Tucked somewhere between the well known Northern Idaho rivers like the St. Joe and Clearwater, lies a river that gets next to no attention and very little fishing pressure - the St. Maries. Locals have heard of it and some have even fished it, but those who have are surprisingly tight lipped about it. It is home to a migratory population of westslope cutthroat trout that run up to spawn in the spring then head back down before the water gets too hot and low in the summer - what I'm trying to say is you have to hit it at the right time or you'll miss the best fishing, but if you hit it right its worth the trip.
In the spring of 2011 Cordell talked me into going on my first overnight float trip through about a 15 mile unroaded section of the St. Maries. We looked it over on maps and Google Earth the best we could and searched for reports on the internet about the kind of water we would encounter. I'll be honest I was a little nervous. I can swim fine so I wasn't really worried about drowning or anything, but I didn't want to loose any of my gear to Davie Jones' locker, or somehow get stuck in the middle of nowhere should we run into trouble. But he assured me it would be fine so I went along. We readied our gear and picked out our favorite dry flies.
The time and the water level finally seemed right so Friday night we shoved off and headed downstream. We saw deer, elk and an inordinate number of beavers swimming along the shoreline as we floated along. After the first couple of hours of floating and taking in the sights and sounds of the mountains and the river I decided that Cordell was onto something, and it was going to be a fun trip.
|Packed and ready to go
|St Maries River. Pretty eh?
One of the things that I was really excited about on this trip was my new 3 wt fly rod that I was dying to try out. It didn't take long to put it through its paces. We stopped to fish around an island, and I stalked up the side channel and found several willing fish.
|The first fish on my new 3 wt!
During our preparations for the trip Cordell asked me what kind of food I like. I think I told him that dry Ramen Noodles were a common main dish at my campsites - he didn't like that idea. He laughed and said he'd figure something out. So when our first day of floating drew to a close we found a semi flat spot and made camp for the night (only to discover that it wasn't really very flat at all) . Pretty soon Cordell had pulled out more food than I think I have in my refrigerator at home and we were soon enjoying campfire-cooked steaks, corn on the cob, and a nice green salad along with a bunch of other side dishes and snacks. Needless to say it was a far cry from my meager rations of ramen.
Breakfast the next morning was just as good.
|Getting ready to cook some steaks!
|Home sweet home
I didn't appreciate the misty rain that accompanied us most of the day on Saturday, but we still caught a couple dozen fish, and almost all of them were on dry flies, so there was really no need to complain. I don't know about the other guys but the highlight of the trip for me was this male cutthroat that had already spawned judging by his battle scars. His coloration was more stunning than any other cutthroat I have seen.
|Post-spawn male in all his colorful glory
We floated through country and places that not many people are lucky enough to see. Some sections were protected by steep cliffs jutting down into the river, while others were lined by wide flats full of willow and cottonwood stands.
|Fresh fish and fresh Coca-Cola; it's tough to beat a good shore lunch!
Saturday afternoon the water started to slow down and flatten out as we drew nearer to our destination. We put away the small rods and the dry flies and we started to throw streamers in hopes of tricking a bass or two. Almost immediately Cordell tied into this beauty of a smallmouth:
|First and only bass of the trip
We each took turns rowing for a while while the other one fished. There were no more bass to be had that day but we did have fun catching northern pikeminnow which were eager participants and really fat.
|Cordell holding what would be a $4 bill if he would have caught this on the Snake...
|I got some too. Plus check out my sweet life jacket!
I think I'm now forever hooked on float trips, and I think now I understand a little better why people are a little secretive about this little North Idaho gem.