Maine Canoe Poling

Joined
Jun 12, 2012
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3,670
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Appleton, Maine
While visiting my daughter here in Maine, she showed me this article in the local paper.

Up the creek with no paddle? Use a pole

Bob Holtzman | Courtesy of Bob Holtzman







Bob Holtzman | Courtesy of Bob Holtzman
Mike Patterson poles a canoe up and over a drop on the Passagassawakeag River during a recent canoe poling clinic.
Bob Holtzman | Courtesy of Bob Holtzman
Canoeist Cynthia Morgan shifts her weight and uses a setting pole as she descends a series of drops on the Marsh Stream during a recent canoe poling clinic.

Nine canoes gather above a series of drops in the river. In some of them are professional guides. In others, canoeists of varying experience. One is piloted by a young woman who has never been in a canoe on moving water before. The canoeists carefully scout a path through the rocks and rapids then, one by one, they descend the whitewater. The canoeists are all standing in their boats. None of them capsize.
None are holding paddles either. Instead, they grasp long “setting” poles — slender, 10- or 12-foot shafts of ash, tipped with a steel cap or “shoe” at one end. And they use those poles to pick their way through the rapids, pushing off against rocks, steering by sweeping the pole through the water — even stopping the canoe dead in the current by jamming the shoe against the river bottom while they ponder their next move.
“That’s a great thing about the pole,” says canoe guide Mike Patterson. “You can stop the canoe and give yourself time to reposition it.” Patterson was leading a two-day instructional clinic in canoe poling last weekend through Wilds of Maine Guide Service, the business he and his wife, Shauna, run out of Belfast. As a female poler, Shauna is proud to belong to the select group of “chicks with sticks.”
Poling, says Mike, has a long history in Maine, where early 20th-century lumber camps had to be provisioned by canoe. Paddling a loaded canoe against the current was often impossible, but pushing it upstream with a pole against the river bottom proved practical, and standing up was the only way to exert sufficient leverage. “Never stand up in a canoe” is a truism taught at many a summer camp to novice canoeists, but as the participants in Patterson’s clinic learned, it’s advice that can be safely ignored with a bit of training.
After launching the canoes on Saturday morning, the clinic began on a quiet stretch of Marsh Stream near Brooks, where Patterson showed us how and where to stand in the canoe, how to set the pole against the bottom to maneuver and how the pole can be almost as effective as a paddle in water that’s too deep to reach the bottom of with the pole.
Then the group proceeded downstream with Patterson leading the way. Over the first couple of miles, the stream presented a nice mix of learning opportunities: some stretches were deep and easy, where we swept the pole through the water much like a paddle. Other sections were shallow or narrow, where we had to maneuver constantly, setting the pole against the bottom to avoid rocks or stay in the channel. Eventually, the group was taking their canoes over drops of a foot or so with confidence, culminating in the close series of drops that descended some six feet along a 120-foot stretch of river.
Before tackling that challenge, we pulled the boats to shore, got out, and examined the run, with
Mike suggesting the most promising paths past the obstacles. Some of us were more than a little nervous, but the day’s earlier experience and Patterson’s training had prepared us well. Every canoeist made it through, upright and exuberant.
On Sunday, the group launched its canoes on the upper reaches of the Passagassawakeag River in Waldo and, at the first drop, Patterson demonstrated the pole’s capability for upstream travel. Facing upstream and carefully maintaining the a tight angle between the bow of his canoe and the current, Patterson — who is by no means a large man — showed how a canoe can ascend a foot-high drop against a rushing current. Several students attempted to duplicate the feat, but that proved to be beyond our novice technique, and each of us was pushed back.
The rest of the five-mile river trip did, however, test our strength and determination, as well as our setting skills. The river was low, and in some places the channel meandered aimlessly. In
sections where a canoe paddle wouldn’t have enough depth to work, the poles continued to see us through, allowing vigorous forward and steering thrusts in just inches of water. Even where there was no channel at all, we could force our way right over rocks by leaning hard on the poles. The plastic canoe hulls took a few scratches but didn’t complain.
Neither did the clinic participants. In two days we had learned a skill known to few canoeists, one that increases our ability to “paddle” narrow streams, pick our way safely through whitewater and one that, with more practice, will enable us to travel against currents that stop other canoeists dead in their tracks.
And that, according to Patterson, opens up the possibility of river travel without the canoeist’s perennial problem of arranging for a car shuttle between the put-in and the take-out. A canoeist can pole upstream in the morning and float downstream in the afternoon, ending the trip right where he or she left the car.












3.15.2013
 
Joined
Jan 8, 2014
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Minden, NV
Garret Conover has helped to make poling popular again. It has always been around in places like Maine and Labrador with shallow rocky rivers and streams. We don't see it much out here in the West on our big western rivers. They have either too much gradient or too few rocks for it to make sense.

I have an OT guide 18 with a flat bottom that is perfect for poling. I tried it on the Little Truckee River and it was a lot of fun. Part of the skills known by competent canoeists. It is a confidence builder to stand in a canoe for long periods of time for going either up or downstream. Poling or setting.
 
Joined
Sep 2, 2011
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6,392
Location
Raymond, ME
Garrett has done a lot but so have many others.. Notable the Cochranes..Warren and Chip.. and Harry Rock... nominated this year for an award from the ACA -Legends in Paddling.

Poling might come and go in other places but its always been popular here in Maine.. Too bad its not done more often in more places. The Everglades comes to mind as one of those ideal places..

