The Big Bad Cane Pole

Get a cane pole.

Tackle for All: The Cane Pole

Of all the anglers we talk to, it's amazing how many had their first experience catching a fish using one of these almost primal pieces of fishing equipment. Catching fish with a cane pole, for all its simplicity, is something you should consider. Whether it's teaching a youngster what happens to that little red and white plastic bobber hanging on the string (line), or it's putting a cricket into the water to catch a hefty bluegill of your very own, there is a lot to be said about cane poles. An antique cane pole shows the well-made ferrules multi-part cane poles can have. Old fashioned cane-pole fishing is extremely simple although still a popular practice found today. It consists of a pole, a length of line and a hook. The cane pole does not use guides or a reel. The line is tied to the tip of the pole (farthest away from the angler).


Most Popular Types - A History

Cane poles are dominated by split bamboo fly rods. Lately some have begun collecting some of the earlier fiberglass rods, some of the split bamboo casting and spinning rods, and some of the steel casting rods. The earliest European fishing rods were made of different types of wood, spliced together, and were often very long, 18 feet being common. Tips were often made of greenheart, whale baleen, or on the later rods, bamboo cane. The early rods are hard to find, but are eagerly sought. It was only with the late 1800s that split bamboo was being used to make the entire rod, except is some rare instances.

Some of the names of bamboo rod makers to look for are Granger, Young, Dickerson, Phillipson, Devine, Edwards, Thomas, Payne, Leonard, Hardy and rods made for trademarks such as Abercrombie and Fitch, Heddon, South Bend, and Abbey and Imbrie. In split bamboo rods, shorter is better, and condition is everything. The shorter a Bamboo rod is the more collectible it seems to be. The rods measuring 6ft.-8 1/2ft. seem to be the most collectible. A 7-foot rod by a famous maker will usually be worth 4-5 times a 12-foot salmon rod by the same maker, despite the salmon rod being harder to find.

Many people enjoy the simplicity and tradition of the cane pole. Many anglers delight in the classic roots of the sport, which lends itself to slow-paced sunny afternoons. There is a nod to the sport of angling being that successful catching relies on the angler solely using the rod to fight and land the fish, without the use of a fishing reel. Of course the low cost of the rig is not the only reason people still love cane pole fishing -- it happens to be a very productive way to obtain food for the table.The standard length of a cane pole is 12-to-20 feet and traditionally made of bamboo, sometimes using several pieces fitted together. Hickory, iron wood and maple are other popular organic metrials used in their construction. Modernized fiberglass telescoping poles are available, that fold compactly for travel.

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Rods are made in three pieces called a butt, midsection, and tip. On the butt-section, a simple wrapping or more sophisticated handle or grip are added for comfort and to prevent the pole from slipping out of the fisherman's hands. There are variants available for saltwater although most cane poles are used in fresh water for bream, catfish, bluegill and sometimes, bass.

Using a Cane Pole

Select a length of fishing line for the depth of water, plus some additional length to run lengthwise down the pole. Tie the length of fishing line that is appropriate for the water directly to the top of the pole. Wrap the remaining line from the tip downward to the very end to make landing the fish easier. Add tackle components as usual for whatever species is targeted.. bobbers, sinkers, splitshots, or a direct hook-and-bait. This can be cast out and set or a jigging technique may be utilized.

Cane poles – literally made from canes cut from bamboo – are arguably the oldest and most proven of all fishing rods. They are not hard to use. They are used to essentially put a bait directly over the spot you think holds a fish. The edges of lakes, ponds, rivers, and small estuaries almost universally hold small 'panfish' near the edges. Add to that the fact that a big bass or huge catfish will eat a cricket, a worm, or a stinky piece of old bait as quick as a bluegill with eat one. You do not cast a cane pole. You use one long enough – as long as 12' – to dip the bait into the water where you want your bait to be heard, seen, or smelled (or a combination of the three).

Rigging a Cane Pole

Rigging a cane pole is as simple as tying a length of line to the rod as long as or even slightly longer than the length of the rod itself. You do not need a leader, rather a simple piece of monofilament line that is eight or ten pound test is fine. You can use line as thin as a hair, but if you get a bass or big crappy or catfish to grab the bait it's likely the only thing you will notice is when it breaks the line. Braided line is great though, and its visibility does not seem to keep a bluegill or that catfish from grabbing the bait.

Hooks should be small – as small as a #8. The fish you're fishing for have small mouths and they're not that big even at their larger sizes. Since the strike is easily seen and because of the length of the rod, you are not really fighting the fish – rather lifting them out of the water after they fight a little bit. Bend down the barbs on your hooks. It will make releasing them easier, and even if you intend to fry a few bluegill for dinner it lets you unhook them easier and much more painlessly before you but the fish on ice.


The coolest of all the tackle on a cane pole are the tiny round plastic bobbers – the same one we use for the dot in TheOnlineFisherman-dot-Com. It's a little red and white plastic bobber that many of us see as the ultimate optic invoking the feeling of catching those first fish. Seriously; there is nothing quite like seeing it pulled below the surface with a chunky bluegill on the lower end, tugging away and invoking the laughter and smiles of the children holding the rod. And you're gonna be just as tickled if you're the one holding the bamboo.

Catching Fish with a Cane Pole

You are not going to use a cane pole for a shiny, flashy lure from the latest big bass lure company. They're a way to gently and quietly and easily place bait in front of an unsuspecting fish. You can use worms, you can use crickets, and you can use minnows for live bait. You can also use simple dough to form a little ball. Mix a little flour, an egg yolk, and even a few sardines for flavor and knead the mixture until it forms round and sticky little balls. Panfish love em, and you can eat most of the delicious sardines. The fishy smell and taste definitely seems to add to the bite.The bottom line is it's a killer idea to keep a few of these primitive fishing rods around. Even if you're a skinny water fisherman or somebody who chases big black grouper in deep water. Try dipping a Sabiki on 12' of line on the side of one of the big bridges in our area with a cane pole. Or make a thick one like we used to call Calcutta rods when we were kids. They were bamboo pipe an inch in diameter that the old timers would use to haul 40-inch snook from under the docks in town using 12" ladyfish as bait.

The Online Fisherman Staff

The Online Fisherman

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