By Tom Goeritz
What’s a cane pole? Some anglers might not be familiar with such a device. But before telescoping fiberglass poles, most bait stores and even hardware stores had an assortment of cane poles. The poles ranged from around 8 feet to 20 feet in length. When I was younger, we usually used a pole in the 16- to 18-foot range. Those poles weren’t too heavy and could handle a northern pike up to 10 pounds or so.
Most of the trolling we did for northern pike was in shallow lakes with a good assortment of lily pads and other weeds. The bait of choice was usually a red and white or black and white Dardevle, a Golden Flash, a Johnson Weedless Silver Minnow, or sometimes a Lazy Ike. We’d use 30-pound braided nylon line with a heavy-duty leader.
No reel was attached. The beauty of this rig was the ability to easily lift the bait out of the water as you’d approach weeds and lily pads, drop it back down, and many times a northern would be there to take the bait.
We had a 16-foot Herter’s fiberglass boat with a 10-horsepower Johnson motor. That old red and white motor must have seen many hundreds of hours of action. If we were going fishing, that meant spending four to six hours in the boat. Northerns were plentiful, and they seemed to like our baits. Most of the fish weighed between 3 and 6 pounds. Once in a while we’d get something larger. I can remember a time or two when we had to let the pole go because there was no line to give if a fish made a big run. That was fine; cane poles float.
In those days several decades ago, there were no depthfinders. We just trolled the shoreline and did pretty well. The closest thing to a crankbait might have been the Lazy Ike, or possibly a bait called the River Runt. We’d fish in about 8 to 10 feet of water.
I definitely learned to have patience. If the fish were not hitting after a couple of hours of trolling, it was hard not to fall asleep. The steady drone of the motor was relaxing.
We’d usually have two or three people fishing, and it was easy to troll and not get tangled up when using cane poles. We put salted peanuts in our bottle of Coke. For lunch, we usually had a package of sweet rolls and a ring of ground sausage. The combination of the roll with the sausage really tasted great, and it was a simple lunch to prepare.
On most of our trips, I would say we caught mostly northerns. Once in a while we might catch a largemouth bass. When it came to cleaning fish, it was pretty simple: cut down each side of the backbone, take off the skin, and fry it. I don’t think anyone even knew about taking out the Y bones of northerns. There was always bread handy in case a bone got caught in your throat.
Later I learned the art of removing the Y-bone from northerns. Eating this tasty fish with a nice batter and no bones is hard to beat.
Today, I often fish with a fiberglass, telescoping pole that’s 16 feet long. I have added a reel, which allows me to give a fish line if needed.
But I still enjoy the cane pole style of fishing because it’s practical and brings back memories of a simpler time of fishing and life.