I bet Lake Mead is NOT!! ;)
 
Joined
Jan 8, 2014
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Minden, NV
It is obvious that people like Yellowcanoe pay attention to poling. I am happy to hear of all the people involved in it in Maine. We used to spend time around Rangeley Lakes when I was younger. Lake Mead is not a canoeing destination. I live about 1/2 hour from Lake Tahoe. The Sierras are full of lakes and we have some really good canoeing rivers.
 
Joined
Sep 2, 2011
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Raymond, ME
If you are from Maine you really can't help but be acquainted with poling!!

I'd like to hear more about canoeing in the West.
 
Joined
Jul 11, 2013
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Boston Metro Northwest
Poled up the Passagassawakeag in 2007. It was pretty nice though we did more than was fun in a day. I'd love to go back and spend a few days poling up and down that stream.
 
Joined
Jan 8, 2014
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Minden, NV
Yellowcanoe,
It is a great experience to see how people do things in different parts of the country. I only paddled the Boundary Waters once, but was intrigued with all of the tradition. Portaging is a way of life there. I would go back to the North Woods just to hear the loons. We get a few migrant loons on some of our lakes here in the fall when they are coming through but usually not more than 2-3 of them at a time.

Western rivers tend to have high gradients in the mountains with some exceptions. They are best run with rafts, kayaks and driftboats. The best canoable rivers tend to be in the flatter country, but there are some with no dams for 100, 200, or more miles. It is very interesting to paddle rivers like the Green in Utah, the Missouri and the Yellowstone in Montana and read the journals of the early explorers like JW Powell and Lewis and Clark. You can camp in the same spots they did. There is still a lot wild country left in the West, and I am trying to get some more of it before I get too old.

We rarely portage on rivers, unless there is the rare dam or falls. Lining is pretty common. Supply points are often far apart and the boats tend to be big. It is fun share experiences. Let me know if I can answer any questions.

I just finished a week on the Willamette R in Oregon. Next up is the upper Sacramento R in CA during the king salmon run this fall.
 
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Joined
Aug 2, 2011
Messages
210
Location
Scituate, RI
Thanks for sharing that, Robin! Great article. I have not had any opportunity to do any poling this year, but the itch is on and my poles and MR Explorer are calling. Hmm...maybe a trip out to the Farmington is in order.
 
Joined
Jul 30, 2014
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A couple weekends ago, I tried poling for the first time. Paddled, dragged, waded, and poled through Merrymeeting Bay in Maine, to Brick Island for an overnight with a buddy (2 solo canoes).
The mud made it difficult to get the pole off of the bottom (quick, jerking motion), but I managed, and had a blast!! I am hooked...what a way to travel!

My next step will be to try and pole upstream on the Sheepscot River in Alna Maine. Yesterday the river was at 90 cfs (to run the downstream whitewater, a minimum of 280 cfs is required...90 may be too low to do anything but walk!), but the rain overnight shot it up to 1160 cfs. That means I'll be running the white stuff this evening, and the poling will have to wait.

best to all,
shanks
(formerly "easypaddler"...the name just didn't fit)
 

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Joined
Feb 14, 2013
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989
It's funny seeing the words "poling" and "popular" in the same sentence. ;)

There are actually a lot of rivers in the west that could be poled. It just hasn't caught on here. Big whitewater is the popular game here, and that is what everybody tends to gear up for. Poling gets you away from the crowd - but there aren't that many of us looking to escape the crowd to that degree. It also lets you play with the river more on lower class runs, but most people aren't looking for that either. Heck - when I paddle down the local rivers, it's unusual to see anyone who actually does more than follow the current. It's really not a matter of lacking suitability, IMO - it's lacking interest.
 
Joined
Feb 3, 2015
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19
Location
Guelph, Ontario, Canada
I am a dedicated poler and quite literally the only one around my part of Southern Ontario. I have made it my mission to get people poling here. In the summer there is no paddle depth water in so many rivers, so people travel or go the same boring routes. I have a couple of private rivers for about 6 months of the year (one two blocks away) which are plenty of challenge with going upstream and running the high speed slalom between rocks and sweepers on the way down. I have an almost infinite supply of challenges and chances of new routes to discover. Every creek that will float a boat is mystery waiting and you don't need a shuttle!!! I have a few converts in the local canoe club and hope for more this year with another day session planned with poles included. As to the article at the beginning... I made the pilgrimage to Maine three years ago to spend the week with Mike Patterson. You haven't lived until you've seen someone pole class IV. For me the best part was seeing what could be done.
Second best part.... poling small fast rivers in Maine!
 
Joined
Mar 20, 2013
Messages
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I'm not a dedicated poler, but like to use that technique quite a bit, especially during moose hunting season to have a better field of view, and to access some area that would be hard other wise. I'm planning to make a new sets(one for me and one for a buddy) they will be 2 pieces wood pole made of sitka spruce.
So I'm not a sport poler, more of a classic or traditional poler if there is such a thing. I'm not really pretty to look at, but working on it. I'm pretty much the only one I know up here that does it!!
 
Joined
Mar 6, 2015
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Wisht I knew about this forum before. For grins, last summer I did a fundraiser and actually raised over $3K. I paddled/poled 400 km upstream from the head of tide on the Penobscot (in Maine) up to the headwaters of the West Branch Mattawamkeag. 11 days, 6 hr, 10 minutes. Right up there with one of the best trips of my life. Anyone going to the Wilderness Paddlers Gathering in Fairlee VT 3/14/15 will hear me talk about it.
 
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