Located in Michigan and Indiana, the St. Joseph is a huge river with prolific runs of steelhead and salmon. “Summer run” Skamania steelhead are found in this fishery during the spring and summer months providing great warm weather angling. Thousands-upon-thousands of steelhead enter this river every year.
Originating in Michigan the St. Joseph gains velocity and volume from many tributaries. It then passes the town of Three Rivers before dipping southwest towards Indiana.
Once across the Indiana border the river flows past Elkhart, Mishawaka (this town is the upstream limit for steelhead and salmon), and South Bend while turning northwest back towards Michigan. Back across the Michigan border the St. Joseph River passes Niles and Berrien Springs before making its way to the town of St. Joseph on the southeast shore of Lake Michigan.
Size & Flow
The “St. Joe” is a very large river. Its flow is intense and at times can not be waded. Boat fishing is most popular on this river although wade anglers do fish its waters. Its large size makes it a little more difficult for wading anglers to cover the water. Large deep runs and pools are found throughout its length. Which ever way you choose to fish respect this river and its power.
There are several dams along the St. Joseph. The dams at Berrien Springs and Niles are known for being good areas to fish. These dams have fish latters that allow the steelhead and salmon to continue upstream to Mishawaka, Indiana which is the upstream limit for anadromous fish.
A few tributaries to the St. Joseph that provide good wade angling are the Dowagiac River, Pipestone creek, and Brandywine creek. Steelhead will migrate into these streams from the St. Joseph River. Skamania steelhead will seek cooler tributaries when water temperatures get above 68 degrees so check out some of these areas if you are looking for summer run fish.
Skamania steelhead average larger in size from the winter run fish. Fish to twenty plus pounds are not uncommon. They are bright chrome fish in the summer and are extremely acrobatic. Blistering runs of 100 plus yards of backing are very possible. The normal winter run steelhead can be in the river anytime from the fall to spring.
Access to the St. Joseph can be found in many areas. Routes 31, 33, 12 and many other roads and side roads cross or parallel the river. Access can be found at bridges, parking areas, and boat ramps. Remember that the river is in both Indiana and Michigan so be sure to check out the regulations for both states.
Angling techniques are different then in other fisheries. Since the river is run with summer fish many people use floating or sink tip lines with spey flies, streamers, and large marabou patterns. Dark colors like purple and black are good, although some angler like orange and pink. It all depends on the mood of the fish. Many other colors can be excellent.
Another technique, especially in the winter since the river is so deep, is with the use of a slinky and running line. Getting down is a must during the winter when water temperatures are cold. This is the best technique for fly anglers looking to fish this river.
The St. Joseph is a huge dynamic fishery. Steelhead and salmon enter the creek in excellent numbers throughout the season. Boat anglers like on many river will have the upper hand. Hiring a guide on this huge river is the best way to go. The St. Joseph is considered one of the finest steelhead fisheries in Michigan and one of the best summer steelhead fisheries in the country.