Canoe Poling

What is Canoe Poling? (No Paddle Canoeing Technique)

Are you curious about what it means to pole a canoe as opposed to paddle one?

Canoe poling is a specialized canoe skill where instead of paddling with a typical wooden paddle to move your canoe, you use a long pole. This method is not as popular as traditional paddle canoeing and requires a specific skillset but it is still popular with many canoe lovers.

In the rest of this article, I am going to break down everything you need to know about canoe poling so you can decide if it’s a hobby that you’re interested in yourself.

How is Canoe Poling Different than Paddling?

Stand Up Instead of Sitting Down

One of the biggest differences between poling a canoe vs. paddling a canoe is how you sit (or rather, don’t) in the canoe.

When you’re paddling a canoe, you can sit back and relax in your canoe and enjoy a leisurely pace. When you are canoe poling, you must stand up the entire time. These allows you to get the necessary leverage to propel the canoe forward and helps you to see any obstacles coming.

Longer Canoes are Recommended

Because you are standing in your canoe wielding a large pole to propel your canoe, it’s ideal to choose a canoe that is long. This will help you get more balance so that you can move more easily and stay upright.

That’s not to say that you can’t successfully pole a canoe with a shorter canoe, but it will certainly be more challenging.

Use Lake or River Bottom for Leverage

When you paddle a canoe, you simply break the surface of the water with your paddle and push it away from you to continue forward motion. With canoe poling, you actually use the pole to make contact with the bottom of whatever body of water you are poling in to move.

As you go along in your canoe, you will plant your pole down at the bottom of the river or lake. Once you have good leverage, you can use the pole to push yourself forward. You continue to do this as you go along whenever you need to keep moving or change direction.

Be Prepared to Take A Swim

Since you are standing in a narrow canoe relying on a pole for movement and leverage, you can expect to fall in at least a few times when you are canoe poling.

When you’re first starting out learning how to pole, you will most likely fall a lot so prepare to spend a good portion of your day in the water. As you become more advanced, the falls will likely become less and less but you should still always dress as if you might fall in to be safe.

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How Long is A Canoe Pole?

The average canoe pole is about 11-12 inches long. This length is ideal to give polers the ability to reach the lake or river bottom in most areas while not being so long that it’s unwieldy.

What is A Canoe Pole Made Out Of?

There are a few different types of canoe pole options out there.

If you choose to purchase a canoe pole from a sporting goods store, most of the ones available are made of aluminum.

Many canoe poling purists like to carve their own canoe poles out of different types of wood. Spruce and ash wood are popular options for handmade wooden canoe poles because they are very hard and water-resistant.

All canoe poles are fitted with a metal piece at the bottom that helps you to grab onto things in the river to gain leverage.

Can You Practice Canoe Poling Anywhere?

Canoe poling can technically be done in any body of water where you can reach the bottom with your canoe pole.

It’s usually recommended to try canoe poling in calm waters when you are first starting out. Poling is quite a full-body workout, so when you are getting used to the movements it’s best to have the least resistance possible.

As you get more advanced with your poling skills, you can work your way up to more mobile bodies of water. Make sure you have your balance and are prepared to take a swim every now and then before tackling this type of water.

Is Canoe Poling Popular?

Canoe poling is not as popular as it used to be, but many people in the community still treasure and love the skill. Canoe poling lovers are very determined to protect it and continue to bring awareness to the community so that others can discover it.

Many people discover it after having been canoeing with a paddle for some time. It’s a great way to learn a new skill in your canoe so you can spend time on the water and do something different.

Can You Take A Class on Canoe Poling?

Canoe poling classes are available depending on where you are located.

Most of the canoe poling community is centered in the northeast United States and near the Canadian border. Some would say that Maine is the hub of canoe poling because it has a very rich community and ample opportunity to practice in varying lakes and rivers across the state.

If you are looking to take a class, the northeast would be the region where you can expect to find classes. Many people travel from around the country, and even the world, to learn from canoe polers in this region.

Classes may be available in other areas of the country, but they are significantly less popular.

Final Thoughts

Canoe poling is a niche skill learned by avid canoe lovers who want to try something different other than just paddling. It requires a great deal of balance, water that is the right depth, and quite a bit of upper body strength.

You can learn canoe poling on your own or take a class from master canoe polers, most of whom are located in the northeast. The community of canoe polers is very tight-knit and committed to continuing to raise awareness about it so that more people continue to learn about it.

One Comment

  1. Stephen Coutts says:

    I appreciate the fact that you wrote this article, because poling has become a very rare skill and yet, it is still of great value to the recreational canoeist. The one point that I would take exception to is how difficult it is. I teach poling for Paddle Canada ( think A.C.A. to the North), and usually take students up or down a river with noticeable current after a morning of instruction. The idea of standing with a stick in a canoe is daunting, but the reality is that it comes quickly and naturally to most. If you regularly line or wade your canoe, then it is a skill very worth acquiring.

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