St. Joe River camping


Active Member
Just back from a couple of days on the river. The flow measured at Calder is right at 2000cfs and that means there is still a lot of water in the upper river. Wading is not easy although if I was 8'4'' and weighed 480# it would have been much easier. At 6' and 172# the water can pretty much push me around like a ping pong ball. But if you find the nice runs at the right speed with the right water depth there will be fish in them. Monday it was hot and sunny and I fished mostly around the 50 mile mark down near Avery. There was a steady up river wind which detracted from casting but once I found the fish I did ok.

There was just no one there. In two days of fishing I only saw one other guy on the water and stopped and shared some intel with him. All the campgrounds were empty and of course all the free ones available too. Some of those good looking spots I told you to avoid haven't been fished much yet, I took 7 fish out of one very popular and well worn location that I wouldn't even bother to stop at a month from now.

Tues saw some cloud cover with lower temps and the fishing picked up. I went up past mile 64 and did well then fished my way back down.

I took the Moon Pass road out of Wallace on the way in. If you fish the St Joe you need to take this road at least once. It goes through a series of 7 tunnels, some of which are curved and of course they are unlighted. You wouldn't want to take a trailer through those and meet another guy with a trailer half way! It is a rough dusty but beautiful drive. The road gives you city boys a great opportunity to get your $45,000 pickup or SUV out and do at least a little of what it was designed for instead of transporting a guy in a suit to the office. To find directions on where to pick up the road in Wallace I used Mapquest and the instructions were perfect.

The road on the Avery side of the pass runs along the NF of the St Joe and it is a beautiful stream indeed. I asked the guy in the fly shop about fishing it and he said it was very productive but is so wild and difficult to access that very few people ever see very much of it. A 4WD road runs along much of it so if you are looking for a challenge in an out of the way location with potentially great fishing this might be your opportunity. Just looking down into it from above I would guess that you need to be young, strong, a powerful wader that is good at beating brush and climbing steep banks. And eager-you gotta be eager. But that is just a guess since I have never driven along it's length. Perhaps even an old fart like me could get in there although I have none of those attributes except eager.

Fishing is just so much easier in the fall when you can wade anywhere and fish spots that can't even be approached right now. This was my last spring trip over there, I'll go again in the fall when the October caddis are out.

We were up river last week for 4 days, Sun-Thurs. Camped at Tin Can Flat and fished mainly upstream from Avery. Water levels were around 3000cfs at Calder.
These two sites will give you the water levels at Calder (lower river) and Red Ives (upper river)
There are two runoff periods on the river. The lower river gets an earlier runoff than the upper river. Often, early in the year, the lower river can be too high to fish effectively while the upper river is easily fishable.
I found the best fishing to be after 2pm until dark. Fished everything from an 8 Stim to 22 parachutes. The Stim is a good searching pattern on the Joe, and works year round. Caught a few fish on a 14 red copper john, but had the best luck one evening on a 14 parachute PMD (20 fish in an hour, up to 14"). There are spots on the river that always hold fish. You may not catch, or even see them, but they are there. Unfortunatly, my memory fails me once I leave the river, or I would tell you exactly were they are.

For camping info check out this web site. It gives all the sites and services available.
There were very few people in the campgrounds or fishing. Look for that to change as the water flows drop. A lot of the Spokane-Couer d'Elene-Montana fishers don't show up until the flows get under 1500cfs.
The campgrounds tend to start filling up on Wed thru the weekend. There are a lot of nice small turnouts that the forest service has provided portapotties for because of slob campers. These won't be listed as official sites.

Once you get above Gold Creek, I believe all the campsites are no pay but please leave a donation. All donations at these sites pay for your toilet paper and clean toilets.
Typically the river upstream from Gold Creek is the busiest part of the river when the flows come down. As the water temps rise, the fish tend to move upstream into somewhat cooler waters. Plus, this is the first sight of the river the people coming over from St. Regis have. There is a mistaken belief that all of the larger fish are above Gold Cr. I believe that there are plenty of big fish downstream, but you have to work harder to find them because the water is bigger.

When the flows get below 2000cfs we generally float. Over the years, I've floated the entire river except for St. Joe Lake to Heller Ck (too steep and too small), and Skookum and Tumbledown Canyons (too scary for me). There are lots of good floats, 3 to 6 miles, on the river. In high water (3000 to 6000 cfs) people generally float from the highway bridge above Marble Cr to either Huckleberry CG or Calder using drift boats. These are also good floats in the fall.

We are going to try to get back up next week, but the weather doesn't look to nice.

Guys, this is great intel. I just got back from Packwood where I planned to combine work with some camping and fishing. Unfortunately, the work didn't happen and it rained the whole time I was there. Fished Skate Creek a bit and caught some pretty little rainbows, but the was pretty much appalled with the trash left at the distributed campsites along the river. I just can't get my head around how anyone could believe this is how humans behave - amazing.

Latest posts