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Left, right, left, right—the rhythm of inexperienced paddlers often takes the tone of a death march.  After a full day of capsizing, arguing with your paddling partner, and pounding aspirin for your aching back, you may feel like jumping in front of a firing squad.

A day on the water should be fun. Learning a few basic paddle strokes will allow you to focus on the important things: friends, fishing, and enjoying your float. The following five strokes are easy to master and simple enough to remember on your next outing.

1. The Forward Stroke

ForwardStroke FINAL


This is a common sense stroke and likely your first motion in a canoe. It is important to establish, however, as it is the foundation for almost all other strokes.

The paddle blade should remain perpendicular to you throughout the entire forward stroke. Insert the paddle into the water ahead of your knees, then draw it straight back. Remove the paddle from the water and repeat.

When the forward stroke is used, the canoe has a natural tendency to go in the opposite direction of the rear paddler’s stroke. This often results in the left, right, left, right cadence.

2. The Reverse Stroke



This stroke is adequately named, as it is essentially the forward stroke performed in reverse. It is helpful for slowing or stopping the canoe, and can also be used to go backwards in still water.

Keeping the paddle blade perpendicular to your body, dip it into the water behind your hips and push it forward. Remove the paddle from the water and repeat as necessary.

Keep in mind that this will have the opposite effect of steering with the forward stroke, causing the front of the canoe to steer to the same side as the stern man’s stroke.

3. The J Stroke



The J-stroke gets its name from the fact that it resembles the letter J when preformed on the left, or port, side of the craft. This stroke is especially helpful as it counteracts the tendency of the canoe to steer in the opposite direction of the stern man’s forward stroke. This allows you to move straight forward without switching sides—thus avoiding the “death march” cadence.

The J-stroke begins with a forward stroke, but when the paddle is even with your hips begin pushing it away from the canoe. Rotate the face of your paddle to follow the stroke. A loose grip, especially with your top hand, is required as the back of your hand should continue facing away from the canoe.  This small detail will keep you much more comfortable during a long day of paddling.

4. The Pry Stroke

PryStroke FINAL


The pry stroke is a simple way to force the canoe in the opposite direction of the paddle. It is most useful when pushing away from shore or squeezing into a tight space on a dock.

To perform the pry stroke, insert your paddle into the water with the blade parallel to the canoe.  Brace the shaft of your paddle against the craft, and push the blade away from you.

5. The Draw Stroke

DrawStroke FINAL


This stroke is exactly opposite of the pry stroke. It allows you to move the canoe in the direction of the paddle. Mastering both the pry and draw will allow you to move your boat in the desired direction, even if you managed to float your way into a tight spot.

To execute the draw, insert your paddle in the same way as the pry stroke. Rather than bracing it against the gunwale, however, reach out into the water and pull the blade towards your hip.

Practicing these simple strokes on your next float will allow you to focus more on the fun and less on catching your belongings before they drift down the river.  Be sure to share them with your canoe partner before you hit the water!

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8 Easy Steps to Packing a Canoe

Monday, July 01 2013 7:00 am - for Canoeing
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PackCanoe 1Making the decision to go on a canoe-camping trip is a worthy outdoor commitment. If you're new to this type of camping, beyond choosing what canoe to buy, how to pack it for a multi-day trip is the next big question. This article will help you navigate what gear to take, how to store it and how to load a canoe.

Deciding What to Take

Penning a checklist is the best way to start deciding what you need to take on a canoeing trip. I keep a list on my computer, so when I return from a trip I can add an item I wish I would have packed or note ones that I didn't need to use. To start my canoe-camping prep, I print off a copy and add or remove items that are specific to my next route and itinerary.

A list should include details on the following: camping gear, cooking hardware and fuel, food items with a planned menu for each day, clothes, safety equipment, canoeing gear, and miscellaneous items.

After completing the first draft of your list, go through it and try and remove items that aren't necessities. After all, you'll need to pack all this stuff into a canoe. Most of us have the tendency to over pack, so reducing your gear and traveling light is critical. Now, if you think you successfully trimmed down the list enough, it's time for the next step.

Visual Inspection and Further Refining

Assembling and inspecting all your gear well in advance of any trip is a wise use of your time. You'll likely remember things that need fixing, like a broken jacket zipper, and have plenty of time to take care of these repairs or replenish any supplies. In addition to reminding you of equipment maintenance, laying your gear out will help you determine if you can fit all of these items into your canoe. Again, discipline yourself to remove unnecessary gear if possible.

Packing Your Gear

It's a good idea to continue your visual inspection by packing gear into the carry containers you'll use to load the items into the canoe. Many veteran canoeists will tell you to keep like items together. Having designated bags for food, cooking, clothes, first aid and sleeping and camping gear is a good idea. I'll overview the different types of containers in a later section. Remember that if portaging you'll need to carry these things, so it pays to try and keep items in large containers to reduce the number of trips from take-out to the next put-in points.

