Im a canoe fishing guide and mostly fish shallow light white water rivers. I’ve always used cheap plastic paddles and am wondering if its worth moving up to a composite paddle? For the most part we don’t use paddles to push us down river or for speed. Mostly we use them for maneuvering around rocks and other obstacles at a slow current pace. What would be the best paddle for this? Straight shaft or bent? Wider or thinner blade? We often push off bottom or push off obstacles. Is a composite carbon/fiberglass paddle strong enough?
Try something in between your cheapie plastic and an expensive composite paddle and go wood. You can keep your cheapie plastic as an extra (you should always have one anyway) and use it to push off from rocks.
As far as bent, vs straight, since you are paddling rivers, definitely go straight.
Ditto on Wood Paddles
Years ago I used aluminum-and-plastic paddles with rental canoes. Awful, awful, AWFUL paddles! There are many modern wood paddles that are more than tough enough for what you describe. They will be lighter, MUCH more comfortable in your hands, and the blade will slip through the water during slicing strokes so effortlessly that you will hardly believe it. The rock guards on many wood paddles are just incredibly tough. If a wood paddle has a really good rock guard, you won't hurt it pushing off rocks. The only way you can break them is to catch the blade in narrow gap between jagged rocks and exert a strong prying action. That CAN happen by accident, but you'll still love such a paddle compared to what you've been using.
Here's a good one by Bending Branches:
However, now that they've started putting a T-grip on that model instead of a traditional grip, I'd probably choose something else, but that's just me (I do use a T-grip for whitewater work). In general, Bending Branches puts unusually tiny grips on their paddles, smaller than I prefer in spite of having small hands. If it were not for that, I'd like them more than I do.
Check out other brands like Sawyer and Foxworth too.
For your use, I'd go with a straight shaft and a fairly "standard" blade. It's easier to perform a variety of more complex strokes with a straight shaft, but many people like bent shafts no matter what they are doing. A "standard" blade allows easier use in shallows than longer, narrower blades, and I've honestly found no particular advantage of the old-style, longer, narrower blades in any case.
If I were mostly using my paddle
to push of the bottom and rocks, I would stay with exactly what you are using.
Ninty percent of the rental people use them since they are so hard to break or wear out.
I have wood paddles that have the edges worn off from just what you are describing.
I normally paddle with a high end carbon bent shaft and although there are times I push off rocks,etc, I would hate to use it primarily for that.
Also stay with a straight shaft.
The bent shaft is strictly for catching more water, and paddling faster
Rarely see bents on rivers
they are less maneuverable, designed for sitting paddlers ( though you can use them kneeling) and best for high cadence go ahead paddling.
Stick with what you have.