Ottertail experiences?

I’d like to hear about your experiences with an ottertail paddle and your musings about same.

After years of being perfectly content with my bent shafts, I am getting interested in more traditional style. This is with a Hemlock Eaglet canoe.

On the internet, I can’t find much explanation of why there is an ottertail design in the first place? Comments seem limited to generalities like “more control.”

I’d surely like some detail to fill that out – plus and minus – to help me decide if it’s worth adding one to the arsenal.

Thanks! Larry

ottertail paddles
I have some beavertails and some ottertails. There are subtle differances.One being that theres less resistance on your shoulders because of the tapered shape grabbing less water.Therefore less thrust for straightaway speed. But you also gain nice control by being able to knife angle it underwater to differant angkles for differant canoe movements.They have a graceful shape and usually made form nice wood and alos very light too.So if you are “stearing” (pun intended) towards a traditional style of paddling (my favorite) you should own one.Its very effective in the leaning on one side of the canoe (Omering ) Style.

Ottertails Here
We’ve used ash ottertail paddles for years now, and really like them. I find it a lot easier to control the blade when doing in-water maneuvers, since the tapered shape doesn’t tend to ‘catch’ as much as the beavertail does. The blades on ours are quite long and narrow compared to most paddles, which lets you get a good ‘grip’ on deeper water when you want to apply power, and still lets you use it ‘oar-style’ when the water gets skinny.

With that said, we used and liked beavertails just fine until we got the ottertails…

The differences between the traditional paddles are indeed small, just like the differences between bent-shafts. They’re there, just not huge. I like beavertails and ottertails for the reasons already listed. They also tend to have a bit of flex, which makes them very easy on the muscles and joints over a long day with a loaded canoe. The long thin profile helps to reach solid water while getting tossed about a wavey lake. The long blade can allow you to get your force farther from the pivot point of your canoe - though I suppose a long handled paddle might do the same, but not as well balanced.

As to why they ever existed, my guess is that carving a one-piece paddle that is 8 or 9 inches wide would have made for one that was heavier and more work to carve. I have paddles in many shapes and sizes. When I trip, I take a sort of modified ottertail for most of the flatwater, and either my Aquabound Edge whitewater paddle for the rough stuff or a nice wood bentshaft (Whiskeyjack chaser or Grey Owl Marathon) for a change of pace/spare.

Even if you don’t love them, you ought to give them a try. My favourite aff-the-rack paddles are made by redtail. They are reasonably priced and a good introduction (don’t get the one with the assymetrical grip though - that is just silly, as these sorts of paddles sometimes are rotated in the hand for certain strokes).

The Eaglet is a bigger canoe
so has more mass…

Aside from the practicality of making a new ottertail in the field, narrower paddles produce less turning torque at their edges.

This translates into less stress on the tripper.

Canoes are slower to start to turn when Omering but then their mass and hence inertia takes over to complete the turn with surprising speed.

Smaller solos lack the mass and depend on the turning power transitted to the paddle to make the boat manuever. Hence wider blades tend to work better with no corresponding tear on the paddler who is the connection.

If you take out a beavertail and an ottertail in your Eaglet, I bet you will feel a differnece when you do an eddy turn or axle.

And I am guessing you will like the ottertail better

I like the clean entry and exit with a sharp edged ottertail. Also I found it much easier to do the knifing J stroke with an ottertail. I also like one for steering in the stern of a tandem,I think the extra length gives me more leverage to swing the stern. I do take another wider shorter bladed paddle if there is any shallow water expected.


is my first choice when soloing, unless the water is very shallow. It has a great feel in the water and it just looks very gracful. The difference in feel and performance between this and my beavertails is sublte and hard to expalin, but it is noticable. The vyager blade design has a very similar feel and performance, for me at least.

I think I know why the traditional paddle shapes evolved. It is very hard to find a paddle blank that is as wide as modern designs, and if you do, it is more likely to warp than a narrower blade.

Laminated paddle blades, made pssibel by modern adhesives, do not have dimensional stability problems, so you can make them much wider, and then the blades can also be much shorter for the same area as a narrow blade.