Test Loading

Continuing on the above step is test loading your canoe with gear. With time, you'll learn the carrying capacity of your canoe, but at first, you'll literally have to practice packing it on your lawn. This step might seem overly meticulous, but it's better to test pack your gear on a sunny day in your backyard and trouble shoot your cargo strategy in comfort. Knowing my luck, if I skipped this step, it'd be raining when I pulled the canoe off my car to load it at the start of my camping trip.

HowToPackACanoe2Test packing your gear will also get you thinking about how and where you'll want to place items in the canoe. For example, consider the items you want within arms reach, such as water, sunscreen, bug repellant and a spare paddle. Also take the time during test packing to ensure you have the proper straps and ropes to tie down gear (something I'll discuss later).

Loading Strategy

Beyond the basic loading strategy of fitting all of your camping gear into the canoe, there are more factors to consider. Weight distribution is one. The same principles apply to loading a canoe as do filling a backpack. Put the heaviest items where they will have the least impact on your balance and maneuverability.

In canoeing, this equates to packing the heavy gear on the bottom and in the center of the vessel. Medium-heavy items can be placed over heavier gear, and lighter items can be placed at the far ends of the canoe. This tactic will keep the canoe balanced and properly trimmed. It's likely you may need to shift some weight around once paddlers are in as well, but for the most part, the strategy of centering the majority of the weight is a common practice.

You should also keep the gear below the gunwales of the canoe or limit their height as much as possible. Loading items upwards will impact your balance and the canoe's centre of gravity. It will also provide more surface area for the wind to catch. Both of these two scenarios impact the overall stability and maneuverability of the canoe, which can get dangerous in high winds and rough water.

Tie it Down

Once you load your canoe, secure the gear to prevent it from shifting around. This is critical to maintaining stability in rough water and to ensure you won't lose items in the event of a swamping. That said, use quick-release knots, tie-down straps, and bungee cords to make it easy to remove gear. Keep this step as uncomplicated as possible to make emergency maneuvers or multi-day portages straight forward and simple.

Keeping it Dry

It's a matter of fact that water will enter the canoe during a paddle. To keep gear dry, waterproof all items. You can do this two ways. One method is to line regular backpacks and stuff sacks with heavy duty plastic bags, and then pack in your gear. The second is to purchase and store items in heavy-duty, waterproof containers.

HowToPackACanoe3There are many options available when it comes to size, material and shape of waterproof carriers, but most fall into soft- or hard-cased options. Vinyl dry bags come in various sizes, and some feature transparent sides, which is handy to quickly identify items. Boundary bags are a level beyond basic dry bags. Still made with vinyl, boundary bags feature padded shoulder straps to make portaging easy. Hard cases and waterproof boxes come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are good for packing lanterns, stoves, cameras and other fragile items.

Some Final Tips

The above general practices will help you set off on the right course when packing a canoe, but here are some final tips.

  • Keep maps, routes, camping permits, and other paperwork handy and stored in a waterproof map case. Secure it to your seat, along with a compass, with some rope.
  • Always keep your spare paddle within reach. Velcro straps or heavy duty elastic bands are two options that will secure the item, but will also let it break free with a quick pull.
  • Always have water, sunscreen, bug repellant, a knife and a flashlight within arms reach.
  • Bring a pair of padded, fingerless gloves to avoid blisters and keep your hands warm when paddling in the rain.
  • Pack raingear on top — and outside — of plastic bags so you can easily access it when the skies open up.
  • Knee pads will help keep your joints from getting stiff or sore from kneeling when paddling through rough water.
  • If you plan on fishing, bring a clamp-on rod holder. If you're concerned about scratching your canoe, place a small piece of marine carpet over top of the gunwales first.
  • Communicate with your paddling partner at all times.
  • Invest in a properly fitting and comfortable PFD and wear it at all times.

The above packing tips and planning techniques will help your next outing be a smooth and memorable one. Paddling any waterway is a great way to experience the natural environment and adopt a slower pace to life, one more in tune with nature's rhythms. After successfully loading up your canoe, take your time and enjoy the journey!


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Outfitting Your Fishing Canoe

Tuesday, May 14 2013 4:00 pm - for Canoeing
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Fishing from a canoe has many advantages over aluminum or fiberglass motorized boats. Mainly, canoes are quiet and their portability makes them a top choice for anglers interested in remote backwaters. In comparison to the plush seats of a bass boat, features in canoes are somewhat basic, which can leave anglers stiff and uncomfortable from several hours of fishing. Yet like any fishing rig, after tinkering, modifications and add-ons, canoes can be transformed into comfortable fishing machines.

Yet like any fishing rig, after tinkering, modiciations and add-ons, canoes can be transformed into comfortable fishing machines.

Canoe Seats & Chairs

A fishing canoe should be outfitted to keep anglers comfortable, whether sitting or kneeling, since standing in a canoe is not an option. To outfit a canoe for kneeling, a permanent option is placing adhesive cushioning pads on the floor. While non-permanent knee pad options include placing a spare piece of carpet, a non-adhesive pad, or perhaps your sleeping cushion (if on a camping trip) on the floor of the canoe.  

