Poling up Rapids

Saturday was a nice day to be on the river and I had fun doing half the Monocacy Canoe Club’s trip on the Rappahanock. I left from the take-out, polling by myself, met the MCC group at the lunch stop, and paddled back with the group.

I had a tough time getting up Class II rapids above Kelly’s Ford on the Rappahanock. In particular, I found it challenging to make the pole find purchase on the bottom. The pole was hitting on large flat boulders where it would not get much of a bite. Sometimes, all I seemed able to do was float backwards with the pole deployed and scratching along the rock bottom until it found a crack or a vertical surface. I was using the aluminum pole and waving it around across the bottom looking for places it would bite. Sometimes the purchase was tentative, and as I’d push and decrease the angle of the pole in relation to the water, the pole would lose its grip.

The other problem I had was finding crevices that would bind the pole. I only outright lost the pole to the river bottom once, but I was regularly abandoning my pole plants when I’d feel the rocks beginning to pinch the pole.

I was thinking that this is probably the way many rapids are. Most have rocks, and the higher the class, probably the larger the rocks, and the harder to obtain a good pole plant.

I’d appreciate any thoughts or advice on how to overcome scarce pole purchases in rapids.

~~Chip Walsh, Gambrills, MD

Me too!
I’ve got no advice Chip. Smooth rock or concrete is a bugger.

I do notice the ACA guys carry a minimum of two poles when they race. If you are out by yourself that second pole is handy to get you back up to the one you left pinned in the rock.

Harry Rock poles up easy class III. I feel pretty manly if I get up a more difficult class II pitch.


It’s kind of like climbing rock faces.
Your problem is to find purchase, and often you can’t use your eyes.

I use an old Beletz aluminum pole, and the bite of aluminum is pretty good compared to alternatives.

Good point, or …
not point, I should say. My aluminum pole (from Ed Hayen) has derlon plugs and a steel rod “point” on the ends. The steel rod is quite rounded. I wonder if I could somehow fit it with aluminum, since aluminum canoes were famous for sticking on rocks, not sliding over. Maybe a thin strip of aluminum flashing coiled a few times around the rod could improve the grip.

But, it seems like there’s probably no magic bullet. Maybe that is just the nature of poling in rapids, at least if they are like those on the Rap. Hopefully, I’ll get more skilled at it. I’m thinking a really good poler could just push right up those tonges. But I’d get to the end of the pole, and only be half way up. Then I’d try to grab a new pole plant, strike smooth rock, and start backing down the tongue. The pole would finally catch about in the same spot as it last caught, and I’d repeat the scenario. Maybe I just need to be stronger, get enough momentum out of the one good push to make it up the tongue.

Interesting point about the ability of aluminum to bite rock. I might have to try it! Thanks.


I don’t have a suitable canoe
for poling, but the idea intrigues me. What are the dimensions of the pole? I have a pile of aluminum tubing in the shed from my old ham radio antennae building days. Various lengths, diameters and wall thicknesses. I’d like to hang on to any that would be useful as a “pole”. Thanks

12’ x 1.125" O.D. - .056" wall
the 6063 that Texas Towers sells for ham radio antenas works pretty well.



Not going the poling route
but Texas Towers is a fine source of aluminum sizes that nest well! I feel some high quality tarp poles are in order!

Thanks for the link Tommy!


(today I plan on using exclaimation points as often as Clif Jacobson)


T20 aircraft tubing
No set rule on dimensions, whatever works and is comfortable for you. Most common dimensions are from an inch and an eigth to an inch and a half. If you think you will be in rapids, the narrower end of the range is easier to use because there is less for the current to grab, i.e., easier for you to put it where you want.

Twelve foot is the most common length and a good place to start. I have heard of poles ranging from 14’ down to 9’.

I do not know the wall thickness of my aluminum pole, but I do know it is specified as T20. I’d say that is something less than an eighth inch, maybe a sixteenth.

Many people use closet dowels, which they have at my Home Depot in lengths 12 foot and up. I believe these are 1.25"D.

If you decide to do it, you will face the same issue most of the polers who post here faced and still face, which is a lack of training / instruction. You maybe could find Harry Rock’s book on poling on ebay…I think it is out of print. Somebody loaned me a copy and it was useful to at least read about technique. But among the midAtlantic polers I have met, we are all home schooled and just figuring out what works as we go along.

I will say that I love poling because it has opened up a whole new avenue of ways to enjoy being on the water. And when you are learning, whole new ways to end up in the water! :slight_smile: Go get some tubing out of the shed and give it a shot. I think you are going to like it. BTW, don’t start off trying to teach yourself in rapids. Stillwater first, then in current, then rapids.

~~Chip Walsh, Gambrills, MD

Can I make Ferrules out of this stuff
Hey Tommy,

One of my winter projects is to build a two-piece Greenland Paddle. A design constraint I have been working under is that the ferrules I can buy are all narrower than the loom (center shaft) of the paddle. ID on commercial ferrules is about 1.12, with OD of about 1.25, and my preferred loom has a 1.5 diameter and is actually a little off-round.

