A Complete Guide to Cane Pole Fishing

Cane pole fishing is a traditional way to fish in still waters. Generally, the targets are small Bluegill and Panfish. Cane pole fishing differs from other forms of rod fishing in several ways. 

The setup for the cane pole is primitive but effective. There is not a lot of accessories involved. The complete setup includes the pole, line, hook, and bait. Sometimes you add a float or a weight. Notice what is missing. 

There is no reel; there are no line guides; there are no fancy leaders. It’s pure fishing, and it works well. Keep reading as we walk you through the basics of cane pole fishing.

What Is A Cane Pole?

A cane pole is just what it sounds like — a piece of cane. You can buy them ready to go or cut your own. Cane is bamboo; though you can use other types of wood, bamboo works best. 

For kids, a six-foot piece is about the right size. For adults, anything from eight feet to fourteen feet in length is good.

Cutting a Cane for a Pole

If you choose to cut your cane for a fishing pole, you will need to do so about three months before you need it. The can must dry and season, which is an easy process. Here’s how you do that:

  1. Find green bamboo and choose a stalk that is straight and tall. The bottom should not be any thicker than about an inch in diameter.

  2. Cut it — If you fish from the bank and set your pole in the mud, then be sure to cut the stalk at an angle. The sharp point will dig better into the ground as you set the pole. If you hold the pole while fishing, cut the stalk blunt as it will be more comfortable and less likely to give you splinters.

  3. Strip the Pole — Remove all the leaves. Do this while the pole is green (wet), and the process is much easier. If you wait until the pole is cured or seasoned, removing the leaves will be a chore. Once you strip the leaves from the cane, take a little sandpaper and rub down the spots where the leaves were. It does not have to be flat, just free of splinters.

  4. Cure or season the Pole — Lay the pole on a flat surface and sit there for two to three months. The pole will turn from green to tan and become stiff. A green pole can be brittle, but it is ideal for pulling fish from the water once it is dry.

Cutting and preparing a cane for cane pole fishing is easy. There are not a lot of tools involved, and you cannot beat the price. A good tip is to cut a few each time you make a cane pole. The extra will serve you on short notice. 

A Note about cutting Cane Poles — cane patches are essential to local wildlife. They provide nesting places for rabbits and birds, and deer even use them. 

So, take just what you need and leave the rest for nature.

You can also buy a modern version of a cane pole. There are several brands available; some are bamboo, and others have a construction of composite material. 

Some may telescope or be a single piece. Some may also have gadgets that fit on the end to guide the line or hold it in place, and others may not. Some may have the option of adding a reel, which moves the setup more into the land of fishing rods rather than a fishing pole.

How Do You Fish with A Cane Pole?

Cane Pole Fishing

Fishing with a cane pole is easy. The pole is rigged with a short piece of line that you plunk into the shallows. You are not fishing far from shore with a cane pole. There are some adaptations for fishing off-shore, but we will get into those later.

The cane pole is set up with a short length of fishing line. The type of line varies depending on the species of fish you target. Generally, an 8-10# test line is ideal. The length of the line is generally the length of the pole and no longer than about 15 feet.

The line, with its rigging, swings out into the shallows in an arc from the bottom of the pole. You do not cast the pole overhead.

Hold the line at the base of the pole, and gently flick the pole upwards as you release the line. That action will take some practice, but a gentle arc should occur as the upwards motion of the pole catches the weight of the split shot or float. The momentum should be just enough to drop the line into the water without it spring back at you. 

The goal is to place the rigging near a weedy bed. Crappie and Bluegill will hide in the weedy patches and spawn. The length of the line should be long enough to reach the weedy beds and short enough so that you can lift the fish out of the water and swing it back to shore.

Another method of bringing fish to shore is to hold the pole firmly and back up until the fish is out of the water.

Setting the Line on the Pole

There are two ways to go about setting the line on the pole. The first is to tie the line to the pole about 18″ from the tip. Because the pole’s diameter decreases in size as you move to the end, the line can just slip off the pole.

Be sure to tie the line so that it sits behind one of the nodes on the pole. 

The node is the place where the leaves were. If you look at the cane, you will see rings about every foot; each of those rings is a node. The node is a little raised ring or fixed joint, and if you tie your line behind the node, the node will keep it from slipping off the cane. Be sure to use a double half-hitch knot with a couple of rounds to secure the line to the cane. 

A double half-hitch knot with rounds is easy to tie. Take about a foot of line, wrap it around the cane’s base two or three times, and then tie two half hitch knots. Be sure to wind the line around the pole until it reaches the tip.

The second way is just like the first, with the following exception. The line is tied to the pole at the base and spiraled around the pole to the tip.

NOTE: Never tie the line directly to the tip. The tip of canes can break, and if the line is tied there, you will lose the fish, line, hook, and rigging. So, always tie the line at least 18″ from the tip or cane’s base.

The Rigging

You can use rigging or not. It’s that simple. You can tie a leader to the end of the line – A short piece of line with the hook and bobber attached to it. You can also tie these items directly to the end of the line. 

Traditionally, a cork was used as a bobber, but you can find affordable red and white floats at any tackle shop. The size of the hook is always dependent upon the types of fish you target and their size. 

Generally, cane pole fishers target fish that are about the size of an adult hand when open. In terms of bait, you can use worms, minnows, flies, and insects.

How long should a cane pole be?

Cane Pole Fishing

For kids, a six-foot cane is ideal. For adults, the cane’s length can be anywhere from 8-14 feet. The cane needs to be long enough for the angler to lift the fish out of the water. So, the shorter the cane, the shorter the line. 

A six-foot cane usually has six feet of line from the pole’s tip to the end of the line. You need more line for securing the line to the pole. The longer the cane, the longer the line. These are rough estimates because, in reality, you need to get the line to the weed bed, and that may take more line than you’d put on a six-foot cane.

It is not uncommon to have canes sized for different fishing locations. If you are fishing from a low bank, the cane can be longer — Maybe ten feet long for youth or 15 feet long for an adult.

Can you put a reel on a cane pole?

For pure cane pole fishing, there is no reel. There are bamboo or cane fishing rods with reels, but those are fishing rods and not cane poles.

What fish can you catch with a cane pole?

Traditionally, cane pole fishing targets smaller fish, such as panfish or crappie. When properly cured, a cane pole is quite strong. You can target bass, catfish, and other larger fish in freshwater or saltwater. 

The primary difference is not so much the cane but the rigging you attach to the cane.

Cane fishing is all about still water fishing. Sill water occurs along lakes, oxbows, and backwater ponds, but they also happen in saltwater flats and nearshore lagoons. Those are places where you can find larger fish.

Cane pole fishing has an element of fly-fishing to it, though the two types of fishing are different. 

You can fly fish in many of the spots where you cane pole fish. One difference is the setup of the cane vs. the setup of the rod.

Cane pole fishing is basic and traditional. It is almost a rite of passage in the backwoods communities of America. It is a fantastic way to learn to fish without a huge financial sink, which means more people can access fishing even at younger ages. 

Cane pole fishing is also an excellent way for the entire family to learn to fish and a skill that parents can pass to their kids.