The best smallmouth bass fisherman I've ever known used the simplest of rigs -- a long cane pole outfitted with a length of black nylon line, three or four feet of monofilament, a sinker made from soft lead found atop some types of roofing nails, and a bait hook. With this rig in hand, he would wade shoals and shallows, probing likely spots with a spring lizard or a crayfish, and catch fish like nobody's business.
Similarly, a masterful catcher of catfish from my boyhood, an interesting old reprobate who had spent considerable time in the state penitentiary, relied primarily (though not exclusively) on cane poles. He often would have half a dozen of them in action at once.
Then there was another old codger, a somewhat unsavory character for whom the word "limit" on a trout stream meant the number of fish he could catch, who used a cane pole along with a few feet of line in deadly fashion. Using a few feet of line and bait such as grasshoppers or "nests" (larva from wasps or yellow jackets), he could fill a flour sack in half a day astream.
The latter two individuals were anything but exemplary role models, although the first was an upstanding individual with a heart of gold. Still, they did furnish proof aplenty of the effectiveness of simple angling tools. With that thought in mind, let's take a closer look at the humble cane pole.
Every youngster should, somewhere between the age of five and 10, be involved in "making" his own fishing pole from cane. The process is a simple, straightforward one which makes a fine do-it-yourself project, gives a meaningful sense of accomplishment and produces an inexpensive but functional tool for catching fish.
Cane of about every imaginable size, from the switch canes common along creeks and rivers in this part of the world to giant members of the bamboo family reaching toward the sky, is readily available. Once established, in fact, cane can become a real nuisance.
The first step is to select a piece of cane of an appropriate length, then cut it at the base, taking care to saw through a joint. Next, use clippers or a sharp knife to strip away all the leaves and limbs from the main section of cane. You are then ready to "cure" and straighten your fishing pole in the making.
Use a piece of cord or slender rope to tie a weight to the small end of the pole -- a couple of bricks or a cinder block will work quite nicely. Then find some place to suspend the pole with the weight affixed such as a tree limb or the rafters of a barn (which was my approach as a youngster).
Leave the weighted pole hanging for a few weeks. It will turn yellow and be perfectly straight. At this point, take it down and remove the weight. You can paint it with a clear varnish if you wish. This is not essential, but it will extend the life of the pole.
At this point, you are ready to rig your cane pole. Cut a length of monofilament in a suitable weight test (four- or six-pound test is ideal for bream, but you'll want heavier stuff if you plan to deal with catfish or bass). You should tie one end several sections of cane back down from the tip of the pole, then tie again at the tip. The reason for doing this is to provide a fail-safe fall back if a big fish or a bad move on your part should break the pole. It could very well save you a trophy fish.
The length of monofilament that remains should be three or four feet longer than the pole -- just enough to be manageable while you hold the pole in one hand and the baited hook in the other. If it is too long to let you lob the hook out into the water, the monofilament needs to be shortened.
Once you attach a hook, sinker and perhaps a bobber, everything is set. You are ready to go fishing, and this rig will serve you with a surprising degree of versatility. You can shorten your line and reach back under overhanging trees or docks, make "casts" of considerable distances with longer poles (basically, just a bit over twice the length of the pole) and deal with many species of fish using a wide variety of tactics.
Next week we will look at actual cane pole techniques. Meanwhile, here's your homework assignment. Procure a fine piece of cane and begin the process of making your own cane pole. I'll guarantee that there's no cheaper approach to fishing equipment.
Heat is the operative word at present when it comes to the outdoor experience, although drought enters into the picture as well. Your best fishing bets remain catfish in lakes and ponds, along with panfish in same. You can get some surface action on bass at dawn and dusk, or using Carolina-rigged worms in the depths. For an alternative which might provide a pleasant surprise, try wade fishing in an area stream, concentrating your efforts on shoals and areas where drop-offs provide a bit of extra oxygen.