Sunday, January 17, 2016

Byron Dalrymple on Cane Pole fishing

"In early 1975 I was assigned by Outdoor Life magazine to do a story about the enjoyment, the art and, the productiveness of fishing with a cane pole, bobber and bait for bass and panfish.  The research for that story took me back to boyhood.  I have long claimed that bobber and bait fishing is one of the most dramatic of angling sports.  Many a youngster started that way. Then, as it is said, he "graduated" to casting with artificials.  Nonsense!  He gave up an infinitely dramatic endeavor for one really seldom half as much so.

Part of the time while renewing my acquaintance with the cane pole, I fished on a lake that I built on a property of ours.  I suddenly realized all over again fully,  what it meant to move a boat quietly.  With a cane pole, you have to get close.  I learned over again how to be quiet myself in the boat.  And how to reach gingerly out and put a baited hook into a small pocket without disturbing the fish.  Modern, big boat anglers never learn such arts.  They zoom and carom, cast a country mile.  As a cane poler I was put suddenly, by the restrictions of my tackle, on intimate terms with my quarry.  But the real drama was brought back to me as I watched the bobber.  Of c course, you can fish an artificial fly down below the bobber.  If you move it by crawling it along you may catch something.  But, try leaving it still and it is a total dud.  A fish may nose up to it, then turn aside. A worm - any bait - however is something different.

Any fish knows that it is good to eat, undoubtedly partly from past experience, but probably mostly from the smell.  It also looks edible and when nibbled it feels right.  If fish do have a developed sense of taste, which they may,  it tastes right.  So a bait, with out any question, has several advantages that artificials lack.  Regardless of propaganda to the contrary, if fish won't take bait it's likely they won't take an artificial either.  But time and again when fish won't strike artificials, they will eagerly seize bait.  So, it is awfully hard to argue cogently in favor of artificials.  You either want to catch fish, or you don't.

Recently, in fact again, on my own lake I watched from the cover of a tree shadowed by the dam, as a bass of possibly four pounds cruised slowly nearby.  Eagerly I pitched a lure out past the fish and worked it near.  The bass spurned it I.  tried several different kinds.  The brute would not even look.  So, the heck with him.  I rigged a worm baited hook and a bobber and tossed out to catch a redear sunfish if I could.  Shortly, I had one.  As  it protested on the way in, that big bass literally exploded out of the weeds and belted it.  He didn't get it, and I didn't get him, but he certainly knew what was good to eat -  in his then selective mood - and what wasn't. 

While I researched my cane pole story, I was reminded again of the beautiful anguish of watching dancing bobber with bait below.  It lies first inert upon on a flat surface.   Then, it suddenly jiggles.  You tense, you snug the line oh so gently.  The bobber skitters aside, goes under.   You start to set the hook but it pops up again. None of this would happen if an artificial dangled below.  Further, when you cast an artificial lure and wind it in, there's a strike and you grind away.  The strike is a split second thrill.  Bait fishing with a bobber drags the exquisite excitement out almost unbearably.  Suddenly the bobber goes. You haul back.  Of course this is an art!  Of course it is sporting!"

 - from How To Rig and Fish Natural Baits

Thursday, January 7, 2016


One thing that I will not discuss much on this fishing blog is "catch and release." fishing.  I do not believe in catch and release fishing and I do not practice it.  Sure, if the fish is too small or cannot be legally kept, I will throw it back.  I hunt, fish and trap for meat.  I am not a "spot fisherman."

I realize that catch and release fishing has played a roll in restocking waters that were over fished or polluted in the past, and for introducing new species of fish in areas where they are not native.  This has especially been true for trout fishing in mountain streams.  However, I think it has been over done.  Too often, catch and release fishing is portrayed as the only ethical style of fishing and those who take fish for eating are looked down on, and even prohibited from certain waters.  This really hit home for me when I was reading a cookbook published by one of America's largest fishing tackle companies.  It had some good recipes and some interesting stories, but its tone was off-putting.  I finally realized what was bothering me about the book when I came to the chapter in which the family is described as fishing with foreign guests, spending all day and evening fishing a stream with the most expensive gear and elegant accouterments and, "of course" releasing all of the fish and dining on grilled beef..... the doneness of which could only be measured accurately by the digital thermometer the company was marketing at the time... which sold for around $80.00 in the 1980s.