Do these tubes telescope such that I could make my own ferrule with a larger diameter?


I’ve got 1.125", 1.25", 1.375" and 1.5" tubes I bought to make masts. Figure the wall is .056 so the I.D. would be the O.D. - 0.112 (2 x .056) which leaves 0.013" (0.125 - 0.112)slop.

If I push to one side I can see a bit of a gap between the inner and outer tube. It looks, to my uncalibrated eye, to be greater than 0.013".

I’d call it a loose slip fit.

I don’t know if that would be too sloppy for a ferrule or not.

I do know that Fred K, aka Ravens Jester, who put up the home depot pole page, has used this stuff to make a two piece pole that he is happy with.


This may help…
1. Get rid of the steel tips. They’re only good for sand and gravel bottoms and totally useless on flat rocks (as you have discovered).

2. Buy some plasti-grip at your local hardware store. It’s used for providing grip and electrical insulation on tool handles. It comes in a yellow can and a choice of colors (blue, red, yellow, white, black).

3. After reading (and following) directions dip the pole ends into the goo, let dry and repeat the process until you deem the coatings thick enough to withstand the abuse you’re about to put it through. Do this at least 24 to 48 hours before you plan to use it for complete curing.

4. Once cured rough up the plastic surfaces that will be making contact with the rocks by using heavy grit sandpaper just to the point of getting the suface gnarly.

This will improve the bite of your pole on large-rock river bottoms better than anything else I know of. It also dampens the metallic “tink” of the metal pole making contact with a rocky surface. The noise reduction also helps helps when poling close to your favorite fishin’ hole.

BTW… Why are you using metal instead of wood or fiberglass?

Living in Central Florida (aka, Lightning Alley) all the polers I know use resin-coated wooden dowels or fiberglass push-poles because no one around these parts wants a lightning rod either in or around their canoe when caught in a thunderstorm.

Besides, wood is quieter, feels warmer in your hands in cold weather and cooler in hot weather than metal.

If you’re feeling artistic you can paint it with your own signature design, allow to dry, then resin coat it. Polers here know what pole belongs to who just by the artwork, making it easier to track down if stolen, especially when thieves spray paint the pole to cover up their misdeeds, not the difference between painted over raw wood and painted over resin).

Finally, it only costs $25.00 to replace if you don’t mind using a bare wood pole.

Good tip, Gulfcoaster
The first pole I got had a steel tip, and I added them to the two poles I made. They are common in this area.

I used a pole like the alum. one shown here:


Just looking at the Raystown pics, I notice some of the p-netters don’t use the stud tips. Topher’s CF pole looks to have a blunt tip of alum or soft metal. Another fella’s was copper, also a soft metal.


The aluminum pole works best for that rapid. It is a bit thinner, and therefore easier to get down in the water where current is trying to sweep it away. My next stiffest pole is FG reinforced wood , is fatter, and weighs twice as much. When I was battling to control the boat under me and make it go where the current didn’t want it to go, I found the stiffer pole more effective. My light wood pole bent so much that by the time I am getting some force on the pole, I already lost control.

I love the plasti-grip idea and plan to try it out. Thanks for posting.


Before you dip, Chip
You might want to try removing the steel bolt and cutting the delrin plug flush with the end of the tube.

I’ll bet the aluminum pole will grip the rock better than most anything you can coat it with. I’ll bet it will last longer too.

Gulfcoater you are right about one thing. An aluminum pole will scare off the fish something awful!

I’ve yet to find anything that comes close for light weight, strength, stiffness and spring. That’s what I want for pushing up rapids.


Thanks for the advice on poles and
Poling. I’m thinking that it looks like fun and is an alternative to those damned shuttle trips. I’ve met one guy poling up the river in the Ozarks. He was using a kayak paddle for his pole! He seemed to be having a great time. I am going to reserve a weekend this summer to attempt poling a stretch of the upper Current river here in MO. My MR Guide is not a bonafied poling boat but it will be hot, the water shallow and getting wet should be fun.

Another suggestion
When going upstream, besides the problem of finding a surface the pole would grip on, I think the bigger problem is the angle of the pole as you power upstream. As you climb the pole, the angle generally decreases, allowing the tip to slip back. I found that if I used shorter strokes (just quickly jabbing at the bottom on either side of the canoe), I had better luck at steady progress. If I found a good bite, I would climb the pole to get more progress out of the stroke, but I’d always be ready to start jackhammering again on my next purchase. This maintained a greater angle and a lot less slip, even on large slabs. Not fast, but steady progress.

Later, when reading the old poling book written by the Beletz Brothers, I found they discussed the same technique.

BTW, I also have an Ed Hayden pole, which I use more for upstream work. I keep a spruce pole in reserve.