gears (9K)  My snubbing pole 

It's taken me a long time, but I've finally learned to include a six-foot snubbing pole in my boat every time I paddle. For an afternoon or an overnighter. It has saved my « boat » many times over.

Just this spring my bro Laurie and I got together early June on the Gaspereau River, over by Chipman. I knew there had been no rain for a month, and the gauge was way low for that stream. But Laurie was determined, and what the heck. I went solo in my boat, and Laurie and Buddy, who had a fishing licence, went tandem in Laurie's boat.

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snub2 (35K)
The author uses his snubbing pole to work his way down a rocky stretch of the upper St. Francis. Images courtesy of Doug Doremus

We were on the water by 9:30 for what is normally a four-hour rudder on a gentle stream, to a take-out by a covered bridge. We carried only provisions for the day, so our boats rode high in the water. It didn't seem too bad at the put-in, « we can do it », so off we went.

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Gaspereau River

Buddy caught a pair of nice trout in the first pool we came to, and got quite enthused. « The run must be on! They look like sea trout to me. » So, yeah, we did spend some time relaxing upstream and indulging Wayne's passion for fishing. It was more time than we could afford, but isn't that what makes it fun sometimes?

The stream started getting lower and scratchier as we went on, and by one o'clock Laurie and Buddy were routinely climbing out of their boat and dragging it over gravel shoals and fetching up in the rock gardens. Buddy slipped on the slippery rocks a couple of times and then some, and finally even his second pair of clothes and the pair of mine I lent him were soaking wet.

hand-crafted wooden pole
Jean from New England enjoys her hand-crafted wooden pole.

There wasn't more than a few inches of water for long stretches between pools, so our paddles couldn't grab enough water to make any progress. I put my paddle down in the boat, and grapped my six-foot, one-and-a-half-inch diameter pine dowel to poke, prod and push my way against the rock bottom all the rest of the afternoon and evening down the stream.

Maybe once, maybe twice I had to exit my boat and heave it over a boulder or two, but it was nothing compared to the labors of Laurie and Buddy. Buddy was an older gent, and Laurie was called on to do most of the grunt work. Good thing he's in his prime.

A couple of times, I had to pull ashore and wait for them until they appeared around the upstream bend. Hiking upstream through the arm-thick alder thicket to check on them was not an appealing option, it looked downright impossible.

We took out here, on the Gaspereau River.

I thought of all the times I've heaved and shoved on this river and all the other rocky ones without a pole, and swore once more never to leave home without it. We finally got off the water at 7:00 and on the road by 7:30, many hours after we told our spouses we would be back. Wouldn't you know it, there was no signal for Laurie's phone at the take-out, so it was near dark when we pulled into the driveway and they knew we were safe. They were worried for sure ... but then in the next breath they said, « It's a good thing we're used to it. »

Let me see ... some other handy uses for my snubbing pole .... a backbone for a tarp ... poking unidentified things in the water ... draping wet clothes over to dry .... what else?

Dangers of Snubbing

I was poling a few turns above Stanley on the Nashwaak, working my way down in the low water. I was standing in my canoe, pushing off the rocks to get downstream, when the business end of my six-foot pole got stuck between two rocks that were not going anywhere.

I tried to hold on, but I had to let go as the pole bent as far as it would in my hands. It snapped back and then forth, and the last six inches of the end slapped me wickedly upside my head, against my cheekbone, eye socket and temple. Thankfully it missed my eyes and my teeth.

I managed to stay upright, but I was nearly knocked out. Nothing was broken, but I was sore for a couple of days.

I've seen Scooter lose his pole between rocks, on the East Penobscot, but his pole was aluminum and just crinked and broke. He lost his pole. I still have my pole, it's wood and didn't snap, but I nearly lost my head.

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