Bass Fishing: How to Pole for Monster Largemouths

Photo courtesy of David A. Brown

Timber-strewn reservoir backwaters couldn’t be any further removed from idyllic Bermuda bonefish flats, yet a growing number of largemouth bass lovers are now propelling their boats in a manner found on the flats: using the modest push pole. Whether utilized independently or in conjunction with a trolling motor, these lanky beams of fiberglass, metal, wood, or PVC give anglers the ability to stealthily approach bass in structure-filled waters. This is crucial when bass are on spring spawning beds, but it will help you lower the boom on wary fish the rest of the season as well. Here are four tips to make it happen.

1. Be a Sneak
When sight-fishing bedding bass or frogging shallow, weedy waters, Tennessee FLW pro Wesley Strader often forgoes his trolling motor and Power Poles, opting instead to silently push his boat into a specific casting position. Avoiding making noise, however, is only one of his concerns.

“In a lot of lakes, the bottom is silty, and if you blow out the spot when you’re sight-fishing, you have to wait 10 to 15 minutes to see the fish again,” Strader says. Louisiana pro Jim Dillard agrees.

“Take a big bed of hyacinth, for example,” says Dillard. “If you use a trolling motor, you risk spooking the fish completely—especially if they’re already finicky. It’s better to just push-pole 10 to 15 feet, flip around, push-pole another 10 to 15 feet, and flip all around again.”

Push-pole positioning can be particularly advantageous on those bluebird days following a cold front. Ultra-clear skies and intense sunlight send bass deep into cover, where they’re even less tolerant of intrusion.

2. Get a Feel for the Bottom
Bumping your boat on a log or a stump is one thing; hitting rock or concrete is quite another. If Strader approaches a creek, canal, or slough awash with natural rock or crumbling concrete, he assumes there's more in the water. The stuff he sees is troubling enough, but those hidden growlers can ruin his day in a hurry.

“I don’t want to run across a pile of rocks, so if I’m not familiar with the spot, I use my push pole to feel if the bottom is composed of rocks, soft mud, or sand,” he says. “I want to know if there are any underwater hazards and avoid tearing up my boat.”

3. Identify Depth Changes
Knowing where the cuts, troughs, and ditches sit is important for navigational planning, as well as for identifying potential fish-aggregating areas.

4. Follow Fluctuations
Arkansas angler Mark Rose makes sure he can get into and out of any spot he wants to fish, from a reservoir's fall drawdown to the daily variations of tidal waters, by first traversing questionable areas with the push pole. Strader agrees, noting that if he can sneak in on the lowest level, he knows he'll be fine when the water rises.

Poling Proficiency
Aside from its lack of poling platforms, a fiberglass bass boat simply takes far more steam to push about than an aluminum flats skiff. Regardless of vessel size, effective poling requires an equal blend of force and finesse.

Where you stand depends on your objective. For basic navigation over longer stretches, you want to be astern. When you’re sight-fishing, perch on the nose and pole side-to-side as needed to inch along stealthily.

Remember that pushing from the stern imparts inverse action on the bow. Push to the right, the stern swings left and the bow moves right. Stand on the nose and it’s all straightforward: Push right and the bow moves left.

Pole Particulars
Strader's pole of choice is a telescoping fiberglass Super Stick that extends from 6 to 12 feet; he'll only go full-length when he needs to make a long reach or if a deeply silted bottom requires the whole pole for solid contact.

Telescoping aluminum poles offer an affordable option. Or a simple wooden dowel or capped PVC pipe can handle basic push-pole duties. Just make sure you include a “foot” design—a T- or Y-shaped terminus that provides greater surface area when you’re shoving against wet, slick objects.

Finally, wrapping a push pole’s top end with tape improves your grip and eliminates the risk of splinters and blisters.