By mid-summer on the prairies, most people consider river paddling to be finished. The water levels on the rivers have dropped to a point that even getting the tip of a wide white-water blade in the water is not possible and it is just no fun or interesting. This is the time of year that poling comes into its own by opening up exploration possibilities and providing an opportunity to see the rivers and creeks that were once full of squirt boats, play kayaks, and tubes in a whole new light.
I live in an area where poling is not part of the cultural heritage so when I say that I was out poling for the weekend at best I get questioning looks, at worst … you can only imagine. Poling is simply a way to get about in a canoe when the water levels are low on the river, lake, or marsh. It involves standing in a canoe and shoving yourself around with a long pole. I mostly use a 12foot (3.6m), 1.25 inch (3.2cm), wooden pole made of spruce, or ash with a metal cap and central pin. I have much lighter aluminum or carbon two-piece poles for when the wood is just too heavy or fragile, but I like the warmth and subtle flex of wood. When I am working or exploring marshy or mud bottom places, I add a marsh or crow’s foot – these are heavier but make getting around in soft bottom places easier. The canoe, for me, a 16-foot BlueWater, is what I have rather than what is ‘best’ – there are lots of opinions on what is best. A larger canoe with a relatively wide flat bottom makes for a good platform when beginning.
Poling does more than just extend the period when I can access waterways. Standing in the canoe provides a significantly better view of whether I am shooting white-water or traversing a marsh filled with tall cattails. It opens up the opportunity for exploring upstream where there is no option for a car shuttle. The use of a pole provides significant control when descending moving water (snubbing) – imagine being able to stop mid-current, and even backup, to have a look around. A simple internet search returns examples of Poling in larger pushy rapids – exciting but out of the realm of possibility for many of us; poling is an option any time shallow water makes you consider stepping out to line or walk.
The Paddle Canada canoeing program includes poling courses including a basic introduction to advanced skills, with instruction opportunities in most provinces.
To conclude: A relaxing video of Poling on the Whitemouth River https://youtu.be/0KZ54u1okPc
Written by Charles Burchill Paddle Canada Pole, Style and Lake Canoe Instructor
Published in Kanawa, Spring 2020