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Friday, 25 October 2019 19:54

COLUMN: Don't forget them cane poles

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COLUMN: Don't forget them cane poles J.A. Bolton

When I was a lad, one of my favorite hobbies was to go fishing and it still is today. Why, when I was just 4 or5 years old, I would follow my Ma (grandmother) down into her pasture to round up her cows. While she looked for the cows, I would be fishing in the spring with a cane pole. Don’t remember catching anything but I always told my Ma that I got a few bites.

Back in the day, some well-off folks had expensive bamboo fly rods and some owned big bulky ocean rod and reels. But everyday folks like my family still fished with bamboo reeds or poles that were cut off the river banks.

Seems on our very first fishing trip of the year we used the same bamboo poles that had been cut the year before. Why sometimes the poles would last several years before breaking but it was on this first trip that new ones were cut down.

To get a nice bamboo fishing pole, you would search through a patch of bamboo and pick ones the right length and circumference to fit your hand. Then, with a bush ax or machete, you cut down the ones you wanted.

After reaching home, the bamboo poles were laid flat on a tin roof to dry out. After several days, the poles were turned over to allow the bamboo to dry on the other side, which made for a straighter pole.

No siree, back in the day we didn’t have much choice of rigging our fishing poles either. Some of the older folks still used sewing thread for their line but when I came along there was a type of black nylon fishing line that came wrapped around a piece of cardboard. 

To rig up a cane pole, you just tied your line on the little end of the pole. Then you added a lead split-shot by clamping it with pliers, banging it with your pocket knife or, in some cases, using your teeth to close it around your line. Seems folks didn’t think much about lead poisoning back in them days.

The size of your hook depended on what type of fish you were trying to catch. Old folks always said, “The bigger the hook, the bigger the fish,” and that saying still carries a lot of weight.

Last, but not least was a cork being placed above your weight. Why, some folks still carved their own corks from wood, while others bought bobbers made of cork. Plastic corks would later come around.

To me, there’s just something about fishing with a cane pole that these new rod and reels can’t compare to. My Dad never owned a rod and reel till I bought him one back in the ‘60s. Like his ancestors before him, when Dad hung a fish on his cane pole, he would throw the fish back over his head and try to make sure it didn’t flop back into the water. Won’t no catch and release back into the water back then, it was catch and release it into the frying pan.

In the ‘40s and ‘50s, most families didn’t own but one car and that was used for everything including going fishing. Why, folks would roll down the passenger side window, gently place their cane poles through the window and head out to their favorite fishing hole.

When people got set up at their favorite fishing hole, some would only hold their one pole while others fished with several cane poles leaning on a forked stick. Other folks wanted more fish so they would have shorter poles, sharpen the big end, and stick them in the banks along the river. These were called set-hooks.

Home-dug regular fishing worms, crickets, Catawba worms and grasshoppers were ‘bout the only types of bait used back then. Artificial baits came along later when rod and reels came on the market.

Another way of catching fish, especially largemouth bass with a cane pole, was called jigger fishing. To rig your pole for jigger fishing, you wrapped the strongest fishing line you could find the full length of your cane pole - sometimes using tape to hold it. On the small end of the pole you left about six to eight inches of line. On this short line, you placed two or three large hooks or treble hooks one above the other. Then, you made a small skirt with strips of the most colorful balloons you could find. Then, you tied these skirts around the eyes of each hook.

This jigger rig could be fished from the bank but worked much better while sitting or standing on the front of a boat. Sometimes folks would take turns jiggering around stumps and logs while the other slowly paddled the boat.

When the strike came, it was like an explosion on top of the water. Sometimes the fish would hit so hard it would break the cane pole, leaving only a small piece of wood and string in the fisherman’s hand. Folks, that’s why a smart jigger fisherman wind his line all the way down his pole. With only the line in his hand, the fisherman could pull the fish in. 

Fair warning folks, fishing like I just described was so productive that it is illegal by today’s fishing regulations.

In closing, I hope you will take a kid fishing and introduce them to a cane pole. It’s by far a simpler and older version of fishing but it is so much fun.

J.A. Bolton is the author of “Just Passing Time” and co-author of “Just Passing Time Together.” He is also a member of the Anson County Writers Club and the Anson and Richmond County Historical Societies.

J.A. Bolton

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