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Why and Where do you pole?

Glenn MacGrady

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Here's one for you. Carp and Ethan and me after we held a poling clinic for NFCT. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GW0sRt_olM8 Mostly it's Carp showing us all how it's done.

Thanks, that was entertaining.

Good ole Mad River Explorer, my first real canoe.

I used to pole it with my three-way propulsion set that I designed and Carlisle Paddles made for me. There were two canoe paddles that you could pop-button the grips off. Then I had oar handles that could pop-button onto the canoe blades to make six foot oars. Then I had a long center piece made that would become a 12' pole when the oar handles were pop-buttoned on each end of the center piece.
 
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When I first met Carp he was a doughboy, 2003?. Now he is probably the strongest and best poler I know. I think mostly because he embraced it like no one else. He sure makes it look easy!
 
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I have owned an OT Guide 18 for many years. I was reading Garret Conover one night and the light came on. This boat was made for poling. Flat bottom, beamy and long.
I took it the local reservoir and paddled over to the inlet for the LIttle Truckee River. It was a big rock garden with around 400 cfs, not too much gradient. I had a blast and think that I could now pole for real, but on big western rivers it is mostly all down hill with no portages.
 
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I love polling, but don't do it often enough, and so I'm not really good at it, but I really enjoy it! I would love to find a longer, flatter bottom, beamier canoe to try out. I love going up streams and sloughs wile hunting moose poling and having that much more vison.
 
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So this is a late addition, but I haven't logged in for a while. New YouTube channel up as of New Year's Eve https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHq9zG2HFxeA6EAD6e1jz3Q/featured

Any comments appreciated, subscriptions help and more content to come. A companion website to promote canoe poling is forthcoming and everybody should give it a try. Paddle Canada, A.C.A. and British Canoe teach it and a books are out there.
 
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Previously, the only "poling" I did was with a paddle. If I'd get grounded on a sandbar or rock, I'd push off with the paddle.
On the flatwater sections of the Green and Colorado, during high water, you can paddle up side canyons. They get very shallow and narrow and often require using something to push yourself forward or away from the side. I've always used my paddle, but I'm thinking of taking a walking cane on my next trip. The length is adjustable and the T grip lets you exert a lot of push. Obviously it wouldn't work in deep water. A cane would also come in handy on hikes and lining your canoe.
 
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We have an assortment of “push poles” for the shove action Savant describes. Five foot and six foot poles; unlike a 12’ long setting pole they fit easily in the canoe, and make fine hiking staffs or even spare tarp poles.

They have tee grips (sideways dowels) or duckheads epoxied on, the tee or duck’s bill is handy for grabbing a friend’s gunwale when pausing to muckle up while afloat or for grabbing a tree branch in the canoe or in camp.

PC261477 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

Different shoes; caps, gridded pegs, even a “Coots foot” for use in muddy bottomed swamps.

PC261479 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

As someone who doesn’t stand and pole I appreciate that they fit easily in the canoe, or on the spray decks, even when carrying multiple paddle and a sail.

IMG020 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr
 
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Some poling photos from a 10 year old SD card I recently found.

I don’t stand and pole, but an odd lot of canoeing companions do. Accent on the “odd”; sometimes more than just the standing part.

Gunwale stands; I’m still unsure how they get both feet up there at once, it is like some gravity-defying skateboarder trick.

IMG021 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

Or sillier stuff, of even less practical use. I doubt this is demonstrated at a poling symposium.

EK_0021 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

I became familiar with the term “Aggressive step-out”, and am told that if your head isn’t wet it is still considered a “step out”. Such step outs are easily blamed on Mobey the dog, who I will note is still inside the canoe, and dry. Mobey was a barking PITA at times, but he loved to play fetch in rapids, and learned to work upstream ferry angles, ruddering with his tail. Mobey may have read water better than his human.

IMG004 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

There is a back story to that Tom “step out”. Tom was poling sweep on a group trip. Just downstream of some bouncy water the group took a shore break. Standing beside our canoes on the bank Tom poled into view and got his camera out to take a photo of us, leaning his Explorer on edge to turn it and better frame the shot.

Someone said “Wow, he’s really good”. Seconds later Tom was wet from the waist down, so technically just an aggressive step out.

Tom’s new, expensive, not-waterproof camera did not survive. The SD card did, and the three photos Tom took told the tale. The first featured a horizontal horizon, the second a slanted horizon and the third a blurry, near vertical horizon. Video would have been so much better.

Some dogs, and some polers, are better balanced than others. Mollie and Ruthie for example; those two had more canoe time than most paddlers.

IMG018 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

Poling on frigid snowy days to me seems fraught with chilly peril, but then I rarely stand up in current, even in the best of weather. Low water winter saw a lot of small stream poling trips.