Well, to each his own.  I have no problem with another person who chooses to fish merely for sport.  I have no problem with a company marketing its tackle exclusively to the wealthy or upwardly mobile.  In the 'yuppie" culture of the 80s and 90s, that company did remarkably well and brought many to fly fishing who otherwise may not have become anglers.  What bothers me, though is really twofold: 1)  the misguided notion that fish can be stockpiled; and,  2) the elitist attitude that those who practice catch and release fishing are somehow morally superior and more responsible stewards of nature than those who eat the fish they catch.

Fish are not immortal.  The average fish lives less than a year before falling prey to natural predators (additionally, predation of fish eggs and minnows by other fish is extremely heavy).  Fish can live several years and become very large, but those are more the exception than the rule.  I once caught a mountain lake trout that was close to being a state record.  That was a nice, big fish and a thrill to catch.  I am glad it lived as long as it did.  But, I ate it with a clear conscience... and it was delicious!  That would certainly shock the catch and release fisherman who assumes a released fish will live another year and grow larger for the next angler who will eventually land a record.  I spent most of my summers in the mountains, where the trout streams and rivers are crowded with catch and release fly fisherman.  Some streams are designated catch and release only.  Countless times I have seen raccoons, hawks and other critters destroying the dreams of the noble dry fly fisherman by chowing down on said potential trophy.

Assuming fish had no natural predators, evan man, would that be a good thing?  Would the waters be filled will trophy fish?  No.  Wildlife cannot be stockpiled.  All wildlife populations, whether fish, game or predator, must be managed.  Even the highly esteemed wild rainbow trout, were it to become too populous in a stream would quickly exhaust available food resources leading to undersized, weak fish and eventually mass starvation.  Overpopulation also creates favorable conditions for the spread of disease.  It is the job of state wildlife/fish and game organizations to monitor populations of fish and game.  They set low limits on those species whose populations are too low and higher or no limits on those whose populations are too high or at sustainable levels under current fishing or hunting pressure.  When they set a creel limit on fish, they are telling you that you can and should take that number of fish of that given size.

It is a dangerous and foolish assumption that catch and release fishing is more responsible, or more ethical than taking fish for food.  However, it is that very misguided assumption that leads to the attitude of elitism that so irks me.  The elitist who views himself as the true steward of the environment and the highest embodiment of the art of angling, too often looks down on the man who takes his limit home to feed himself and his family.  Never mind that the fisherman who keeps his fish does so in a manner that culls fish populations and ensures the availability of healthy fish for all anglers... but, he just might be a better fisherman too.  He may be able to fish in varying ways with a variety of tackle, whereas the specialist is an expert in only one.  He may even be more intelligent as he has the sense to enjoy the fruits of his labor and relaxation in a delicious meal.  To the elitist though, he is a barbarian, a hick, the lowest of the human form, besmirching the noble art of angling.

In a mountain community in which I spent several years, all of the good trout waters were "owned" by a fly fishing club.  I place owned in quotations, because their legal right of ownership was questionable at best.  The law would appear to read that they could only own the banks on either side of the rivers, and that anyone could wade those waters - the water itself was public.  But, money talks and these were big money "summer people".  Any non-club member caught fishing would quickly be ticketed by the local game wardens.  Their purpose was simple - they meant to keep the riff-raff out.   We local hillbillies were unwelcome in their waters.  Again, I have no problem if a club wants to legally purchase a stretch of water so its members can have a little extra casting room.  But, when they lock up nearly all of the good fishing waters in a community so that the common man cannot enjoy natural recreation or provide for his family's table with the God-given bounty of the earth, that is wrong - and its wrongness compounded by the fact that those "private waters" benefitted from stocking of trout by state agencies, funded by the very tax dollars of those deemed unworthy to fish said waters.

At the heart of my objection to the elitist, strict catch and release philosophy... beyond all I have written previously... is that it embraces a very unnatural view of man's role in nature.  Man is not separate from nature - some alien being to the wilderness whose presence can only be detrimental to the natural order.    The same God who created the world and filled it with plants and animals also created man and gave him a unique role.  The plants and animals - the bounty of the earth- would feed man and in turn, man would steward the earth.  Man would farm, fish and hunt - and man would manage those natural resources.  This stewardship is not only to ensure the earth's bounty for future generations but to ensure the health and environment for plants and animals - living beings that have no capacity for reason or concept of the future and no ability to manage their own environments.