For sitting, canoe seats in a range of designs (from bench to bucket) and many aftermarket additions are available to increase seat comfort. A portable foam or padded seat provides extra cushioning when fishing for extended hours. Carrying a cushion is better than sitting on a lifejacket, an innocent, but dangerous, maneuver many anglers make, transforming life vests into cushions instead of their designed use as personal flotation devices. 

Other great accessories to outfit canoes are seat backs or chairs. A seat back provides a back rest and most mid- to high-end models fold down when not in use. Seat backs clip or affix with straps to canoe seats. Chairs are "L" shaped and usually cushioned, giving you the support of a back rest as well as a padded seat. Most chairs come with clips and straps to securely fasten to the canoe's original seats. They come in various designs (from basic plastic mesh ones that clip onto seats to high-end padded ones) in a range of prices. Durable seats also double as great campsite chairs for when you're sitting by a fire instead of paddling on the water.

Outfitting the Canoe for Fishing

First and foremost, I like to carry plenty of rope, straps, shock cords and carabineers to keep my gear in place and secure when canoeing. I find my mind is slightly more at ease when padding in rough water knowing that if the canoe gets swamped or capsizes, my tackle box is secure and won't end up at the bottom of the lake. Keeping items secure also helps you properly balance the canoe for the best performance on the water, so you can focus on fishing.

Dry bags and waterproof cases are handy accessories to use to keep clothes dry and valuables (like cameras) protected.

OutfittingYourFishingCanoe BPSCanoeStadiumCanoeSeat
Seats with back support will give you support while spending the day in the canoe.

I also find water bottles with loop-top caps can easily be clipped to the canoe's seat with a carabineer.This keeps water at my fingertips for when I need it, which is especially important when it's hot.You can also clip pliers, scissors and other often-used fishing tools to a carabineers or straps to keep them close at hand.This clip-trick also prevents items from moving around on the floor of the canoe, aiding you in keeping your canoe fishing quiet.

Boat Gear

Once you've taken care of cushioning your body and securing gear, the next step to outfitting a fishing canoe is adding the angling bells and whistles. If you have an electric trolling motor or small gas motor (such as a 4HP), there are a few mounting options. Square back canoes are designed to be outfitted with a small motor at the stern, while for other canoes side motor mounts are the best option. Side mounts fit across the sides of the canoe behind the stern seat. Having a motor makes canoe fishing a lot easier and less stressful. I find their biggest advantage is that they allow you to maintain boat control when fighting a fish. Otherwise in heavy winds or waves you can drift a significant distance off fertile fishing grounds when playing a fish.  

To compliment a motor, a portable fish finder is another key add-on. Most of these compact, sonar units come with transducer suction cup mounts, which work well on most canoes. Outfitted with a motor and fish finder, a canoe can be an excellent fishing machine. Dozens of other accessories can be added to canoes to increase their fishing functionality, but after the above big ticket items, the simplicity of a rod holder is a must. I used to rest my fishing rod across the gunwales when paddling, but I found when an aggressive fish hit, I had to quickly reach for my rod; although I never lost a rod, I did miss a few fish. With a rod holder I can focus on the fish finder and maintain proper boat position without worrying about losing a rod when a fish strikes.

Once you've found biting fish, you may want to anchor the canoe in position. When anchoring a canoe use two anchors to minimize the boat from swinging (unless you intentionally want to do so to fish a wider area). To properly anchor a canoe, put one off the bow and the other directly off the stern. Do not tie anchors off the sides of a canoe as this can lead the canoe turning over in heavy waves. Mushroom or river anchors between 8- to 15-pounds coupled with nylon rope will work for most canoes. When tying off anchors use quick-release knots so slack line can be let out in the event of unexpected waves surprising you to ensure the canoe doesn't become swamped.

Canoe Safety

OutfittingYourFishingCanoe FoamBlockCanoeCarrierKit
If you don't have a roof rack, a four-foam block canoe carrier system is an easy and effective way to secure a canoe to the top of a car for transport.

It's important to remember the proper safety gear when operating a canoe.Wear your life jacket at all times.Also ensure that the bilge pump, a signaling device, and a throw bag/rope are within reach at all times.Keep a spare paddle in the canoe as well and make sure you can access it quickly when needed.

Canoe Transport

No matter how great the fishing was, a good day can turn bad if you're not equipped to properly transport the canoe. Tie-down or cam straps that lock in place are my top choice for securing a canoe to my car top. If you have a roof rack on your vehicle, using tubular foam that's cut lengthwise and placed on either the rack or on the gunwales of the canoe prevents paint scratching on both the canoe and rack. Without a roof rack, four foam blocks placed on the canoe's gunwales are a simple but extremely effective way to secure a canoe to a car top for transport. Secure canoes to cars by strapping it down from the boat's bow, stern and sides.  

Canoe fishing can be a good way to target your favorite fish and with the right accessories and add ons, these lightweight boats can be quite comfortable. Although not always best for big water, canoes are one of my favorite options for accessing small lakes and river - try the above suggestions for outfitting your canoe and you'll find a new appreciation for the fishing functionality of these basic boats.


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