Friday, March 30, 2012

Poling the Flats (and the River)

As I discussed in my last post, I now own a great set of canoe stabilizers.  Fishing with kids, paddling with dogs, and standing to cast, promised to be much safer and easier.  I can paddle, or motor, to the fishing grounds, deploy the stabilizers, stand and cast.  But if I really wanted to pretend to be a Pennsylvania flats fisherman, I was going to need a pole.  

After some research, I decided several hundred dollars for a graphite pole was out of the question.  Returning to my simple and cheap mantra, I considered a wooden closet rod, from the hardware store, but I kept picturing my capable Belizean flats guide Severo Guerrero, poling his Panga through the flats with a mangrove pole.  Surely natural would be better, and cheaper.  

Ace guide Severo poles the flats in Belize

Then I found a great video and instructional article on poling a canoe on the river.  

That video featured a bamboo pole and an impressive amount of poling through shallow riffles as well as flat water.  It dawned on me that I had a friend with an impressive stand of bamboo.  One phone call and one ten minute trip later, I had a 12 foot and a 14 foot pole at my disposal - no charge.

Poling is an under practiced and under-appreciated skill on the river these days.  As we ferry vehicles to our downstream take out locations, it is easy to forget that for most of the long history of river canoeing, a downstream trip would have, more than likely, necessitated an upstream trip.  In the shallow wide rivers common to the Appalachian Region, poling upstream would have been a necessity.

At this point, my poling adventures have be limited to flat water with my stabilizers deployed, which has gone quite well.  Standing while navigating shallow lake waters, dramatically improves your view of the lake bottom and fishy targets.  Poling is clearly an acquired skill, but after an hour or two of practice, I was already feeling more confident in steering the path of the boat through the shallows.  The boat is quite  responsive to small changes in the angle of the pole, how you shift your weight as you push off, and how the pole is handled.  I assumed it would be difficult to navigate deeper waters with a pole.  While I wouldn't leave home without my paddle, it turns out the surface area afforded by a the 6-8 feet of pole in the water is significant and serves as quite a nice, albeit long and narrow, paddle.  A slightly modified J-stroke does a respectable job of tracking a straight line.

I am really looking forward to poling the river, but I'm waiting for water temperatures to warm a bit, anticipating a learning curve that could result in clumsy incidents, leading to wet clothing.  I'm optimistic that, if I become a respectable river poler, this could allow for rewarding solo river outings, when a fishing companion and/or 2nd vehicle can't be found.  I picture poling upstream from my vehicle through 2 or three good pools, or flats, stopping to target feeding carp, then floating my way back; or, floating downstream to fish, and poling my way home.

Part of the fun of fishing is, of course, planning how things should work out...then finding out how foolishly misguided your planning, or your assumptions were.  Either way, it usually results in a good story.


  1. Good luck with that! Last carp trip a week ago I fond a fellow standing in a canoe poling up the powerful Snake river. He was after lures lost by others. His pole was heavy PVC alterred to extend and grab lures. I like your bamboo far better.



    They sell the glass poles and sections, you just glue them together. The expensive joint is new, and you don't need that. I made a 16' pole, 1.5" diameter. And it is great, but you can tell that is what you need to push a boat that weight 700-1500 pounds, or more. You could go lighter for smaller boats. That is a lot of the key. You can get away with a spindly stick as in the picture, if you boat doesn't weight a ton, and float higher on the flat.