The Art of Poling the Shallows

By March 18, 2012Articles

The reason why light tackle & fly anglers have so much more success throwing the fakes that catch trophy game fish is directly related to their ability to pole their skiffs quietly into range without alerting their quarry.  The advantage to push poling a skiff is that you minimize your footprint on the flat…that ultimately equates to a reduction in noise and practically a zero pressure wave emanating from the poled hull.  And I’m personally convinced that a quiet boat that can’t be detected… just “flat out fishes” any other type of boat that is making preventable sounds within the same shallow zone.

A few critical concepts that beginning push pole anglers need to grasp is how they can make their skiff an extension of themselves. In other words, command the direction of their skiff with minimal effort while remaining stealthy.  The first concept to understand is boat control… if the push pole is placed directly behind the skiff in-line with the imaginary center line of the boat itself then with very little effort the skiff can be propelled forward in the desired direction.  If a right turn is desired by the angler poling the boat, then all that is needed would be to place the foot of the push pole just a little right of the imaginary centerline and then gently push forward bringing the bow around to the starboard direction ever so slightly.  Keep in mind, the farther the push pole foot is placed to the right away from the imaginary centerline a more exaggerated turn to starboard will be experienced. Conversely, to make a left hand turn to port you would employ the opposite energy described above.  Of course, there are always mitigating circumstances such as wind and sometimes even current that will require adjustments by the push poling angler.  When these scenarios arise it may be necessary to pole the skiff a little off-center to achieve the desired forward direction.  A common example might be if you experience a slight breeze off your bow a little to the portside.  This would require you to pole a little left of center to compensate for the added wind resistance coming from your portside to continue down the flat in a relatively straight line. This type of adjustment plays into that feeling of “intuition” and comes with a little practical experience.  Another must, is to focus on the downward angle from the poling platform in relation to your push pole stroke.  If the stroke angle is too acute (to close to the stern), you will have less control over the skiff especially in breezy conditions;  instead keep the pole angle lower and a little further away from the stern for better boat control.  Lastly, a scenario that often happens is when the wind is a little brisk from the stern of the skiff when poling downwind.  This requires the angler poling to “crab” down the flat rather than push pole. Crabbing down the flat is explained best by placing the push pole amid-ship on either side of the skiff (generally alternating sides) and slowing down the forward momentum of the skiff by creating gentle controlled resistance.  The controlled “crabbing” technique will allow the angler on the bow time to make a proper presentation to the target fish.  Furthermore, shorter push pole strokes are also needed in blustery conditions so that the angler push poling can remain in better contact with the bottom and gain even more control over the skiff.  Whereas, on those breathless still days, longer push pole strokes can be utilized to gain more ground efficiently.  The application of these simple mechanical concepts will give the beginner push pole devotee much better control of his skiff.

Understanding how to make the most of your push pole is equally important; Which brings me to my next point… or lack of depending on the bottom make-up of the sea floor.  I typically like to use the pointed end of my push pole because it has a smaller surface area and resonates much less sound.  But the pointed end of the pole is frequently a poor choice if the sea floor is soft and/or muddy in consistency.  That being said, all soft bottom scenarios should require the forked end of the pole as the best choice because it keeps the foot from penetrating too deep into the bottom and makes poling the boat  less laboring.  With all the advancements made in technical poling skiffs and in the push poles that propel them… weight and stiffness seem to be the most important qualities sought out by poling enthusiasts.  The ideal push pole, in my opinion, is actually two push poles!  I personally like having a 21’ pole for conventional flats fishing when encountering shallow depths because a shorter pole is lighter and more rigid and keeps me from becoming overly fatigued.  But on those occasions, when I have to pole deeper flats or the beaches for tarpon, a longer 23’ to 24’ push pole is a better tool for boat control in those circumstances.

In closing, if you have ever been on the bow of a flats skiff staring down a nervous school of redfish, you probably already realize your best chance at hooking up is going to be if the guy on the poling platform knows what he’s doing with that push pole.  And that’s a fact sports fans… learn the “art of push poling” and simply catch more fish!

Capt. C.A. Richardson

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