For a decade, Audrey and I had a waterfront home in the northwest corner of Florida, east of Pensacola, on the shore of the shallow East Bay. As we explored the edges of those waters from 2011 to 2021, a push pole could take us through shallows and reeds that we’d avoid if we were paddling or rowing.

The push poles used in the mudflats and marshes in the East Bay area have lengths ranging from 12′ to 18′. There are many different attachments for the bottom end of the pole, and they play an important role. They should provide enough foundation for the pole to push against without sinking too deep into the muck. We tried a few different attachments while in Florida and they performed marginally well. On a few occasions we glided quietly away from our pole after I couldn’t pull it from the soft bottom in time to keep from going overboard with it.

Photographs by the authors

When force is applied to the push pole the Duckbill Head opens up to a 12″ span to increase the area pressing against the mud.

When we relocated to Virginia, we came across the Duckbill Head from H&H Outdoors, a company that specializes in gear for duck hunters and marsh fishermen. We ordered one and received the attachment promptly.

The Duckbill Head attachment measures 10 1⁄2″ long when folded, 4 1⁄4″ wide, and the widest part of the flared bill measures 2 3⁄4″ across. The bills have 3⁄8″-wide flanges around the edges and are hinged so they can open and close. When the powder-coated aluminum bills are opened, they span 12″.

When pulled, the Duckbill closes to make it easier to pull free from a sticky bottom.

The Duckbill can be attached to any 1 1⁄8″-diameter handle, wood or metal. The socket has a countersunk hole for a screw to secure the pole. Our wooden pole had a slightly undersized end, so we glued-on the new Duckbill with thickened epoxy.

We knew just by looking at the Duckbill that it would spread the pushing force across a wide area, and that the hinged mechanism would allow the device to be pulled easily from a soft bottom. And the attachment did, indeed, work quite well in our new local waters, which are bordered by marsh in many areas, especially around launch ramps, where the reeds interfere with oars. It has also been handy in shoal waters, where we have only a few inches to spare beneath the 8″ draft of our boats when it is impossible to lower a rudder, centerboard, or motor.

In mud, the duckbill attachment has a distinct advantage over fixed push pole heads: it won’t sink as deep or resist being pulled out.

With the Duckbill, we can exert as much force as we like without getting the pole stuck in the muck. In our new waters we have about a 4′ tidal range, and at low tide many areas are accessible only with a push pole.

Audrey and Kent Lewis frequent the coastal marshes of the Middle Atlantic states. Their adventures are logged at Small Boat Restoration.

The Duckbill Head Attachment is available from H&H Outdoors for $24.50.

Is there a product that might be useful for boatbuilding, cruising, or shore-side camping that you’d like us to review? Please email your suggestions.