FH000006 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

On group river trips poling companions were usually snubbing downstream in paddler accompaniment, where standing tall gives them a better view of the rocks and shallows ahead.

IMG000 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

Closet rod pole, one of ours I believe, with a black band painted on at the center balance point.

IMG001 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

I may not be standing tall, but poles are fun and easy to make. My sons occasionally pole, and our Texas Towers button clip take-apart aluminum pole has an attachable paddle blade and tee grip to serve as a stand up paddle.

DSCF1997 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

DSCF1972 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

Unlike wood poles aluminum will sink, so I stuffed the aluminum tubes with split foam pipe insulation.

DSCF1995 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

The soloized Penobscot makes a decent poling canoe.

IMG004 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

The shallow vee bottom of the soloized Explorer may be better suited to poling.

IMG005 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

Even on downstream trips poler companions will pause at small rapids for some upstream play.

IMG015 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

Fun to sit and watch, especially the occasional “Oh shit” moments. Tom again, experiencing an abrupt, unintended, radical left turn near the top of that rapid.

IMG018 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

Some poler friends seemingly refuse to take a seat, even when it is the wisest course of action. “Tom” and “wise” are rarely used in the same sentence.

IMG021 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

I am a dedicated sitter, but it is fun to look downstream and see a poling contingent standing tall ahead.

IMG022 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

IMG003 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

My favorite after-the-fall poling photo is poler extraordinaire Doug, taken mere minutes after he proudly intoned for all to hear “I haven't swum in fifteen years”.

IMG022 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

I believe he is indicating “I’m number one”. Still smiling though
 
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Gunwale Dancing is what we called when the Thursday Night Canoe Club paddled regularly. I tried jumping from the bottom of the boat to the gunwales but only succeeded in smashing my shins on the yoke! I was a bit luckier at doing the Rock-O-Copter though.
 

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We have an assortment of “push poles” for the shove action Savant describes. Five foot and six foot poles; unlike a 12’ long setting pole they fit easily in the canoe, and make fine hiking staffs or even spare tarp poles.

They have tee grips (sideways dowels) or duckheads epoxied on, the tee or duck’s bill is handy for grabbing a friend’s gunwale when pausing to muckle up while afloat or for grabbing a tree branch in the canoe or in camp.

PC261477 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

Different shoes; caps, gridded pegs, even a “Coots foot” for use in muddy bottomed swamps.

PC261479 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr

As someone who doesn’t stand and pole I appreciate that they fit easily in the canoe, or on the spray decks, even when carrying multiple paddle and a sail.

IMG020 by Mike McCrea, on Flickr


I've never seen anything quite like those poles! They're beautiful. Wow.😲 Very nice!

I usually paddle. I have polled, though, through swamps/wetlands. Just not habitually/typically.
 
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Riverguy, for soft bottomed swamps and marshes the Coot’s Foot end is very effective on a push pole. We had a spring loaded “Duck’s Bill” mud bottom pole end as well, but I found it less effective and more difficult to extract from a mud bottom that the rigid plastic Coot’s Foot.

https://www.academy.com/shop/pdp/o-h-mfg-duck-bill-push-pole

A broad plastic push pole foot would be easy enough to DIY. I kind of wish that one had more of a tee or boat hook on one side for grabbing things.

https://www.amazon.com/Boat-Accessories-Motorboat-Extension-Telescoping/dp/B07X3K5QD1
 
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Gunwale Dancing is what we called when the Thursday Night Canoe Club paddled regularly. I tried jumping from the bottom of the boat to the gunwales but only succeeded in smashing my shins on the yoke! I was a bit luckier at doing the Rock-O-Copter though.
I am so envious that you have a poling community. Keep it going! :)
 
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I am so envious that you have a poling community. Keep it going!

Steve, good to see you posting here.

I didn’t keep it going. I burned out on organizing (I won’t say “leading”) trips. I had become increasingly selective about who, and how many, over time largely eliminating the “noise” of novice “Where are we?” and “How far do we have to go?” questions, despite giving everyone a mileage marked handout map at the put in.

BTW, the answer to those questions, no matter where you are, is “Couple of hours” and “Couple of miles”. Same answer even if they ask again later. Same answer if the take out is just around the next bend. Stop asking.

I’d had enough. 30 years of monthly scheduled group/club paddling invites, 900+ different people over the course of years. 40+ dogs. The spreadsheet got so unwieldy along the 400 trip X axis I stopped keeping track at 860 people and 36 dogs. And one cat.

I haven’t had poling companions along in some years. Nor many companions. If I lost a finger in a saw accident I could still honestly say “There’s only a handful of people I want to paddle with”.

I don’t know if that is a bad thing. I haven’t had a trip go sideways in a decade or more.
 
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