The man (or woman) who eats his catch is fulfilling his natural and God-given role in the natural environment.  For man to live, he has to eat.  Everything he eats was once alive and must die for him to eat.  Life is not catch and release.  Whether plant, fish, bird or mammal, a living thing must give its life for another to live.  The angler who studies the fish he seeks and the art of fishing, who catches and kills the fish, who cleans and scales the fish and who stores or cooks and eats the fish has a much more intimate relationship with his food than does the catch and release fisherman who spends all day yanking fish out of the water by a hook through their lip and looking at them, only to leave them behind to eat steak or hamburgers for dinner.  An angler who fishes with simple tackle like a cane pole, or who keeps his catch to eat, should never be denigrated.  The elitist who looks down his nose at the common man does so out of arrogance and ignorance.

In closing, I will say that when I begin publishing fishing videos on this blog, they will not be catch and release.  Unlike most fishing shows, you will not see scene after scene of the angler pulling a fish from the water, holding up for the camera, exclaiming something like "whoohoo, look at that pretty fish", throwing it out and casting again.  Here, you will fine detailed information about tackle and techniques. You will see how rigs are assembled and how they are fished.  You will see fish caught, landed, killed, bled, gutted and scaled.  You will learn how to store and preserve fish and how to cook them.  Killing will be done as quickly and humanely as possible.  At times, it may be a bit graphic, but will not be unnecessarily so.  I do not enjoy killing, nor do I fish for sport.  However, LIFE IS NOT CATCH AND RELEASE.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

What Fishing Equipment is Necessary?

The short answer is, none.  You can fish with only your hands.  There is a long tradition of people feeling around under a river bank and pulling out catfish.  Where I live though, in the American southeast, I wouldn't recommend it.  People do it, but we have way too many alligators and big snapping turtles, that will bite your hand right off.

When the beginning fisher-person (from now on, I'll use the term "angler to avoid this awkward phrase) enters a tackle shop, sporting goods store, big box store or opens a catalogue, the choice of fishing equipment (called tackle) and accessories is overwhelming.  Fishing tackle and related products are a huge industry and a good salesperson will be more than happy to convince you that you can't get started without spending at least a few hundred dollars.... and of course, the more you spend, the more fish you will catch... right?  Actually, no.  Some, perhaps even most, fishing tackle will catch fish if used properly, at the right time, under the right circumstances and matched tot he right fish.  A lot of what you will see though, is designed to catch anglers - they are just shiny lures meant to land your wallet.

All you really need to fish is a few yards of fishing line and a hook.  You can wrap the line around your hand or a stick, tie the free end to a hook (by the way, hooks used to be called "angles", which is why people who fish are called anglers), bait the hook with something heavy enough to throw and you will very likely catch a fish if there is a fish there to catch.  Hand line fishing works, and in some cases, is a very good option for catching fish.  Often times, I catch more blue crabs from the Intercoastal Waterway, with just a length of rope and a piece of chicken than I do with crab pots and traps.  I just toss out the baited cord, wait a few minutes and gently pull it back in.  If there is a crab clinging to the bait, I'll bring him to just beneath the surface of the water and slip a long handled landing net underneath.  As I pull the bait from the water, the crab will let go and fall into my net.   You can also fish with a spear/gig or net, but that takes specialized equipment and we will get into that later. For now, lets stick with hook and line fishing.

A step up from a hand line, is to tie a few yards of fishing line to a long bamboo/cane pole.  You usually just tie on enough line to reach from the tip (skinny end) to the butt (the part you hold in your hand).  This allows you to swing or gently cast your bait more accurately, makes it less likely the fish will see you and the flexible but strong cane pole gives you leverage to land the fish.  Hand lines are better for smaller fish, because they lack this leverage - fighting a larger fish can cause the line to cut into your hand.  The flexibility and resilience of the cane pole also allows you to use lighter line. Lighter line is less easily seen by the fish and allows the bait to have more natural movement int he water.  I have landed many 15 - 30 lb catfish with only 10 lb test monofilament line on my cane pole.  "10 lb test" means the line is strong enough to suspend 10 pounds of static (not moving or jerking) weight.  Even though fish jerk and jump as you try to pull them in, the springiness of the cane pole and the slight elasticity of the monofilament, make landing a larger fish no problem (so long as you are patient enough to fight and land the fish, as opposed to trying to yank him out of the water as soon as he strikes your bait).

