The wind whispered through the tall pine trees. A lane paved with pine needles twisted up a hill then down to the pond. The water was dark and still and smooth as a mirror and reflected the shadows of the trees and clouds on the water.
A 1950 Ford with the windows down and poles jangling over every bump pulled up at the cabin overlooking the pond. This was Uncle Ralph’s place, fished many years ago before they paved the road, filled in the pond and built a mall.
Those were the days of cane poles culled from a bamboo patch, earthworms dug from the garden and packed in a discarded coffee can filled with soil as dark as night and smelling like the beginning of time.
No spinners or casting rods made of Fiberglass or expensive boats or tactical clothing, just a dad with his two sons in tow hoping to snag a bream or two for supper, and if they were lucky, maybe a keeper bass. Real corks, no plastic bobbers, were attached to a line the length of the pole. A squirming worm dangled from a hook was slowly, carefully tossed into the water to settle as quietly as a feeding bird.
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This is fishing, in its simplest and purest form, producing memories that will long out last modern ways. Ask around and the old timers will recount those kind and gentle days. Look for a cane pole these days and you’ll be lucky to find one, much less someone fishing with one. Last one you saw for sale probably was sticking out of a barrel at the corner hardware store.
The internet says cane pole fishing dates back to before 2000 BC and “in that time line was made of silk or fiber cordage, with bone used for a hook, and cane as a pole … Good ones are becoming difficult to find. Instead they have been replaced with fiberglass and aluminum models that are telescopic … With these changes, the days are long gone of having to leave a window down with your cane pole flapping around in the wind to transport them …”
I got my butt whipped many a time for being late getting home from fishing.
Bobby Glenn Kimbrell
Look up Bobby Glenn Kimbrell, 58, if you want to hear some fine cane pole tales. He knows what he’s talking about. He retired from the fisheries division of the wildlife commission and is a lifelong outdoorsman who owns and operates a sportsmen’s club in Alamance County.
“In the spring of the year – March, April and early May when the bass are on the bed – I had more luck fishing with a cane pole than any other method. I’d take a long, stiff pole with braided line and a treble hook and walk the bank, steady walking right down at the edge of the water, tapping the end of the pole in the water as I went,” he said.
Kimbrell attached colored ribbons, even balloons to the treble hook. The bass thought the contraption was a food source falling into the water and would instinctively attack.
“It resembled a frog jumping across the water,” he said. “I was 10 or 12 years old then and we caught some monsters. We didn’t weigh them, just brought ’em home to eat. I got my butt whipped many a time for being late getting home from fishing.”
David Parker, 73, of Cary got only a taste of cane pole fishing with his dad, but it was enough to make him a lifelong angler.
“My Dad loved it, sitting on the bank waiting for the cork to bobble. I went with him only three times when I was a kid because he worked all the time,” Parker said.
Brian Pennington, a 62-year-old yarn salesman from Burlington, remembers cane pole fishing with his mother and dad.
“I was about six or seven then and I’d go with my parents to farm ponds. My dad, who was born in 1906 and grew up and worked in the bank here, knew about everybody in Alamance County, so we had access to many a pond. My dad would always stop at a country store and buy me licorice when we were going fishing. We’d dig worms, that was my job, in our yard around flower beds and the garden spot. We fished for bream only, not bass.”
Edwin Clapp, 63, a lifelong resident of rural Chatham County, is an oddity. He still occasionally fishes for crappy with a homemade cane pole.
“I cut ’em (bamboo) and hang ‘em up by the tip for about a year so they’ll dry out and be straight.” he said. “I use a split cork and minnows and when they’re spawning, fish near the bank in shallow water.”
Clapp’s grandmother first introduced him to cane pole fishing. He also would tag along with his great-grandfather on his mother’s side on fishing trips.
“He drove a ’49 Ford pickup. Sometimes we didn’t even have a cane pole but a poplar branch we’d tie a string on.”
Clapp quickly makes it clear what a cane pole really is. ‘We call ’em cane poles but they’re really bamboo poles, not cane. Cane is something you make molasses out of.”