Ah’s done hear’d dat…
Ottertails also be referred ta as a “willow” style. Anyone else know somethin’ about dat?

Anywho, ah’ prefer ottertails fer paddlin’ on deep water too.


As said, the differences are subtle. Seems to me that a stroke with the same effort is obviously far less strenuous as the amount of water encountered in the pull is less than that of a wider blade, yet the loss of forward momentum generation isn’t that great. Long-term paddle(all day)…go a little less wide. You wanna get to shore quickly(ie thunderstorm/lightning = adrenalin-flowing), grab the racing(wider) paddle.



Doesn’t the ottertail have more surface
area than most bent shafts, rather than less? Or at least similar? The blades may be only 5" to 6" wide, but they’re also 24" to 28" long, instead of 8" to 9" wide.

I don’t have any ottertails, only beavertails.

Blade areas
28" x 5.75" ottertail blade is about 128 sq inches

28" x 6.5 beavertail blade is about 134 sq inches

8" x 20" typical BB spade blade is about 120 sq inches

Ah’ kin also reach under de hull
better wit an ottertail.


Thanks everyone!
I am grateful for all the fine information! No better guides than the voices of experience.

I can’t wait for spring to see if I can find those “subtle” differences.

This is the kind of experimenting I like! Plus searching for a nice ottertail, and affordable, will be fun too.

Thanks again all who posted – and who may be yet to post!


There are lots of good paddle makers out there. Be sure to check out Kettelwell and Shaw & Tenney.

hi Larry
I’d have to say that of my long-bladed paddles I also have a special fondness for my Grey Owl Chieftain. I’m not sure if it’s called an Ottertail but it ain’t no Beavertail.

You’re more than welcome to try it in the Spring even though it may be short for you since it’s “only” 63 inches! It was one of Brian’s favorite paddles from Canoesport and he must be almost as tall as you.


Eaglet mass
Ask him what his Eaglet weighs, you will make him happy.

consider the proper length you will …
… want in an ottertail paddle , just in case you haven’t or aren’t aware .

The best way I can describe this is to pick up your favorite paddle (preferebly one with a traditional style top grip , say like a pear , etc.) .

Then note where your hands are when holding that paddle , this is where “you” hold a paddle . It is were “you” are most comfortable in distance spread (inches) between your hands .

How many inches is that ?? … alot depends on your arm length here . Maybe you are say 27" , or maybe you are 30" .

“I believe” , it is really best when you can grasp the shaft with your hand just above where the blade ends , staying close to it . In this way you add “your” grip spread from there . This gives you maximum leverage and most comfortable strokes .

Once you find an ottertail paddle , “remembering” that the blade is usually pretty long , for instance 28"-29" length blade , you will add to that the measurement you are most comfortable with on your favorite paddles … if you have longish arms and are say a 30" grip spread , then 28" (blade) + 30" (grip) = overall paddle length 58" . You wouldn’t want one shorter , but a little longer may be OK .

The longer blade of an ottertail goes deeper , So to have a “too short” shaft is just the opposite thing you want for the needed leverage . An extra inch of shaft is OK , but an inch too short really isn’t , it is always extra work on you and not really comfortable … so just saying , consider that when sizing up for an ottertail … I think it very important , especially with an ottertail , which if sized correctly for 'you" , will be a real treat to use !!

…and not all otters/beavers are alike…
A wide blade can work better, but it depends on the matching the shaft to one’s hand, shaft flexibility, …and the throat-blade design can help start the catch early or delay it…etc. I think it’s all in the relative “feel” to whatever the paddler’s physic is.

FE - I believe the difference is that an ottertail has its widest point higher up, in a shoulder. A willow would be very similar, but with the widest point in the middle and no defined shoulders. I’ve also heard “modified teardrop”. Of course the voyageur style is just a straight sided ottertail. There are some paddles on the west coast that acutally look like willow leaves, and are pointed at the tip. Most of these subtle variations are of no great consequence. I designed my own paddle and it has a long ottertail-type shape with soft shoulders and not much taper. It actually has more grip than most of my paddles, and I quite like it.

Center of pressure of the blade is also
a factor in how it feels in the water, not just the length or the width or total area.