Bugling Elk and Uncommon Wisdom: Two Days at The School of Trout
John Juracek, former owner of Blue Ribbon Flies in West Yellowstone, Montana, could easily pass for an ex-Marine. He stands tall in a crowd of unkempt fly fishing experts. And when he speaks, it’s with a certain natural authority that folks of his kind seem born with.
“All right,” he intoned on a cool morning on the banks of what is by any measure one of the most famous fly fishing rivers in the world, the Henry’s Fork. “I want you all to forget everything you think you know about fly casting and focus on one thing: lifting your thumb to the brim of your hat.” There was a slight hesitation among the group, some of whom weren’t wearing hats. “Let me see you do that,” he said, walking slightly away. It’s not a matter of if you are going to do what John says, just when, so in short order all the people who had showed up there to learn were lifting their thumbs to their brows and dropping them down in repetition of something that felt only vaguely familiar if at all. “Keep those elbows bent at 90 degrees. That’s right.”
Funny how these things work, but this was day one of The School of Trout, and any good student or instructor knows that the first step in learning is to erase patterns of thinking and muscle memory that only get in the way of what most certified casting experts with tell you is the One True Way (whether or not they actually utter those words is irrelevant). By the end of that first day, anglers who the day before might have had difficulty hitting a trampoline 30 feet away were dropping the fuzzy bits of fluorescent fluff on the ends of their tippets into 18-inch hoops 50 feet away.
As is typical with the more unique learning opportunities fly fishing, the person at the helm of The School of Trout, Todd Tanner—a former guide himself, is deeply committed to the whys and hows of the sport as an art form and as a discipline both. He started the school with one goal in mind: to give students, in one week, access to the level of expertise that they almost certainly won’t otherwise encounter in years of fishing.
This past October I was fortunate to spend a couple of days at the School, which is located on the water of the Henry’s Fork, with lodging and food provided by the owners of TroutHunter (started by the legendary René Harrop). You really couldn’t ask for nicer accommodations or a better setting. As lodge quarters go, it’s not an exaggeration to say the rooms were posh. And one step through the back door and onto the upper deck placed us overlooking the morning mist rising off the wilderness in the distance, and listening to the sounds of bugling elk at night.
Days at The School of Trout are information-packed. Sessions—on topics as wide-ranging as they are informative, covering everything from an intro to trout food, to the makings of good leader construction, essential and non-essential gear, approach and presentation, to reading water and personal safety—start right after (or during) breakfast and continue until after dinner each day. On-the-water instruction comes in about mid-week, with students having a chance to fish with the same personalities (celebrities to some of us) who are teaching the classes. Tom Rosenbauer, Craig Mathews, Hilary Hutcheson, John Juracek, Kirk Deeter, and Bob White were all there or about to arrive during my short stay. And several other of the sport’s authorities would arrive later in the week.
The School has limited attendance and so it’s not at all too early to look at your schedule for August if you think you might want to attend the Advanced Dry Fly Class, or October, if the Basic Trout Class is more suited to your level. The fact that Island Park, Idaho is only a fairly short drive from Yellowstone and many other prime fly fishing spots in the Northern Rockies means you can also put your new-found skills to work on some of the most beautiful trout water in North America. And in case you’re wondering, the fishing in October can be just as magical as the fishing in August. Just dress warm and, as I like to say, be ready for good things to happen.
It’s hard to overestimate the uniqueness of The School of Trout. It has all the right ingredients for a one-of-the-kind experience: gorgeous setting, good company, good food, and some of the world’s best instructors giving one-on-one instruction on all the essentials of fly fishing for trout.