Poling in sand?

I want to try poling this summer after the river drops some but alot of the info I’ve seen talks about rocky bottoms. Don’t have much of that around here and the particular stretch I have in mind is all sand. ALL sand, bedrock is a couple hundred feet down. So I’m wondering how the traditional Lowe’s closet rod pole would work in that situation. Is the pole going to get stuck with every push? I was wondering if a capped PVC pipe would work better in that I could get it in a larger diameter which would have a larger footprint? Is PVC too flexible or will it just break in half?

There is a stretch near my house that has an almost unbroken line of long sandbars on alternating sides of the river. I pull my canoe by a painter and walk in the shallows to the end of the sandbar then paddle across to the next one, get out and repeat the process. Head upstream for four hours then turn around and paddle back in an hour and a half. I think Poling would be musch easier and I’m less liking to be attacked by things lurking in the sand wielding broken beer bottles.

It sounds like your current will be minimal.

If you are not pushing up against current the only objection to PVC that I have is the weight.

People put all sorts of feet on their poles to deal with mud and sand.

I bought a spring loaded duck foot from Cabelas.

Fluke made a sand foot from a piece of plywood.

Home Depot Pole should work OK
That pole generally is a bit wider than the aluminum poles a lot of us use for upstream work. So long as the sand is fairly firm (if it is firm to walk on as opposed to a bit squoogy it is firm enough) you will find that a pole will only sink an inch or two into the sand, and that is fine for poling. If the sand takes on more of a muddy consistency (commonly on the inside bends of a river) the pole can sink more and stick, potentially stopping you or yanking you backwards out of the boat if you’re not expecting it. If that is the case, just attach some type of ducks bill or crows bill foot on the pole to increase it’s cross section and to prevent it’s sinking.


Sandy poles
We have a stretch of river just north of here that has a lot of submerged sand bars where it transitions into a reservoir. I’ve pole up from there a few times, with wood and aluminum poles in the “standard configuration”.

You can use a plain pole in sand, but it will be different from everything else. Everywhere there is an eddy, the sand will be very soft and will devour your pole. The rest of the time, the pole sinks in anywhere from an inch to several inches. You learn to get a feel for which it will be very quickly, and adjust your power accordingly. Fortunately, it turns out that where the river deposits sand, the current either isn’t pushy or is going sorta the way you want to go - so you don’t have to push hard off the bottom.

You do have to resist pushing off in the eddies, because the pole sticks easy there - right when you are accelerating upstream. It’s a good environment for practicing pole recovery (and a few other things), since the current isn’t strong. :wink:

Just as it does in mud - if your pole starts to stick in the sand, it helps to give the pole a slight twist to break the suction as you lift it smartly.

I have considered adding a clamp-on “duck foot” for that kind of stuff, but the added weight and bulk wouldn’t be worth it in the long run for me - especially considering that I will pass the sand zone and get back to mostly gravel bottom. But if your river is entirely of that construction, it may be worth it for you.

I wouldn’t bother with the PVC pipe. In order for you to get it stiff enough to work well, the diameter will have to be too large for anyone without hands like a gorilla.

Another Thing

– Last Updated: Apr-20-11 2:40 PM EST –

My local river(s) are mostly sand bottoms and I use an aluminum pole. As stated you will get the feel for it as you practice more. I also have found over the years if I put the pole at more of an angle, lower towards the gunwale and start my push the pole doesn't sink in as much and I don't have to twist it or yank it out as much. Granted I may not get as strong a push using this but I can replant faster if I don't have to struggle as much, give up one thing to get another! A weaker push vs faster replants and pushes.

Also, I have tried those feet in the past but I really don't like the added weight and my luck is such that I've spent enough time looking for where they slide off into the water that I view them as a PITA.

Pretty much my look at poling and paddling is whatever technique works for you is the one that you'll keep working on/with!


I hadn’t seen the spring loaded foot before. I thought about adding something like that but thought it would make it awkward to use. It does open up possibilities for another area I go that is very marshy/muddy bottom.

I want to start with a wooden pole to see if what I want to do is feasible, if it works out I’ll upgrade later. It sounds like the place I have in mind may be the worst scenario, there is a good current in the river but around the sandbars it drops off and there are eddies. The sand is firm enough to walk on but not firm enough to stand still on. Guess I’ll wear swim trunks to start and my wife will be in her yak as a chase boat.

One more question, Haven’t found a 12 foot pole yet but there are several places to get a 10. I guess the ten would be enough to see if it works but is it to short to really be practical? If it matters I’m 5’11" and will be in a 36" wide canoe. Should I hold out and keep looking for a 12’?

how deeps the water?
if the water stays real shallow, say 18" or less, and current minimal, you’d probably get away with a 10’, but would be at the end of the pole a lot I’m thinking. I started with a 1.5" x 11’ closet rod, and it was okay, even in our deeper water, but gave it to my son when I found a 12’ length. The 1.5" diameter has worked well in my limited exposure to sand. I just use end gaps which broaden the footprint. Makes for a good fast water snubbing pole as well.

I’d say less than 18" in close to the bars definitely, but then I’d have to paddle across the main stream to get to the next sandbar anyway. If a 10’ is even fair to middlin usable I’ll pick one up and keep looking for a 12.

sounds like a plan
useful tool in a canoe no matter what the length. Have fun.

I just used copper end caps (plumbing dept local hardware store) and glued or epoxied them in. They wore out after awhile (I’m in 99.9% granite infested waters) but were cheap and easy to replace. My kid broke his pole a few years back, but mine still supplements my 2 1.5" aluminum mega poles and half a dozen I bought from Ed Hayden.

Sand Poling
Some sand is very firm and a joy to pole in. I have never encountered sand that was so soft I got the pole stuck very hard–that is the realm for tidal marsh mud. In mud, I have had the pole stick with so much resistance that it stopped me dead when I tried to retrieve the pole. Others have suggested twisting the pole as you extract, and this is helpful. I would add that as you get towards the end of the pole-push, wave the pole back and forth, side-to-side and up-down, a few times, and then twist as you extract.

I’d go for at least 12’ of pole. One reason is you want to paddle (kayak style) with the pole as you cross the deeper sections between the sandbars, and if you have only a 10’ pole there won’t be much pole in the water. If you don’t have overhead limbs and branches to worry about, I’d consider a longer pole, but 12’ is a good practical size. If you can’t find a 12’ pole, you could buy a ferrule and build a two-piece pole out of two 6’ sections. Get the type ferrule that are made from telescoping tube sections not the stainless ferrule that has a graduated reduction for the male piece. You need tube-end square on tube-end or when you push you will jam the ferrules together and wreck them. The Carbon Fiber ferrules work nicely.

If you know you will use this pole in sand, you can fit the end of the tube with a sleeve/collar of pvc so that there is a bit more surface area to go against the sand. There are several limitations with this treatment if used on rocky bottoms, so don’t do it if you are going to use the pole other places. You also don’t need the dowell-bolt on the bottom for sand.

In mud I’ve tried the duck bill foot from BassPro Outdoors. It works after a fashion but is more trouble than it is worth. If the bottom is that muddy, you are better off just paddling. It might work better in sand. Mud is so clinging that the foot doesn’t work well. The mud doesn’t release. Sand might release better.