An Introduction to Freshwater Cane Pole Fishing

My Early Experiences Fishing with a Cane Pole

Beautiful sunset on the lake
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If you really want to keep it simple while fishing, go back to cane pole fishing. This is one of the most simple forms of tackle you can use,  but it is still very enjoyable. All you need is a pole, line, and hook. A sinker and cork will come in handy for some kinds of cane pole fishing, too, but you still can catch fish without them. Unlike standard fishing rods, there are no line guides along the length of a cane pole--the line is simply tied to the tip.

When I was a young kid I used a cane pole about six feet long. My mother and grandmother were much more skillful and used 12- to 14-foot poles, standard length for a grown-up. We usually bought them but sometimes we went to a cane patch and cut our own. Purchased poles, on the other hand, were ready to go. When we cut our own we had to strip off all the leaves and husks on the stalk, or cane, and hang them with a weight at the end so they dried straight.

For years, cane poles were really cane poles--made from the stalks of plants. Now you can buy collapsible fiberglass poles like the Breambuster, which are easier to transport. When transporting a natural cane pole in a car, you open the back window some and stick the poles in, with the butt resting beside the front seat. Commercial fiberglass poles slide down into themselves and will easily fit into the car.

We always wrapped the line around the end of the pole, starting about 18 inches from the tip and ending right at the very tip. That was to ensure you could still land a bigger fish if it broke the very thin tip of the pole. The line should be long enough to reach from the tip to the butt of the pole. For transport, the line was spiraled around the pole and the hook stuck into one of the joints to secure it. That makes for a tidy package to transport. 

Bluegill and small catfish are the usual targets when fishing with a cane pole, so a #6 light wire Aberdeen hook was what we always used. The line was fairly light, eight- to ten-pound test, with split shot in a small size clamped to the line above the hook if you needed to make your bait sink and your cork stand up. We always used long, thin corks, which were true cork.  The corks had a hole through the middle running the length of it, with a slit down one side. You slid your line into the hole through the slit and stuck a small stick, in the end, to hold it in place.

Earthworms were our usual bait, but we also used crickets, meal worms, and even chicken liver when going after catfish. We fished local farm ponds and creeks. Even after we start to fish for crappie at Clark's Hill in the spring, we used cane poles, swinging a cork, sinker and #2 or #1 hook baited with a live shiner minnow. I eventually switched to a fly rod with a cork and small crappie jig on the end of the line, but the idea was the same. You swung the bait out and let it drop by a shoreline bush where the spawning crappies were holding. It was much more efficient than trying to cast with a rod and reel.

The fight of the fish is different on a cane pole since you raise the rod tip to fight the fish. Since there is no reel and a set amount of line out, the fight is limited to the length of the line. No drag system means you have to learn to let the pole do the work and even dip the pole tip down toward the water if you are fighting a big fish.

There was a variation cane pole fishing technique when we fished for bass. We attached a section of braided line to the end of the pole, with about three feet wrapped around the end to the tip and three more feet hanging free. Then we tied a fairly large 5/0 or 6/0 treble hook on and hooked a deflated balloon through the end. That piece of rubber was sputtered on the surface of shoreline cover to attract bass. They gave you quite a fight on a short line and 14-foot cane pole.

Some really big grouper have even been caught in salt water on cane poles, but all the components are much heavier.

You can still get real cane poles and the fiberglass ones are easy to find. Get one and give simple fishing a try. You might love the old time ways.