Ever conjure the image of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn drifting the Big Muddy with cane poles in hand? How about your granddad trodding to the fishing hole near the farm with nothing short of a stick with twine tied to its end and a hook—sometimes just a safety pin?
Outside of hand-lining, cane-pole fishing is about as primordial as angling gets. Perhaps its romantic nature wins over those who choose to snub graphite and fibgerglass rods with guides and reel seats in favor of a cane pole.
Though such poles might not be as versatile as today’s conventional rods, crafted from intricately machined manufacturing plants, they can catch fish while sending the angler on a time machine to an era long forgotten and more directly rooted to the nature around us.
Cane-pole fishing, like all angling, is not as one-dimensional as a first-timer might think. As with all angling, it can be as complex as you wish to make it. It also offers capabilities absent in your conventional spinning or bait-casting rods, believe it or not.
First, What Constitutes a Cane Pole?
A cane pole most often stretches from 8-12 feet in length. It can be shorter or longer, depending on what suits you best for the water you choose to fish.
Generally, it consists of bamboo or assorted other deciduous woods. However, manufacturers also make customized cane poles—without all the line guides or a reel seat – composed of graphite, fiberglass or bamboo.
Bamboo affords a more classic look and feel than those of modern materials. However, the modern models feature poles that break down into two to four pieces or even retract in telescopic fashion.
Using ferrules, some bamboo cane poles also break down into two or three pieces, but the classic styles consist of one piece, often proving awkward while traveling to the fishing hole.
You might be forced to drive with one of these vintage bamboo poles sticking out of one of your side or rear windows.
Some store-bought cane poles feature a small guide at the tip through which to string your Dacron, monofilament or fluorocarbon line.
A guide at the tip or a precisely cut crevice at the end of the cane, whether you DIY your own pole or buy it already made, minimizes the risk of breaking the rod tip should a behemoth decide to strike your offering.
Pros and Cons of a Cane Pole
Besides lending an esthetic quality to your fishing experience, a cane pole poses other more practical advantages to fishing.
If you seek bass, for instance, the length of these poles allows you to drop the bait or lure precisely between weeds or pads and similar cover where bass prefer to hide.
When casting, these small pockets are tougher to hit, often resulting in a snag or dragging line in a way that spooks your prey.
On high lakes, you often can’t cast with a common rod and reel because of brush, rock faces and other structures of nature looming at your back and debilitating your back-cast.
No back-casting necessary with a cane pole, but use one that comes in sections or telescopes to fit easily onto or into your backpack while hiking toward your alpine lake.
The void of a reel on cane poles also keeps you from the occasional untangling of a bird’s nest in your spool.
Though all poles can break from closing a car door onto them, tugging too hard when snagged or leveraged on the gunwale of a boat by either a large fish or impossible snag, the right kind of bamboo cane pole can be tougher than the average fishing rod.
- If choosing bamboo for its strength, you just need to make sure the dark collars or rings along its length are fairly close together rather than sparsely spaced along the length of the pole.
- Also, make sure the cortex—that portion between the epidermis or outer layer and the pith or core of your bamboo—is thick, as in greater than five millimeters or roughly an eighth of an inch. The thicker its cortex, the better.
- Also make sure your pole consists of treated bamboo, which keeps fungi and tiny insects from cutting into the integrity of the pole. Treatments include smoked bamboo, boraxed bamboo, leaching or combos of treatments that also incorporate an acid.
Another advantage to cane-pole fishing: It requires less line than a spooled reel on a conventional rod. Your spool of line goes farther throughout a season or year(s).
Cane Pole Fishing 101: How to Rig a Cane Pole
If you know the crappie, bluegills, pumpkinseeds or even the bass in the water you are fishing won’t stretch much beyond the length of your hand—from wrist to middle finger tip—you can probably get by with tying a solid knot just shy of the tip of your pole and allowing your mono or other form of line dangle from there.
However, to play it safe, snuggly wrap your mono, Dacron or whatever composition of line you choose from near the butt end to the tip in a spiraling fashion.
Such rigging extremely minimizes the risk of the knot sliding off the tip under the stress of a strong fish or simply breaking the pole tip should the knot remain ever steadfast. You also lose the fish in this instance.
By wrapping your line around the entire length of the pole, you reduce the stress on the line under severe pressure from a fish and thereby the odds of either line or rod breaking.
Moreover, should Godzilla appear from your otherwise panfish-filled pond, slough, creek or lake, you can still haul it onto the deck or bank should the pole bust.
After all, the end of the line can be grabbed by both of your hands near the butt of the pole. Essentially, you are then hand-lining the fish to your creel or cooler.
The length of your main line norrmally equals or closely equals the length of your cane pole. Ultimately, however, the type of water and fish you seek will best inform you on how much line you need to attach—it may prove longer or shorter than the length of the pole.
As for rigging beyond the tip of the pole, you can either use the main line sans a leader or add a leader as you would on a conventional fishing rod.
Usually a bobber or split-shot sinker(s) works most efficiently on a cane pole. Use hooks in accordance to the size of fish, bait or lure you choose to use, just as you would on a normal rod.
Watch this comprehensive, informative YouTube video for a better idea of how to rig a cane pole.
Learn as You Go
Because cane-pole fishing is no longer as popular as other forms of angling, you won’t find as many anglers by your side who can offer some tips.
Therefore, besides reading articles online such as this one or watching web videos, do as they did in the angling days of yore—learn as you go.
You might even find some new tips to share with those few who dare to eschew modern conveniences for a more down-to-earth style of catching fish.