the most exciting way to pursue fish in the estuary environment is to
sight fish for them in shallow water. Whether it's bonefish in
Florida, redfish in South Louisiana, or even striped bass in the
shallows of New Jersey, fish in shallow water demand a stealthy
approach. To achieve an approach subtle enough to get close to
these shallow water predators, and to escape crowded waters, more and more anglers are abandoning
trolling motors, and turning to push poles.
poles have been around for a long time as tools of trappers and other
travelers of the swamp, and have evolved tremendously in form and
function. Originally made of a wooden pole, perhaps with a
folding "duck foot" type foot, push poles are now made out
of a variety of materials, with efficient foot attachments suitable
for a variety of bottom types. Now available in materials
including aluminum, fiberglass, graphite, and composites, push poles
are lighter, stiffer and more efficient than ever.
many anglers may still start out with a push pole made of wood, most
soon upgrade to poles made of fiberglass or graphite. Regardless
of material, some important features of a push pole are as follows.
1. Length, which should be determined by how high you will be in
the boat when poling
combined with the depth of the water you plan to fish. A longer
pole affords you the
opportunity to travel farther without having to lift the pole as
often. In addition, if
you are poling against a strong wind or tide, or "dragging bottom", a
longer pole allows
you to maintain more momentum. The one drawback of a longer pole is
that can be a
little more difficult to handle.
Weight - as handling a heavy pole all day can be tiring.
Type of foot - Some push pole feet work better in certain types of
bottom. Here in
Southwest Louisiana a "delta" type foot with a crosspiece
works better in our soft
marsh bottoms than a simple "y" type foot.
flats boats produced today come equipped with elevated poling
platforms mounted to the back of the boat over the engine.
Elevated platforms off many advantages. The first and most
obvious advantage of an elevated platform in visibility. From an
elevated perch you have a much better view of your surroundings both
above and into the water. When higher up, the angle you have to
the water makes it much easier to see into the water to spot fish when
wearing polarized glasses. Poling from an elevated platform also
helps prevent continually hitting your outboard with the push pole,
and makes it physically easier to pole.
you are poling from the deck of the boat, the pole will be extending
farther out, directly behind you, creating a longer lever working
against you. The sharper angle of the pole in relation to you
that is realized from being elevated above the water, makes the work
you are fishing from a boat without a poling platform, try securing an
ice chest onto the back seat or deck and standing on it. Any
height you are able to gain is an advantage. When you first
climb a poling platform, it will probably seem much higher than you
expected. Take the time to get adjusted to the height, and use
the push pole to steady yourself. Get comfortable with your
perch before you try to move the boat. Keep your feet spread
about shoulder width and your knees slightly bent, you don't want to
be rigid on the platform.
accomplished shallow water fisherman can make push poling look
effortless, it does require a bit of skill and technique.
However with just a little practice, you can quickly guide your boat
to within casting range of even the spookiest fish. The biggest
mistake anglers make when beginning to push pole is making corrections
that are too large. Most flats boats are relatively light, and
will respond quickly to the push pole. Often times anglers who
are surprised by a quick responding boat can be seen push polling in
circles as they move from one over energetic correction to another.
most simple way to keep a boat moving in a relatively strait course is
to keep the foot of the push pole within the width of the boat.
That is, when you plant the foot of the pole behind the boat, do not
plant it farther to either side, than the width of the boat. To
move the boat straight forward, you would plant the foot of the pole
in line with the center of the boat, about 5 feet behind the boat as
marked by the circle with the x in the picture below. Then,
holding the pole close the side of your hip, push against the bottom
as you walk your hands up the pole. When you get near the end of
the pole pick the pole up, walking your hands back down, and repeat
the process. Be careful not to make too much of a splash when
lifting or planting the pole, and avoid hitting the pole against the
boat or motor, as this could spook fish.
you have gotten used to handling the pole and moving the boat forward,
you can begin working on turns. Again think small efforts.
Flats boats respond and turn very quickly. To turn the boat to
the right, you will plant the foot of the pole just a little right of
center behind the boat and push forward. The more off center you
plant the pole, the sharper the turn.
make a left had turn, you would simply do the opposite, positioning
the pole just left of center behind the boat, and pushing forward.
you become comfortable poling and accustomed to the way the boat moves
and responds, you will find that you can often make small turns by
simply shifting your weight while pushing, or by moving your arm and
the pole out away from your side as you push.
occasion you may need to make a very sharp turn, or even turn the boat
180 degrees. For this type of turn you will actually place the
foot of the push pole outside the width of the boat. In fact the
quickest way to make a 180 degree turn is to place the foot of the
pole 90 degrees out to the side of the boat that you want to turn
towards. When you push the pole out to the side of the boat, it
will quickly swing the back end of the boat around it's own
axis. Make sure the boat is stopped and not moving before you
try to execute this type of sharp turn.
should now be obvious that it is not overly difficult to propel and
steer a boat with a push pole, but what about stopping? When you
are poling a boat and develop a little momentum, the boat will want to
continue in a forward motion even when you stop pushing.
Momentum is amplified when you have a tail wind, or following
current. Often you will need to stop short to keep from over
running a fish, to reposition the boat, or to allow an angler on the
front of the boat to retrieve his fly from a snag.
are several methods that are effective for stopping a boat.
Which you choose may depend on how fast you are moving, how fast you
need to stop, and what type of bottom you are over.
you are poling over a sand or mud bottom that does not have a lot of
shell or rocks, and you don't need to stop too quickly, you can slow
and stop the boat by simply dragging the push pole along the
bottom. If you need to stop a little quicker, apply some
downward force as you drag the pole. This technique is also good
for slowing a boat that is being driven by a tail wind. You do
not want to drag the foot of the pole however, if you are over a
bottom with shell, rocks, or other hard objects, as it will make noise
that will spook fish.
you are poling over a relatively soft bottom, you can stop the boat
quickly by placing the foot of the pole on the bottom behind the
center of the boat, and with a sharp motion jamming the foot down into
the mud, then you hang onto the pole, which will stay planted in the
mud and stop the boat. Be careful and do not use this technique
if the boat is moving very fast because more than a few anglers have
been pulled off of the back of the poling platform like this.
You may also want to warn the angler on the front of the boat, because
the stop will be sudden.
third method for stopping the boat is to swing the foot of the push
pole forward, and plant it in front of the mid point of the boat, very
close to the side of the boat. This method will cause the boat
to turn toward the side the pole is planted on.