The Best Adventure Schools for Mastering Outdoor Skills

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John Juracek, one of the best fly-casting teachers on the planet, squints at my reach-cast and tells me to tweak the finish with a bigger sweep of my arm. Then Juracek moves down the row of students, critiquing, slapping his leg with a yellow section of rod as if it were Patton’s riding crop. We’re standing on a grassy lawn at one of the best adventure schools in the U.S., beside a slow slide of Idaho’s famed Henry’s Fork. We’re casting into hula hoops at 20 paces. “You must work to achieve enlightenment. It must be hard before it is easy,” Juracek says. “Or whatever.” He cracks a sly grin.

 

Going back to school

I’m here at the four-day School of Trout because when it comes to chasing fins, I need some higher ed. True, I’ve pursued fish from Patagonia to Alaska, and even caught a few of them. But my cast is a train wreck on a four-count rhythm. I need other skills, too, if I’ll ever have a chance against wily trout on new rivers—and YouTube can only take a guy so far. Where better to learn than an Advanced Class taught by marquee names like Juracek, on the Idaho river often described as the graduate school of dry-fly fishing?

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Some fishermen want to be led around by the nose by a guide. They want to rip lips, and the more, the better. They aren’t interested in learning about insects, or about how to counter the wind. School of Trout is not for them. “We’re giving people the skills to be creative problem-solvers on the river,” says Todd Tanner, the school’s founder and a former guide here. “We’re trying to teach people how to think out there.”

School of Trout
Jeremy Roberts/Conservation Media

Intensive study

Don’t come to this school thinking it will be all recess. Our August mornings begin early and go late. We start when the dew is still on the grass, brushing up on fundamentals of casting—the pile cast, the reach cast—under the eye of Juracek, a coach of world-champion fly casters. After that one morning, pro fisherman Jeff Currier jumps into the water to demonstrate how he combats micro-drag, that infinitesimal tug on a dry fly that makes a picky fish refuse it. (One tip: Try the ‘drag & drop’ method: aim your fly a bit more upstream and beyond the target…then drag it gently into the correct lane of water, now backed by plenty of slack.)

Sometimes we climb into the river ourselves, firing casts at bright floats weighted by horseshoes. Afternoons, we head to the Henry’s Fork and put it all together, stalking the Ph.D.-holding trout of the river’s famed Harriman Ranch reach, an instructor at our hips, as the giants that rise to feed on hatching PMD’s pucker the water in slowly expanding circles.

If there’s a theme to the curriculum, it’s one I needed to hear again: Don’t pound to the river’s edge and lash the water. Slow down. Notice the bugs that are caught in a spiderweb among the reeds. Listen for the slurp of a big fish taking mayflies off the bank, and where it came from. “Observation is fishing,” says Juracek.

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At night we return to the TroutHunter Lodge to talk about the day over hand-cut bison ribeyes and beers. Then it’s back outside to fish the evening hatch behind the lodge, or more casting practice under the instructors’ watchful eyes.

The last day, when class is dismissed, I head once more to the Ranch. There, I land my first Ranch rainbow. It isn’t the biggest. But I do it myself, no one at my hip this time, and using what I’ve learned. Which makes it the sweetest.

For 2021, the School of Trout  is offering a week-long Basic Trout Class in October for $7,950 and a shorter Advanced Dry Fly Class in August for $4,950. Both classes will be held at TroutHunter. Costs include meals, lodging, and all instruction.

[$4,950–$7,950; schooloftrout.com]

Other Adventure Schools:

The Awaken the Hunter Course from Human Nature Hunting
The Awaken the Hunter Course from Human Nature Hunting

Learn to Hunt

A lot of us today want to be in touch with where our food originates. But we don’t know where to start. The Awaken the Hunter Course from Human Nature Hunting teaches would-be hunters the skills and confidence to hunt on their own for bigger game such as deer or elk. The intensive four-day course, which is held on the company’s private land in northeastern Washington state, covers preparation, tracking and scouting for animals, meat processing and how to shoot bows and rifles (not to mention home-cooked meals prepared from the animal the students butcher and evening talks about what it means to be a meat-eater, today).

Courses are held spring and summer, and autumn hunting season is brief, but the course adapts by fielding dressing and butchering a sheep—which, stripped of its wool, looks much like a deer, and with realistic simulated hunts shooting at targets in field conditions.

[$1,980 in a group of six, or private courses. humannaturehunting.com]

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OARS: Adventure Schools
OARS

Row your Boat

“There is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats,” as Water Rat said to Mole in The Wind in the Willows. But how do you learn to mess about safely, and adeptly? Well-regarded whitewater company OARS offers several six- and seven-day rowing clinics on the Class II-III water of classic rivers of the West such as Utah’s Green River and Oregon’s Rogue. Seasoned guides teach the entire time, about how to read and row whitewater; knots; what to bring and not bring on a river trip (and how to stow it). You’ll leave the week with the chops to run a basic multi-day trip on your own. Visit their site for dates.

[$1,799; oars.com]

Blue Water Sailing School: Adventure Schools
Blue Water Sailing School

(Learn to) Sail Away

A lot of us daydream of drifting among postcard Caribbean islands with friends. But a reality check: Few of us know how to sail a big boat. Blue Water Sailing School knows how to make that dream a reality. On its week-long Bareboat Skipper Course out of Ft. Lauderdale and the U.S. Virgin Islands, students board a 40-some-foot sailboat on Saturday and don’t touch land for a week, sailing for Biscayne Bay in the northern Keys or the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, learning the entire time the fundamentals you need to operate safely a larger sailboat, including knots, tacking and jibing, trimming sails, docking, weather. It’s a lot to learn, but if you pay attention, you’ll leave with the knowledge (and certs) to skipper coastal waters on your own in moderate conditions.

[From $2,595; bwss.com]

 

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