Paddling Up or Downstream Timing Advice

Paddling Up or Downstream Timing Advice

Paddling upstream and fishing
Recently a great post was made on the River Bassin Forums by klmccllg and it made me realize that it is another common topic we have yet to cover in an article.  This question was posed, “How far is too far to paddle upstream when doing a paddle up trip?”

Here is the exact question and some of the terrific responses by the members of that collectively helped write this informative article!

klmccllg wrote

I am fairly new to the whole river fishing scene and would like to know what a realistic distance to paddle upstream on a float trip is. I know it depends on the current but on a river with a slow to medium current how far do you think would be realistic to paddle and fish in 6 hours? I figure I can spilt the time in half but would like to know how far downstream to put in if I have an area in mind to fish. Thanks, klmccllg

Blake Replied

Generally speaking, if you don’t anchor or wade much 2/3 to 3/4 of your time will be spent paddling upstream on rivers that have uniform flow. With that said some rivers have long pool areas between shoal areas. Sometimes those pool have almost no current, so paddling up is quicker and floating down is slower. I believe that most beginner paddlers in rec boats sustain a cruise at about 2-3 mph.

RandySBreth had some good comments too.

I hate to say “it depends”, but it really does. If you fish while paddling up (and who has the will not too?) and hit some good spots full of fish it will take longer than if you’re not really catching them. Combined with how hard/long the portages over the riffles are, it’s really hard to know until you do a certain stretch.

I’d give myself plenty of time the first time you try a new spot, and then remember water levels can change the amount of time needed on any stretch you think you have nailed down.

I paddle/portage up a lot here in the Ozarks, and every new stretch seems to be either longer or shorter than I thought. That can be a good thing, there’s one river where I’ve never made it as far up from the access as I’ve wanted to, but it’s because I catch so many fish I run out of time!
That’s the type of problem I like!

Then, LawnMowerMan brought in a new question to be answered

As yall can see, I’m new to this whole Kayaking thing too.  It makes a lot of sense to put in and paddle upstream and fish and fish back down as well, especially if you’re by yourself. However, On the opposite side of the spectrum, what is an AVERAGE time length to put in and fish while floating downstream? I have plans to fish about a 3 mile stretch. I would have my Wife drop me off, then pick me up downstream about 7 hours later. I know depending on how long you stop and fish and all that, but what do yall think about this? I know it depends too on how many times I fall out, lol, but is there a general “rule of thumb” on distance vs. time?

Red Heron joined in with his expertise

Hey LawnMowerMan it depends!  You can pick apart 3 miles and make it last all day if it’s good water. Or you can throw reaction baits and cover it in 3 hours. Smaller creeks will fish faster than bigger rivers. Wide shoal areas fish slower than narrow sections. Shallow, silted sections with little cover can be paddled through pretty quickly. So all that comes into play. I think on average, you’re looking for a 5 – 7 mile stretch for a day float. You can do up to 10 miles if you keep moving. A GPS helps keep you on schedule on new floats.

Although Red Heron covered the basics pretty good I decided to make a few additions.

You’ll probably not get more than 1-3 miles upstream on most rivers/creeks before you head back down. Or, 1-3 miles down before you head back up. In the spring when water is high you may not be able to go up AT ALL on many rivers.

Float lengths always depend on one thing really – where you have access on both ends. So, you can’t really change that but you can change how early you put in to compensate for a longer float or how quickly you paddle to make up some time on those sections. Likewise if you are doing a shorter float (2-4 miles) then you can feel free to take your time and really pick apart the cover. You also can make decisions on when to do your longer floats since you may need more daylight (summer) to do some of them. When looking for a good float trip from point A to B just look for one in the 3-8 mile range but know that you can do more if you really book it and if the water is moving swift and it is a smaller river. I did 14 miles one day on a river that was just flowing very swiftly the whole time.  If I am on a short float I’ll even go upstream a mile first and then begin to head down.

After skipping through some posts I’ll share some tips that PawPaw made.

For those of you that are pretty new to this kayak fishing stuff, if you aren’t familiar with “Google Earth”, you need to be! It’s a valuable tool that can show you a pretty good picture of what the river looks like as well as measure the distance between points on the river. If you also have a GPS unit, Google Earth will also give you the coordinates of any place on the map so you can put it into your unit. I use it all the time to get the distance between points on a stream and that way, I’m not guessing how far I have left to paddle from any place on the river.

Boyscout then chimed in with a nice safety tip.

One word of caution. Be careful doing a float down and paddle back up in a tailwater below a dam. Most of our dams don’t issue release schedules and most that do do not always stick to them so you could find yourself stuck downstream for a long time…like all night!

You might not even be downstream, just on the wrong side and get stuck.

I wrapped it up by adding another comment on how experience will help you “feel” your float.

I don’t even think about this issue anymore I can just “feel” when I have gone far enough and turn back. I can also “feel” how far I have left until the take out on float trips even without a GPS and on a float I have never done before. However, if you do have a handheld GPS it is nice to take it on a first time float if its long just to be sure.

You should have a pretty good idea on how we do this sport and how you too can join in on the fun and gauge your time properly. Some posts were left out of this article but you can see the entire thread here on the forums. It just goes to show that the members of this site are a great resource to call upon when needing a question answered about river bassin.  If you’re not a member of the river bassin forums I’d encourage you to join because all the veteran river bassers on the site remember when they were starting out and would be glad to help answer your question as well!

One Response to “Paddling Up or Downstream Timing Advice”

  1. Craig_ga says:

    If you are like me and you are discovering new water , you are pushed to paddle farther upstream to see just what lies beyond that next bend of the river . Always allow yourself more time for the downstream float than the upstream float . Wind and dead water can often make for a slower downstream float.


Leave a Reply

Become a fan of on Facebook! Become a Fan on! Follow RiverBassin on!

Help keep the lights on, make a donation!

$1.00, $2.00 every little bit helps! The ocean is made up of many small drops of water and we appreciate your contribution however small, which gets put toward our site operations cost as well as upgrades throughout the year.

Subscribe to the Newsletter!

Articles by Keyword

Archived Articles