This simple set up only needs two (optional) improvements to maximize its potential to catch fish.  The first is a small metal weight or sinker that you can tie near the hook to help it sink.  The second is a bobber or float.  The bobber serves two purposes, the most important of which is that can be used to control the depth at which your bait is suspended in the water.  The bobber is tied or clipped onto the line - the higher you attach it above the hook, the deeper the hook hangs down n the water.  The bobber can be used to hold your bait just off of the bottom mud, dangle it just above under water weeds or just below the surface.  The bobber and the weight allow you to put your bait where the fish are feeding.  The second use for a bobber is to indicate a strike.  The bobber is colorful and floats on top of the water.  When a fish nibbles your bait, it will shake.  When a fish takes your bait, it will dip under the water, telling you to pull back and set the hook.

A cane pole, a few yards of line, a few hooks, sinkers and bobbers are all the equipment you need to begin fishing.  The total cost of this outfit should be less than $10.  All you need beyond that is bait, a fishing license (if necessary - check your state fishing regulations) and a body of water.  One dinner of fish will more than make up for your monetary investment.  So, there is really no excuse not to take up fishing in 2016.  The season will soon be upon us!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Cane Pole Challenge

I was reading a Euell Gibbons book over the weekend and he mentioned a bet/challenge between him and his friend. They shelved all their modern/fancy fishing tackle and took a trip from the coast nearest his home in PA to Canada, fishing two hours a day at each stop with nothing but cane poles, 10-12 lb line - length butt to tip of the cane pole, small hooks, split shot sinkers and bait they found onsite (or cut from fish). They caught more than 6,000 fish on that trip. They fished anywhere they found - salt and fresh water. This is how I fished as a kid.  It occurs to me that a fly rod is basically just a modern cane pole.... a spinning rod just a means to cast further and give movement to lures.... maybe I did catch more fish with a cane pole? I probably haven't caught anymore with all my expensive tackle. Perhaps only surf fishing can't be done with a basic cane pole set up... but inlets, bays, docks, inter-coastal waterway, creeks, rivers, ponds and lakes etc all could. I'd like to see just how many fish I can catch next year with a basic cane pole set up. Who will join me? Lets take this challenge and post our results.  How better could the common man really reclaim fishing from the corporations? Can we prove that God gave the bounty of the earth to the common man? Can we prove that fish can be harvested without spending a lot of money on tackle? If so,... if this challenge interests you and you would like to leave a document for the young and/or ignorant?

Should you take this challenge, please email me at  Hopefully, I can include your experiences in this blog.

Cane Pole Memories

When I was a child, perhaps nothing excited me more than fishing.  Even when the Atlanta Braves were having their miraculous winning years in the 1990's, the spectacle of Maddux, Glavin and Smoltz's artistry on the mound could barely pull me away from sultry evenings by the pond.  I did not have a dad around or any older male figure to instruct me on the finer arts of fishing.  I was in my late teens before I truly learned to use a spinning rod and lures.  My angling equipment of choice was the humble cane pole.  A length of cane between seven and ten feet, some light monofilament line of about the same length, a small hook and a cork or plastic bobber were all I needed for tackle.  A five-gallon bucket on which to sit and in which to bring home my catch, was my only accessory for bank fishing - I never had a boat.  A few worms dug in the morning dew, or caught crawling along after a rain was my only bait.  With that in tow, this skinny, southern kid whose skin would burn easily and seemed to attract mosquitoes like flies to honey on sultry evenings, was ready to fish!

My fishing waters were small farm ponds, swamps and occasionally, the great Cape Fear and Lumber Rivers and their smaller branches.   The land on which these bodies of water rested or flowed was family land - great grandparents, grandparents, great uncles and aunts, cousins and distant cousins all had farms, woods or pastures which held waters in which fish lurked beneath thick lily pads, in cattails and under algae... all weedy, mysterious and dark.  Fish generally bite best in morning, evening and night but, I was so enthusiastic as to leave as early as possible, stay out all day with nary a bite and come home well after dark.... sunburned, bug bitten and exhausted.  I would stare at a bobber for hours, snacking occasionally on a ham sandwich, perhaps a couple of my grandmother's biscuits and some cold, fried fatback, tepid water and a few cookies.  I loathed abandoning the water's edge even to answer the call of nature.  I spent far more hours fishing than I ever did catching fish.  

