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River Paddling: Self-shuttling versus Outfitters

Johnny Molloy • Apr 25, 2013 at 8:39 AM

As we enter the paddling season, it is time to address a pesky problem that goes along with floating down rivers — shuttling. Unlike paddling a lake, on a river we can’t simply paddle back to the point origin. And when you go on longer river trips you need to consider how you are going to get back to where you end to where you started — shuttling.

Outfitters can save you the hassle of not only finding the put-in and takeout points on a river, but also allow you to leave your car in a safe secure setting. Outfitters will also know something about the river you plan to fish and can help tailor a trip to suit your angling and camping desires. Of course, you will pay for this service.

I frequently use outfitters, not only for their local knowledge and eliminating the car safety issue, but it also eliminates having to drive two cars all the way to the chosen river. This especially helps on river trips that are far away from home. Everyone can pile in one car, saving gas and money, too. Finding shuttles can be as simple as an Internet search. Once you have found a few outfitters for your desired river call each of them, because oftentimes they will operate different stretches of the river or only offer shorter shuttles.

Make sure the outfitter will go on a shuttle the length you desire. Don’t be afraid to ask about prices, distances, reservations and especially fishing, everything from lures to species, but be very discerning with the fishing information.

I was duped by an outfitter concerning smallmouth fishing on the Licking River in northern Kentucky. Also ask about camping and potential crowds, especially if fishing during the weekend. Outfitter competence can vary. While on Piney River in Middle Tennessee the outfitter got her car stuck delivering us to the put-in, delaying our trip by hours. My brother was madder than a hornet!

Boats, whether they are canoes or kayaks, need to be carried atop your vehicle en route to the water. How you load your boat not only depends upon whether it is a canoe or kayak, it also depends upon what type of vehicle it is and also whether or not you have an aftermarket roof rack. No matter how you carry your boat, tie it down securely, for the sake of not only your boat but also the sake of your fellow drivers who will be endangered if your boat comes loose.

I have seen a canoe fly off the car in front of me, and have seen what a boat will do to a car after sliding to the side of said car while still tied on! After cinching your boat down, drive a short distance then pull over and re-check your tie job. I recommend using flat straps with buckles versus ropes. They stay cinched down better. Don’t skimp on tie down straps either; this is what holds the boat to the vehicle.

A quality aftermarket roof rack installed atop your vehicle is a safe way to transport boats. Invest in one of these if paddling frequently. Roof racks can be customized to different types and numbers of boats as well. Whether you shuttle yourself or hire an outfitter, sound judgment lets you focus on the river trip rather than the drive to the waterway.

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