Tom Lounsbury: Stick and string fishing can pay dividends

When summer starts winding down, something I have done since childhood is to go wade-fishing in the Cass River, which isn’t far from my family farm. This is on the river’s Upper Reaches, which will typically reach their lowest water levels in late summer, allowing for excellent wading conditions, not to mention the wonderful fishing opportunities created by the “dog days” of summer.

The fish during this timeframe are in a hungrier mood because the frequent hatches provided by various insect species the fish have gorged and fattened themselves on during the spring and early summer are now a thing of the past.

With regular meals becoming scarcer, fish are more ready to take the bait or hit the lure. Wading can take anglers into otherwise hard-to-reach areas which feature isolated pools that offer excellent fishing opportunities.

Needless to say, folks, this is an atmosphere I dearly love and always look forward to, and it is not difficult for me to spend an entire day wade-fishing.

Folks often assume the dog days get their name from the late summer’s dry and sultry weather, which, of course, can be hard on dogs. However, the name actually comes from the late summer timeframe in which the Dog Star, “Sirius” (named by ancient Romans), can be readily seen.

Fishing, of course, has a whole bunch of history, and primitive humans probably first started to fish with spears and crude nets. Somewhere along the way, someone figured out that a convenient way to catch fish, especially in deeper waters, was to use a baited hook and line. This was in the form of hand lining (just plain hanging onto the line with bare hands – a method actually still used today).

When an inquisitive soul figured out a tree branch allowed for more diversity when casting the baited hook and line for even more effective fishing opportunities, the first fishing pole was born and the evolution of the fishing tackle we know today began.

The fly rod of today got its start in merry old England as a slender rod whittled from a wood called “green heart” and using horsehair fishing line and no reel – reels would come much later.

There is something to be said about using a simple stick and string for fishing, because there is truly no fuss or muss entailed to the whole affair. Being from the baby boomer generation, my first fishing experiences were with long bamboo fishing poles (that everyone referred to as cane poles) that we kept stored in a special spot in the tool shed.

Actually, a lot of folks used bamboo poles back then, and these weren’t the jointed poles that come apart in sections, but rather a single long piece of bamboo that had to be strapped on top of or alongside of the car in order to reach the fishing spot.

Those long bamboo “cane poles” were effective fishing tools, too, allowing for accurate placement of the baited hook (the bait was usually worms we dug up in our humus-rich barnyard). Generally, we used red and white stick bobbers (probably a collector’s item today) as well, and the addition of this weight made for more control for accurate casting, and that lengthy and slender bamboo allowed for acute sensitivity in feeling a fish nibbling on the bait.

That springy bamboo can take quite a beating as well with a fighting fish, and landing the fish is as simple as lifting the pole’s tip straight up in a steady manner. Actually, it is just a very simple case of geometry.

When I started to go fishing alone by pedaling my bicycle from our farm to the nearby Cass River, those long bamboo poles had to be left behind. My method here was to take along a set length of fishing line wrapped around an old wooden sewing thread spool. When I got to the river, I would cut off a switch of sandbar willow, trim off the branches with my handy pocketknife, and attach the fishing line, and I was ready to go.

Selecting the green willow switch was an instinctive matter as to what worked for me, and it was a great system for wade-fishing and working near tight and brush-lined fishing holes. This fishing method has been used for eons, and I felt a distinct kinship to Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer.

Then a friend came fishing with me and he had one of those new-fangled rod and reels, and I was mesmerized by the casting out and reeling in. I knew I had to save my money and get me one. Admittedly, from then on for a while, I got away from the simple stick and string fishing concept.

Then, my three sons came along, and with a farm pond in our backyard, summertime fishing is a way of life here. Not wanting to deal with the typical snarls (aka “bird nests”) in lines and reels, I opted right away to start them out with cane poles.

The local hardware just happened to have a bunch of bamboo poles of various sizes, and I was soon able to tailor-equip the kids. Not wanting them to feel left out while I used a rod and reel, I got a cane pole for myself as well. You might say that taking my sons fishing in this old-style manner caused me to come around full circle.

No doubt, nostalgia played a role while I instructed them on how to do it, but I was soon reintroduced into how dependable and utterly relaxing fishing with a cane pole can be. I haven’t backed away from it since.

As fate would have it, not long after my sons got into fishing, I discovered my favorite cane pole of all cane poles at a local garage sale, and for only a couple bucks. It is a three-sectioned affair that when put together is in the neighborhood of 12 feet long, and unlike the cane poles of my youth, is an easy matter to transport to and from fishing spots. It is also, despite its length, well balanced from its hefty butt to its slender but strong tip.

Although I often use a fly rod or ultra-light rod and reel while wading or from a canoe, admittedly, more times than not, you just might see me using a cane pole. Its sheer simplicity causes an already relaxing pastime to become even more laid-back. On top of that, it is also very effective in catching fish in a brush-lined river environment. Presenting bait or even artificial lures and spoons can be performed with a very unique dexterity, including small, open pockets in a myriad of lily pads.

My personal way of rigging a cane pole is basically straightforward and, like the tackle in general, quite simple. I use 8- 10-pound Dacron line attached to the tip, and then again just behind the tip (about three inches apart) of the cane pole (for more durability), and cut off at the same length as the cane pole.

On the end, I have a swivel-snap for attaching hooks on monofilament leaders (or even a wire leader if I know a pike might be lurking about in the lily pads). My end result is casting a line out that is just slightly longer than the already lengthy cane pole, which I have found to be more than adequate and very manageable for near shore, off of a dock, or river fishing. I’m certainly not looking to fish into deep and murky depths, but instead, I pick my ground, so to speak, for employing this timeless system. 

Generally, I look upon using a cane pole as a live bait option, but I have successfully used artificial bait including spoons, flies and bass poppers. Minnows work well (especially if I’m fishing from a canoe), but more often than not, I use dependable worms, which are much easier to deal with, especially when wading.

I will never forget when I watched my granddaughter McKenna, an avid angler who dearly loves to fish with a cane pole because they are simple and effective to use, was walking slowly along the bank of our farm pond on a hot summer day a few years ago with her cane pole extended out over the water, and much to my amazement, she hooked and landed a dandy bass. According to her, she was “shore trolling.”

Bless the wisdom and ingenuity of small children. I definitely had to try that particular technique myself, because it obviously works!

Email freelance outdoors writer Tom Lounsbury at

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