From those solitary vigils, I learned far more appreciation for a pond and the wildlife that visits it than any academic reader of Thoreau could ever imagine.  I learned to read the clouds and how the life below the waters would react to barometric changes that were far beyond my youthful education.  I saw every kind of light reflect and the ripples of every breeze.  I saw meteor showers and eclipses undisturbed by electric light.  I learned to identify hawks and blue herons and learn how each sets its table.  I saw the turtles emerge from their winter rest and the tadpoles turn into frogs.  I saw the doe with twin fawns coming silently in for a drink and the dragon fly light on a cattail with the sun casting rainbows through the prisms of its wings.  I learned the companionship of silence and the comfort of the sounds of nature.

Beyond all contemplative appreciation though, I learned to fish!  I learned to let my bait light on the water and drift slowly down, into and along with any current from a creek or spring.  I learned to estimate the depths of the water and suspend my worm just at the top of the under waterweeds.  I learned where the pan fish hide, where the bass hunt and how the catfish swim in long patrols of the bank just below the drop off.  I also learned the pride of being self sufficient - going into the wilds with little more than wits and patience and returning with food enough to feed a family.  Those lessons with a cane pole made me a fisherman, an outdoorsman, a writer and very much the man I am.  

What I caught, mainly, were pan fish - bluegill, crappie, bream and pumpkinseed - with the occasional large mouth bass or catfish.  These mild tasting, lean (with the exception of catfish) little fighters remain a delight on my table.  

The first, and most often overlooked aspect of their edibility comes at the gutting - a lesson I learned in more recent years.  If you are lucky enough to catch a few pregnant females, the roe is spectacular!  Even a small blue gill has a few spoonfuls of delicate eggs that should never be wasted.  At pond side, simply tossing them in a medium hot frying pan with some bacon fat yields a rich and satisfying light meal (especially served over grits).  If you take them home, cover them in water salted to about the taste of seawater.  After 48 hours, drain and eat it either cooked or like caviar.  Beyond the roe, all fish contain livers that are mild tasting and delicate - fried or poached.  The liver, especially, has very little fishy taste at all.  

The meat of pan fish, as the name suggests, is most suited to the pan.  You can cook them in other ways - grilled, poached, smoked or baked - but these mild tasting, very fresh fish seem to take to frying so well that few people cook them otherwise.  Either a flour or cornmeal batter will do, or a combination of both. You can coat them in either a dry or wet batter.  Most often, my fish were simply cleaned and scaled, dredged/dusted in a light coating of cornmeal mixed with a good bit of salt and a dash of black pepper and fried. Frying can be done in a pan with a bit of pork fat, which is magic in the outdoors, or in a deep fryer.  The resulting fish is light and crispy, satisfying and as addictive as potato chips.

Truly, there has been only one time when I could not eat my approximate weight in fried pan fish.... and, that is a story I should likely not tell...  

Years ago, when I worked as a youth minister in a small church un rural Georgia, a parishioner had a get together at his lake house.  He had spent days catching dozens of pan fish.  They were to be deep fried and served with coleslaw out of doors.  Although attendance was somewhat compulsory, I was excited to go.  Those invited included the preacher and his wife, their five sons, a few elders of the church and those of us in the periphery of the hierarchy.  We did a little fishing before dinner was to be served, but it seemed our host had fished the waters out for the time being.  The preacher and his wife were remarkably over weight, as were his five sons, and I recall wondering if I should get more than a tail fin on which to chew, when an event that scarred me for life began to unfold.  The preacher's wife had been in the lakeside cabin, assisting with he frying and slaw making.  I saw her beckon to the preacher and observed them to have a very serious conversation. After which, they disappeared into the house.  During the ensuing period, several of us were turned away from the singular bathroom facilities, as the preacher's wife had thoroughly clogged the toilet with her enormous waste and no plunger was on hand.  After much debate and consternation, the preacher returned the toilet to working order by use of his hands alone.  Soon after, the preacher and his wife served the fish.... I claimed heat exhaustion and left early.... I never shook his hand again.  My employment ended soon after.