Most people knew her as Ms. Myrtle but to me she was just Granny. A large woman (“full-bodied” would be the politically correct term today), she was a master of the angling craft. She was one of those rare individuals of whom it is said, “They could catch fish in a mud hole.”
Granny’s methods were simple but deadly. Although competent with more sophisticated tackle, she preferred a cane pole for freshwater fishing. Armed with one or more ten to twelve-foot poles and can of red worms or crickets, she would dredge bream, bass, catfish or perch from nearly any given water body near her home in Johnston County. She often did this while other anglers, slinging lures with spinning or casting tackle, looked on – empty handed. Granny, like a lot of other old timers, knew a cane pole in the hands of a skilled fisherman is perhaps the most effective tackle ever invented. It’s also one of the most aesthetically pleasing.
The ultimate in simplicity, a cane pole is a slender length of bamboo which, when dried and varnished, has amazing strength and resiliency. Tipped with an equal length of 8 to 10-pound test line, a sliding cork, a piece or two of lead shot and a hook appropriate for the fish being sought, it becomes an angling system that has probably accounted for more fish dinners than any other type of tackle.
While a cane pole lacks the complexities of modern baitcasting and spinning gear, it still requires a certain degree of expertise and finesse. Comparing a cane pole to a graphite spinning outfit is sort of like comparing a traditional-style hunting bow to a high powered rifle. The former, in both cases, requires a greater degree of stealth and, often, patience on the part of the user.
Cane poles are hard to find nowadays. Once they were a standard commodity at nearly every country store, hanging on a make-shift rack on the side of the building or stacked in an easily-accessible corner. They were more than items for sale. They symbols of an easier life. They were evidence to every farmer who came by that, although there might be another ten dusty acres to plow or a field of corn to plant, at some point the sun would dip behind the trees, cool shadows would creep across the pasture, and bream would gather in the shallows of the farm pond or neighboring creek.
It used to be that you could tell someone was going fishing because there would be a bundle of cane poles tied to the car’s rain gutter or sticking out the rear window. It was a declaration that, “Hey you might working but I’m not. I’m going fishing, so na-na, na-na, na-na.” Just seeing those poles strapped to that car could set the observer to daydreaming about an afternoon on the creek, a big ol’ catfish flopping on the bank. It could also make him a pretty useless employee for the rest of the day. Modern equipment doesn’t do that.
Cane poles were made for warm weather fishing. They make you slow down and get close to what you’re doing, and that’s a good thing. At least it was good enough for Granny. If there are farm ponds in Heaven, I’ll bet that’s where she is right now. And I guarantee you she’s using a cane pole.