Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine   


Pole Fishing

In certain angling situations, nothing beats a good old-fashioned pole.

By Danno Wise

Long before the advent of modern rods and reels, everything from topwater plugs to live bait was fished on “poles.” Even after casting tackle became mainstream, cane and willow switches were still being employed on ponds, creeks and rivers throughout Texas. This was often due to the fact early entries in the casting reel category were somewhat clumsy, cumbersome and generally considered more trouble than they were worth on small bodies of water.

Today’s reels, of course, are precisely engineered and their use is easily mastered. As a result, the use of poles has fallen dramatically over the past few decades. In fact, at least two generations of anglers have now matured without considering a simple pole as their primary fishing tool.

However, the truth of the matter is, regardless of how far casting tackle advances, there will always be spots a pole can place a bait that a rod and reel cannot safely reach. And fishermen wishing to become well-rounded anglers are best served learning the basic techniques involved in pole fishing in addition to mastering the use of casting tackle.

Types of poles

Poles can be made from either natural materials, such as cane, or synthetics like fiberglass or graphite. Homemade cane poles are generally heavy due to their large diameter and somewhat awkward to transport since they are usually made as single-piece poles. Commercially made cane poles are typically made from smaller diameter cane, making them lighter, and fitted with ferrules which allow them to be taken apart for ease of transport.

Fiberglass and graphite poles are lighter and more sensitive than cane models. Additionally, poles forged from these graphite materials are usually multi-piece or telescoping, making them very portable. Telescopic models also can be adjusted to various lengths to accommodate different fishing situations.

Basic rigging

Poles of every type are simple enough to rig. It is best to use Dacron or nylon main line, as it has less memory than monofilament, meaning it is less likely to tangle after being wound around the pole. However, since Dacron and nylon are highly visible, use about 2 feet of monofilament as a leader.

To rig a natural cane pole, tie the line about two feet from the tip. Then, loosely wrap the line up to the tip and tie a half-hitch at the tip, allowing a length of line approximately as long as the pole to hang from the tip. If less line is needed during certain fishing situations, the length can be adjusted by wrapping additional line around the pole.

To rig synthetic models tie the line either to the eye at the tip of the pole or to the cleat at base of the pole and run the line through tip-top guide. The advantage of tying to the cleat comes with line length adjustment, which can be made easily by wrapping the necessary amount of line on or off the cleat.


Dabbling — This involves “dabbling” baits alongside stumps, riverbanks, holes in moss beds and other tight spots. In these situations, a pole allows bait to be presented and retrieved over structure a rod and reel could not reach without fouling. This technique can be used with a variety of artificial lures and natural baits and with or without a bobber.

Sling-shot — In order to get a bait or lure under overhead structure like docks or limbs, hold hook by the bend, pull back to put tension on pole and release. The lure is “shot” ahead in whatever direction the pole is aimed. This technique is best performed with artificial lures.

Strolling — This is basically “manual trolling” along a bank that is free from obstructions. To do so, simply walk along water’s edge with pole extending at a right angle over the water. Be sure to extend the pole in or out to work around structure as you pass. This can be done with a variety of natural baits and artificial lures.

Granted, pole fishing is not complicated. However, sometimes anglers find success in simplicity. Knowing how to properly use a pole can help you be ready for any situation.

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