Riverman | Canoe Expedition Skills Course

2017 Course Info
· Max. Size: 8
· Tuition: $950

Poling, Lining, Paddling, Carrying

Course Calendar · Apply Now


This weeklong course prepares you for working as a professional guide and is crash course in canoeing and traditional camping. Our spot on the Aroostook River in Masardis is an outstanding place to learn the traditional arts of the canoe as practiced by Maine Guides for hundreds of years. Within seven miles of the field school we’ve got 5 different rivers of varying difficulty, as well as 18-mile long Squapan Lake. The canoe gods were smiling when they made it.

We’ll spend the week working on two different but related curriculums. First, you’ll learn and refine the skills of paddling, poling and lining canoes on increasingly challenging water. You’ll explore this beautiful area and learn the personalities of it’s waterways. The second curriculum focuses on the management and leadership of a group and the skills of keeping them comfortable. This isn’t a theoretical course on leadership like what is commonly offered through outdoor clubs; instead it’s a focused on the crucial skills that make or break a trip taught by professional, working guides. We’ll cover navigation with a map and compass, what do do if someone in your party gets lost, how to plan, pack and prepare meals over an open fire, trip equipment and how to use, care for and maintain it, and how to light a fire under any conditions. Learn to stand in a canoe, pole up and down rapids, cook over an open fire, read the river to determine safe passages and gain the most useful asset a guide can have; experience.

Intended Learning Outcomes

Participants will learn to:

Plan, prepare, provision, pack, and guide a wilderness trip
Efficiently paddle a loaded canoe
Pole and snub a canoe
Set-up and line a canoe through rapids
Tie useful and appropriate knots
Use an axe, knife, and saw safely and effectively
Sharpen their axe and knife
Light a fire in dry or wet weather
Cook and bake over an open fire
Navigate with a map and compass
Take decisive action in case a member of their group gets lost
Tie a tumpline onto a wanigan and a canoe for ease of carrying
Bake with sourdough
Safely manage a group in whitewater
Set up tents and tarps
Course Schedule

Sunday: Arrive between 4 and 6 and set up camp. We’ll meet, have dinner and discuss the week.

Monday: We’ll start the week on the big water of Squapan Lake, learning the basics of poling and teaching such paddling strokes as the knifing J and pitch stroke for efficient forward motion.

Tuesday: We’ll add the moving water component on the Aroostook River. You’ll build on what you’ve already learned, then learn the way of the river and how it controls the boat. You’ll learn to work with this elemental force, poling upstream and snubbing down. We’ll also have a several mile float from the Masardis Trading Post back to the field school, stopping on the way to work on controlling the boat in Island Rips.

Wednesday: We’ll add in the skills of maneuvering on a smaller stream as we float down the Blackwater River and St. Croix Stream (dependent on water level). The challenges here are narrow passages, beaver dams, strainers, and more. You’ll be challenged, but you’ll be ready for it as a result of what we’ve already accomplished.

Thursday: Thursday morning we’ll cover trip preparation and planning. We’ll go through the checklists we’ve developed, plan the meals, pack the gear, then head into the North Maine Woods where we’ll set up camp along the Big Machias River (dependent on water level). We’ll work on poling in the river and camp for the night.

Friday: We’ll be up early and on the water for the long float back to town. It will take us most of the day to paddle and pole through the many rips and rapids of this lively waterway. Along the way you’ll see the beautiful scenery of this seldom-paddled north woods gem. When we get back to town we’ll spend a final night at camp and one last meal cooked over the campfire.

Note: In addition to the gear list, please be sure to bring a PFD (personal flotation device, also known as a life jacket) that fits you correctly.


There are vast differences in approach to the effective use of canoes. Some of these are regional, while others stem from the homogenization of techniques by national organizations. Our approach looks nothing like what you’ll see from the big organizations. We maintain and teach the traditional methods of Maine Guide canoeing because they work as well now as they have for centuries.

Traditional Maine Guide Skills

Most books and “experts” will advise that you never stand up in a canoe and that you shouldn’t try to solo in a boat larger than 15 feet long. That advice is rubbish.

We spend most of our time in solo 18 and 20 foot boats, in everything from huge lakes to class 3 whitewater. Much of this time is spent standing and poling and snubbing (poling downstream). While rarely seen these days, poling allows us the freedom to maneuver up and downstream through all types of water. Our paddling style emphasizes the short stroke that was common amongst natives and voyageurs, allowing them to cover vast distances while expending little effort. We also practice lining, where we use ropes to safely maneuver the canoe up or down stream through a section of water unsafe to run.

We run various classes of whitewater, depending on the skill and comfort level of participants. Unlike whitewater schools, our goal is in the safe passage of people and gear, not play boating in different sections of rapids. We emphasize the skills of reading the river, helping participants to learn to see where the channels and rocks lie. We reserve the right to decide which sections of whitewater will be run, and where we will instead portage or line.

Our Teaching And Expedition Experience

Since beginning full-time operation in 1999, we’ve taught hundreds of people how to handle loaded freight canoes and how to paddle, pole and line. We’ve run day-long, week-long and month-long expeditions, as well as numerous skills clinics. We also make our own paddles, poles, and ropes used for lining.

Our Sites
· JMB Field School – Long-Term Immersion: Semester & Expedition Programs
· JMB Trips – Classic Wilderness Guiding By Canoe & Snowshoe
· JMB Folk School – Short Courses, Crafts & Lodge-Based Programs
· School Of The Forest – Teen & Youth Programs
· JM Outfitters – Gear From The World’s Smallest Outfitter

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