Getting started poling

I’m always looking to expand my capabilities and looking for challenges in canoeing, so I’d like to learn how to pole. Besides getting the pole and going out and getting wet are there any suggestions to getting started and speeding up the learning process?

There’s a book on poling by Harry Rock that will shorten the learning curve a bit. I don’t remember the title.

Use the right boat!
Yeah, I know, I’m not much help. I thought of that though, because the only reason I haven’t seriously tried poling is that my canoes are a bit too small and/or “tippy”. Polers seem to like using full-size tandem models.

Good point
I was planning on using my OT Penobscot 16. Any opinions on this boat used to learn to pole?

book title
"The Basic Essentials of Canoe Poling"

Good book. I have found dozens of them in the used book stores in my area.

Go for it
I haven’t poled one, but they are stable boats. It shouldn’t be any problem.

In not time at all you won’t even worry about having a stable boat.

I usually pole my old Coleman 15’ ABS “barge” in a mountain creek, in my area. It can take the abuse without me cringing.

I think the penobscot

– Last Updated: Sep-30-08 10:03 PM EST –

will do ya' just fine. Nice boat. If you're in WW, get a second pole, in case you stick the first. Bend the knees, as Ed Hayden demos in this pic..
Snubbing I usually put one foot slightly forward, in case of those "water colored rocks" ;-).

…is what I am currently using. Started with a Wenonah Fisherman (did okay). Switched to an OT Camper which did pretty well so long as things didn’t get too choppy. The Penobscot is much more stable in the rough than the Camper, and it is faster (read, less work against current) everywhere except apparently in very shallow water (I have my theory about that). It does not carve a turn as easily as the Camper, but with a little more aggressiveness it does so with more stability. It might take you a little time to get your legs under you with less initial stability, but you being an experienced paddler should help with that.

I think you’ll do fine with it. I just started poling this spring and I’m all but addicted to it. You’re gonna have some fun!

padded thwarts

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or shin guards are a good idea. One I keep forgetting ;-(.

Steve, you noticed that shallow water thing? Shallow water seems to suck the glide right out of whatever I'm poling. I wonder if it's a water displacement/flow issue (hydrodynamics as it were) or just those rocks I'm hitting ;-).

quick start
Going against the current keep the bow light. If the bow is down too deep you will not be able to direct the boat. This is the biggest first lesson to learn.

Keep your balance centered in your gut and do not put your body weight into the set or push. Otherwise if the pole slips or gets stuck you are overboard or fall onto your favorite fishing pole.

Drop the pole in the water as opposed to stabbing the pole into the water.

It is ok to use the pole as a paddle if needed.

Read “Beyond the Paddle” by Garret and Alexandra Conover.

Speed in shallow water
In David Burch’s Fundamentals of Kayak Navigation (page 101 or so in the edition Google Books has scanned), he points out that there’s an interaction between the bow wave, the turbulence generated by the boat, and the shallow bottom. He suggests cutting your speed (as used in dead reckoning and planning) by half if you are paddling over extensive areas that are less that (say) 2.5 feet deep.


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Yeah, Matt - it seems that when you approach dragging depth the rounder bottom displaces and/or compresses water against the river bottom, and that robs some energy. Kinda like "ground effects" on a race car maybe. The flat-bottomed Camper just seems to skim over that zone with noticeably less effort, due to that effect being reduced, I think. Just my figurin' though.

Shin guards. I gotta get me some....

BTW, davbart - +1 on the Harry Rock book. It's a short and to the point read and easy to understand for the most part. I often review it after a poling session while my mistakes and difficulties are fresh in my mind. I believe that helps a lot when you have no one else to teach you.

expounding on jjmishs’ post
i find isolating the legs helps. try rocking the canoe just using your legs, keeping waist up stationary, to get an idea of what I’m talking about. Kind of fun, get’s me prepped for the fun sections. poling is a blast.have fun.

All boats slow down in shallow water. Theoretically, the boats begin to slow when the depth is less than half the length of your boat. The Camper has a very flat bottom and floats much higher than most other canoes. It should still, theoretically, slow down in shallow water, and I believe it does (based on performance of my Chipewan, which is, I believe, the same basic hull as the Camper).

Caveat: I don’t qualify to be a hydrodynamics expert, this post just repeats things I remember having heard or read.


Yeah, Chip
the Camper slows down too. It’s just not as noticeable as it is with the Penobscot - based on my comparison on the same stretch of water at the same flows. The Penobscot is faster everywhere else though, of course.

I wonder if there is a vacuum effect such as on an airfoil in play here with the rounded hull as well???

Or maybe, like Matt mentioned, I’m just dragging more. :wink:

Poling is a joy!
My uncle got me started with it when I was 6y.o. His canoe was about 17 ft so I had plenty of stability. When he had me walking around in it on the water I only dunked twice. In a few days I was feeling fairly confident. He cut down and trimmed up a cypress sapling for me, maybe 7’ tall, if that. After going overboard once into mud and silt (not too many places where he lived in Green Swamp had a sandy bottom) I learned why he left a good chunk of the root-base on the pole.

He said I was a quick learner but anybody would learn pretty quick too if they had to learn to pole in gator and moccosin infested waters…

ps. Falling on a cypress knee just once and no matter how or what part of your body lands on it you’ll do any and everything possible to make sure it does not happen again.

2 guesses
There are p-netters that know this stuff. Maybe post a new thread if you want to hear from them. Meanwhile, I’ll give you two guesses from my state as a dangerous thing (as in, a little knowlede is a…)

  1. I think it has something to do with the bow wake, which not only goes out to the sides, but also goes down. The wave hits the bottom and reflects up. The wave raises the boat where it strikes, which in very shallow water is the front part of the boat. So it is like adding resistance from having to paddle over a wave, only the wave is constantly there. I guess it also lifts the boat where it strikes, and this would push down the other end of the boat, not much on the Camper, but moreso on the Penob. Seems like that’d increase resistance.

  2. Fluid dynamics, somehow, cause faster water to “suck down” the surface. Where a bridge pinches the current, the water accelerates, and the surface level beneath the bridge is lower than on either side of it. I think we see this all the time in rapids, but it is not so isolated. Anyway, it’s just my guess that when the rounded and rockered Penob moves through shallows, the water under the boat has to move out of the way as the bulbous central hull passes through. If so, theoretically the surface would draw down, and the boat is in essence drawing more water, i.e., running a little deeper, and that would make it go slower. Once water gets under the Camper, that’s it, there is no bulbous portion of the hull passing through, and the water has no need to move anywhere.

    Just guesses.

I guess…
this means I need to head a little south of Fayetteville and learn on the water with the gators, and speed up my learning curve.

Actually, the biggest problem I’m facing is finding a pole. I can’t find anything longer than 8’ at Home Depot or Lowes.

Yep, Chip
That’s what I’m thinkin’ - only you described it better.

Davbart - can you find a local source for 12’x1.25" aluminum tubing? If you can get that, you can make your pole easier than you’d make a wood one, and it will last longer and work better.

BTW - I found another way to cap the ends of my aluminum poles that is cheap, easy, and works really good. Anybody can do it. All you need is a wood saw and a drill and maybe a little sandpaper. Oh - and a Lowes or Home Depot. I’ll post some photos as soon as I get some more time - maybe tomorrow.