The Bassholes - It takes one to know one.

Poling - Florida Style
Sight Fishing with Preston Clark
on Sunday 12 April 2009
by Terry Battisti

Poling - Florida Style
Sight Fishing with Preston Clark
By: Terry Battisti

      A calm breeze ripples the surface of the crystal-clear aqua water as the angler peers through his sunglasses in search of a shape or flash. No fish in sight, the angler stealthily slides the boat through the water to find the ever-wary bonefish.

        As the angler poles into a dark-bottomed area, he notices flashes of silver against the ebony rocks that liter the bottom. Quietly he pushes his pole into the bottom, ties the boat off to the pole and proceeds to cast his crab-imitation fly beyond the unknowing rocket of the flats.

        The yarn spun above is an everyday occurrence that anglers face in shallow coastal waters. Success often isn't determined by how good an angler you are - but more so by how well you can sneak up on your quarry.

        Bass fishermen, especially those that live in the southern Atlantic and Gulf states and ply both fresh and salt water, fully understand the need of stealth in their approach when tracking bed fish. And, many times. the use of a trolling motor isn't considered a stealthy move.

        I had the pleasure to talk with one of the South's best bed fishermen, Florida's Preston Clark, and pick his brain about push poles - why are they so good, how they can help you and the proper way to utilize them.

To Pole or Not to Pole

        The use of a pole as a means to track fish is a new concept to western anglers. To date, its main use has been to get an angler through shallow-water canals and into backwaters on the Colorado River and its impoundments. But anglers all over the United States can gain an edge on their competition when they use a pole in shallow spawning conditions.

        "Not all shallow water requires the use of a push pole," Clark said. "It's mainly for those areas where there's a lot of grass. This past year, when the Elites went to California, I was able to spend some time on the southern California lakes like Casitas. I noticed Casitas didn't have much grass and the pole there wasn't needed.

What about lakes that have a good amount of grass, though?

        "If there is enough open water in the grass, I might use my trolling motor to go from spot to spot - its all dependant on how much grass is in the area I'm fishing. But if there's enough grass that will make me go from the tolling motor to a pole numerous times, I won't use the trolling motor at all.

        "For example, Florida lakes are all grass. When the fish get ready to spawn, they move up from the deeper water onto the vast grass flats. Guys that use their trolling motors are at a distinct disadvantage because of two reasons.

        "One, the problem with using the motor in shallow weeded areas is it kicks up silt," he said. This makes it difficult to see the bed. In bed fishing, it's important to be able to see the bed clearly in order to determine its layout, how the fish is positioned on it and most importantly, find the sweet spot.

But there's another - possibly more important - reason for the use of a pole.

        "In highly pressured places, like Florida where you can have as many as 400 boats targeting the shallows on a 1- to 6-mile stretch of river, the fish get really wary of their surroundings. Silt kicked up by a trolling motor or even the sound of the motor can turn fish off instantly. The silence of the pole will gain the angler the advantage in a big way.

        "This brings me to the point when I got to the Delta," he said. "On the Delta, there was grass in a lot of the places I was fishing. It's a perfect place for a push pole. Every serious angler that frequents the Delta should have one on board their boat."

Poling Tactics

        "As I'm moving the boat, if I see a bed, I'll put the push-pole down and anchor my boat with my Power Pole," Clark said. "In years past, I used a heavy anchor on a short rope to keep my boat in position.

        "The beauty of the Power Pole, though, is I don't have to mess with the anchor anymore and since I have two poles on my boat, I can securely anchor the boat no matter the current or wind conditions. This helps me keep the boat in the best position to fish the bed."

Courtesy BassMaster

        His boat and body placement with respect to the bed is another important factor in his success.

        "The way I fish, I don't want to see the bed as I fish it," he said. "If I can see the fish, they can see me. So, I position my boat so I can see the bed if I stand up on my tip-toes.

        But getting his boat into position isn't the only important task.

        "Once I have the boat situated, I take the time to make sure everything gives me the best chance to get the fish in the boat," he added. "First I make sure my hooks are sharp. Then I'll stand up, check out the bed and make sure the right spot is. Then I'll kneel down on the deck and make my casts 15- to 20-feet past the bed.

        "Once the bait hits the water, I'll reel it fast on the surface and then drop it about a foot from the edge of the bed. At that point, I let things calm down for 20 seconds or so and then begin my retrieve into the bed.

        Onlookers would consider his retrieve, at this point, painstakingly slow.

        "My retrieve through the bed can take as long as 2 minutes or more," he added. "I move the bait a half an inch at a time in order to hit the sweet spot. I have a good idea where that spot is before I cast but I want to give the fish every chance to eat the bait. If I get bit and the fish drops the bait, I know exactly where to cast after that.

        "A lot of the time the bite on these fish is so light you'll never know you're bit unless you watch your line," he said. "The bite can be as subtle as your line dipping a little or moving slightly to one side or another. When that happens the fish is either blowing it off the bed or sucking it in. In any event, set the hook."

Tackle and Bucks

        Most anglers when they think of drop-shotting think of finesse fishing - but Clark has found it is perfect for beds.

        "The drop-shot on beds it an absolutely awesome way to bed fish," Clark said. This past year I had a chance to use the technique and it was an eye opening experience. The fish absolutely can't stand that presentation.

        "Other than that, I use the standard bed-fishing baits," he said. "A plastic craw, tube or beaver is hard to beat day in and day out.

        "If I can't get the fish to eat the standard baits, that's when I'll switch to a Berkley Bat Wing frog. They literally smash that bait unlike the other brands of frogs that are out there. And, if they don't eat that bait within 2 or 3 casts, they aren't going to eat anything.

He also does something that a lot of other anglers try and avoid.

        "One thing I don't pay much attention to is the buck fish." he said. "It doesn't matter to me which one I catch first. If I catch the buck first, I'll put him in the well and go back to fish the female. A lot of the time you can catch both of them. I'd rather have only one fish on the bed than two and I've found that if the female does leave or doesn't eat, that fish wouldn't have eaten whether the buck was there or not."


        The learning curve in the Elite Series isn't very big," Clark said. "After the middle of last season, all the anglers on tour were using a pole. These guys don't use something if it doesn't work and if it works for us, it'll for sure work for all anglers no matter if they're a weekend guy or serious tournament angler.