string up my rod the last day. The second of those two nights I went to this little nondescript pocket of water on my way to camp. I had caught a beautiful cuttie out of the head of it the night before w/ a spinner. I saw a fish roll in the same place, cast my cripple and hooked either the same fish or its twin on my first cast. I landed the fish, released it, and left for camp. Great way to finish the day. Down below was a zoo. We came out on Wed. w/ the intent of resting the horses for the night and fishing a large pool/run at the Line Camp. From 1:30-8:00 pm that hole was filled. It was like an Atlantic salmon fishing beat w/out any organization. Party after party rotated through. After the constant pounding, it was no surprise that folks did pretty poorly in that stretch of water. We had caught plenty of fish, so the rotation provided some humorous entertainment. The St. Joe is an enchanting river. The canyon bottom is lush and carpeted with wild flowers, and the river itself is crystal clear. It's a fun place to get your dry fly fix, but don't expect solitude.