Poling a Canoe

Has anyone poled a canoe? Pros? Cons? Techniques?

You’re in poling central
You should be able to find locals who are able to give you one on one instruction.

Google Harry Rock, Chip Cochrane.

Pros? More fun with canoes in more places. Less addiction to shuttles.

Cons? None that an able-bodied canoeist can’t learn to deal with.

Do it
I bought a 10’ closet rod from Lowe’s. that’s too short for real poling but I use it while kneeling.

I use it on sandy bottom creek which go from shallow to deep. I was worried about the pole sticking in the sand but that’s a non-issue. Surprisingly the pole makes a very effective paddle at 1 1/2" by 6-7’ in the water.

I can move quicker when In 4-6" of water than using the tip of the paddle. I like it for river cleanups as it makes the canoe more manuverable particularly against the current, including able to stop on a dime and hold position.

Old school technique is good for balance. Going up rapids teaches a lot about moving water. Make a pole, you do not need anything fancy.

Poling’s Not Hard
Just takes a lot of practice and a sense of balance. Been doing it for years now, not the best but can hold my own. I find snubbing, going downstream with a pole, much harder then going upstream but that is me.

From my experience I generally have my calves near or against the seat, I paddle most of my boats from the front seat. I like to keep the bow a little light so by keeping weight back that works.

Working the pole with the water is just nothing more then getting out there and doing it and finding your own way of doing it. See if you can hook with some others in your area as you are in prime country for poling.


Mike Patterson
Wilds of Maine holds poling clinics each spring

At the Maine Canoe Symposium starting tomorrow there will be a dozen poling clinics

So go to Bridgton. You do not need gear. Learn from Harry Rock or Lisa de Hart or Kevin Silliker.

There are various poling styles.

I love poling

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I have pretty much quit paddling except when levels arehigh. Pros...no shuttle, playing in the rapids is such a blast, constant strategy, constant thought processes, semi constant mess ups keeping me laughing, swearing, and humbled. Better viewpoint standing, poling has helped me find new lines down rivers when it's paddle time. Knees are happier. Awesome whole body workout. The chicks dig it.
Cons....that dreaded cross chest stuck pole whilst snubbing.
Techniques... I learned a bunch by going on the ACA cruises and watching Harry, Ed, Fred, Marshall and Chris. Not going into detail, but pole "angle of attack" is important..ish. In the end, I find poling epitomizes the "messing about in boats" philosophy that is what makeslife so enjoyable.

What books are available on poling?
I learned from the old Beletz book, which must be long out of print, but it covered a wide range of techniques still in use. My aluminum pole was sold to me by Beletz. Now one orders them from the Hayden bros.

couple links

– Last Updated: Jun-05-15 11:08 PM EST –

First my buddy Freds home depot beginner pole

Harry's book (there's a dvd as well)

schedule of cruises/races. Nat'l's are on now. Most of the season is gone, cruisewise. A few get togethers left. I love New Boston in Oct. though it's dropped down to, crap, think it was me ,Fred and Chris last year. Marshall gets a good group for the New Hampshire stuff.

A book by Harry Rock would be the
best way to start for anyone who does not have access to a “live” clinic.

Other info
I’m sure the info sources listed above are great and more recent, but there is also poling info in the old American Red Cross manual “Canoeing” and Garrett Conover’s book “Beyond the Paddle”. There is also a book that I have and can’t locate right now called “Pole, Paddle, and Portage” that covers poling techniques.

People have been poling canoes for a very long time and I’m pretty sure it hasn’t changed or improved radically in the last fifty years, so old info is still good info. The Red Cross manual at least was printed in large quantities and in several additions and therefore might be more readily obtained through local libraries or used book stores than more recent writings. Just a thought.

Well, it had changed a lot by around
1974, when the Beletz brothers published “Canoe Poling” and showed how light T6061 aluminum poles allowed new “strokes” and pokes that were either clumsy or impossible with traditional wooden poles.

“Pole, Paddle, and Portage” (1969) was by Maine Guide Bill Riviere, and his description of poling method covers none of the new methods described by the Beletz’s. Neither are the new poles and methods covered in my 1956 American Red Cross “Canoeing”.

I’d have to be careful about whether even newer methods and materials have not appeared since I got to be a class 2 poler in the 70’s. I’m hoping to find a source for a titanium pole. It is the light weight, high strength, and flexibility of the “new” metal poles that has enabled faster, crazier “pokes” and strokes.

Mike Patterson was, I believe, one of
the Maine Guides who led us down the San Juan canyons in 1999. Mike and Larry showed off by running class 2++ Government Rapids standing up, balancing with their poles over canoes packed full of gear.

Couple of poling videos

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from Daggermat’s home river the Farmingington back in 2009. I was still pretty new to poling back then:


Can’t believe 1500 people have watched that video. This was the same day - just make sure you don’t do this:


We fished that boat off the rock the next day, Joe gave it a stomp, and it popped right back into shape.

good luck with the ti
looking through a few metal suppliers, I’m seeing either no availability or unique sizes. Closest to ideal was 1.5" O.D. with a .035 wall, my local supplier who I have an acct. with has nothing…shipping 12’ lengths would be expensive as well. Got Rob Haydens site here.


I bought half a dozen or so poles from Ed Hayden, who was the glue that held us polers together. He used to love my son and gave Aaron deals, so it was “Hey Ed, I’m all set, but Aaron needs a couple more poles” a few times.

Freds 2 piece aluminum blog…


Lovely thing about poling…looked at the USGS gages…the rivers are too low to paddle, perfect for poling. Got my “student” and a day on the rio coming up in a couple hours. Time to "mess about in boats

" while my whitewater kayaking friends go drive for hours chasing that latest dam release lol.

Just do it
If you want to learn to pole, stand up in your canoe and start pushing.

Books and videos? Meh.

Other folks to pole with will teach you plenty.

But mostly JUST DO IT!