Monday, December 07, 2009

The Old Cane Pole

When I was a kid coming up in rural Texas, everyone took a stab at fishing. It was a right of passage as sacred as learning to ride a bicycle, sneaking out behind the barn to try out a stolen cigarette or stealing watermelons. While I did learn to ride a bicycle without parental assistance, I skipped becoming addicted to nicotine in junior high school and missed out on the educational experience of plucking rock salt out of my buttocks with a pair of pliers. Local farmers were always armed in those days. This was before the time of the hippie farmer.

Fishing, however, I did try, sitting on the muddy red clay banks of creeks and stock tanks with a peach can full of worms I'd dug up out of the back yard. Cane pole fishing is a sport that requires patience and for and ADD kid like me the only thing that made it work was that creek born perch were hungry little devils, if not very big. Even on a bad day that red and white “bobber” would be jerked under about every 15 or 20 minutes and old-fashioned fishing action would ensue.

I never ate them in those days. Mom didn't much like fooling with fish and I didn't much like cleaning them, so most of my catches went back into the water. Some of them must have been pretty hungry because I've spent more than one afternoon pulling the same fish out over and over again. All the fun you could want with nothing more than a rusty hook, a length of fishing line and a simple bamboo cane pole.

Despite it’s simplicity, the old-fashioned cane pole is a deadly fishing tool, rivaling more expensive modern rods of fiberglass and graphite. In fact, since I graduated to rod and reel and fishing lures, my catch rate has decreased dramatically. That's all right with me since I still don't like to clean fish and I find as I age that my sympathies have begun to lie with the fish. Mostly I fish now for something to do with my hands while I sit in boats. The fact that the $5 fishing lure I'm dragging back and forth through the water isn't fooling any fish is immaterial to me. I just like watching the “realistic action” as I drag the danged thing through the water.

For those of you who actually want to catch some fish, though, a bit of fishing line, a bobber, a lead weight and a worm, is all you need to create a low cost, but effective tool for bringing home a nice fish dinner. A homemade cane pole is something every kid needs to make at least once in his life no matter how old the kid might be. Besides, it's siimple to do – a factor that becomes more and more important to some of us older “kids”. Here is what you need to do.

Cut yourself a bamboo cane pole about 8 to 10 feet long. Use a fine toothed saw to get a clean cut on the butt end. You can, of course, buy one, but where's the fun in that. Better to find a grove of golden bamboo somewhere. You can find them everywhere since somebody decided to import bamboo to America as a low cost building material more than a century or so ago. There's hardly a part of the country now where bamboo doesn't grow wild somewhere. The free poles you find growing in a stand of bamboo in some grader ditch are much more fun than store bought ones. You get to brag that you found this one growing wild and you “cut it yourself”. Hey, we take our bragging rights where we can get 'em these days.

Choose a pole about 3/4 inch in diameter at the base. The pole should be 8 to 10 feet long and about 1/4 in diameter at the tip. Golden bamboo is the best. There are other varieties, but the yellow-green “golden” variety makes the best fishing cane poles. The joints tend to be close together at the base of this variety, adding strength and little indentations that make for a perfect handgrip. Cane poles have long tough fibers that will support a surprisingly large fish, while providing the flexibility to work him on the end of the line without losing him.

If you do cut your own pole, saw it off down close to the ground where the base is heavy and strong. Once you've cut it, give the taperd end a quick whip back and forth to insure there are no cracks or splits in the shaft that you didn't see before.

The next step is to dry your pole since it's going to be too green to use after it is first cut. Drill a hole in the base and run some wire through it to make a hook or loop. Hang the pole upside down by the hook in a sunny warm place on the side of a building, tower or tall tree. Make sure it gets plenty of sun every day. Tie a brick to the tip to weight it down so it will dry straight. The pole should hang for 1 to 3 weeks.

When the pole is dry use a torch, hair dryer or open flame to heat the pole. Be careful not to burn it. The heat will drive any oil or wax within the pole to the surface. Heating will leave a greasy grey waxy film over the pole. Let it coola dn when it turns clear, you can wipe away the residue with a dry rag.

Next, use steel wool or fine sandpaper to rough up the surface. Then wipe off the dust and stand the pole in a warm dry place for a few hours.

Next, brush on a couple of coats of marine spar varnish, allowing the finish to completely dry between coats. The varnish helps keep moisture out of the pole, protects against water damage and cracking and gives the pole a dark sheen that looks nice.

When your pole is ready, tie on enough fishing line so you can wind an extra 10 or 20 feet from pole to tip. That way, if you break the line, you've always got some extra you can unwrap so you can keep fishin'. Another secret is “duct tape”. Tear off a few strips and wrap it around the line along the shaft and that way your extra line doesn't creep off the end and tangle up. Tangled lines are a fisherman's mortal enemy. With the cane pole, simple is best.

Leave enough line hanging from the end of your pole so that from the tip to the hook end of the line reaches just short of the end of the pole. Tie on a fishook large or small enough for the size fish you’re after. Six inches above the hook, tie on a 1 ounce weight. Figure out the depth you want the hook to hang and attach the float or “bobber” to the line. If you find you need to shorten your line for some reason, simply roll the excess up onto the poll.

Now hook on a worm and drop the line into a likely spot. Watch the bobber and if it goes under, give the line a quick tug to set the hook. When you have a fish on the line, simply lift the tip up till the hook comes out of the water with fish attached. Since the line is actually shorter than the pole, all you have to do is bring the pole up vertical and the fish will swing right into your waiting hand. Easy peasy!