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Scouting the Perfect Kayaking River

Whether you’re kayaking for recreational purposes, to fish, or a little bit of both, it’s important to get a good understanding of the water you’re traversing. To avoid flipping your boat, getting stuck, and to ensure there are no unwanted changes in pace along the way, scouting ahead is an important step in the river kayaking process.

Scouting River Water Patterns for Kayaking

While river kayaking is commonly dramatized as exclusively high-paced rapids and raging waterfalls, this isn’t the only speed this activity comes at--it’s very easy to find a calmer, less intense path that you can traverse without the need for a sporting kayak. In fact, most river trips have a nice mix of currents that will provide variety, while still being navigable in a typical river kayak.

Understanding the rapids on your course allows you to plan, and possibly customize, the route you want to take. Always keep your end goal in mind (i.e. a casual paddle, sporting for fish, or an adventurous ride), and know that for a standard river kayak, flat water and rapids up to class II won’t be overwhelming for your craft. From there, it’s marking points of current change as well as hazards to avoid that might take you off your path.

If you spot a hazard along your path, analyzing how much of the water is going towards that point and thinking about how that affects the line you want to take your kayak:

  • How do you need to paddle to avoid where you don’t want to go?
  • Will that involve also combatting the natural current of the water you’re in?
  • Are there features involved that will flip your boat?

These are also helpful points to consider and to prepare for as you’re scouting the river. At the end of the day, you want a positive experience kayaking out on the water, and scouting for water/rapid-based hazards help maximize that outcome.

Scouting Best Practices for Kayaking

Whatever the water you’re paddling on, there are some basic best practices to keep in mind for any kayaking adventure.

To avoid getting stuck in a rapid, always make sure the river has an exit. Knowing that there’s a way out before you begin is crucial in ensuring you have a safe, fulfilling paddle. In this same respect, starting at the bottom, or end point, of your trip and working your way back to your kayak is the best way to scout. This allows you to mark landmarks you will be able to see from the water, as well as track how far into the trip you are.

These are particularly helpful tips when you can’t see the entire trip from your starting point. Some rivers are quite straightforward and you can do a good bit of your scouting from the entrance, but others are more convoluted and you need to put in the leg work in order to see the whole track. Keep in mind what you’ll be able to see from the water, as opposed to what’s most visible on land, as these will be the most helpful landmarks to denote. If you’re kayaking for recreation and fishing, be sure to take your rope with you as you scout to save on time and be able to easily set up shop if you find a good place to drop a line.

The amount you scout is at your discretion. Some prefer to just check for life- or boat-threatening obstacles and run it blind for fun. Others prefer to have the course more mapped out and to have mental check-points along the way to reference. For people kayaking in teams, scouting can be delivered from front runners to those behind as a heads up--being able to adapt quickly as info is communicated and knowing how to traverse different situations is key in this case. You know your skills best, so keep in mind the tips that best match your kayaking style and the purpose of your trip.

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