First-time charter clients often step aboard my flats boat and ask why I don't have a trolling motor. "Because I know that will always start," I tell them, pointing at my 22-foot push pole. Trolling motors are more dependable than ever, but in the shallow depths I typically target, a push pole is still the best tool when stalking wary fish.
"Poling is all about being quiet," says Capt. Scott Sommerlatte, a 22-year veteran guide on the Texas coast from Matagorda to Rockport. He normally fishes in water five inches to two feet deep and spends up to 612 hours a day poling his 18-foot skiff. "A pole flopping around and splashing will send fish packing," he says. "That's why you should buy the lightest pole you can afford."
There are several materials used to make push poles, from aluminum to fiberglass to carbon fiber. Prices range from under $200 to more than $1,100, depending on materials and length. Graphite or carbon-fiber versions are extremely light, stiff and the most expensive. Fiberglass poles are more affordable yet weigh more. Selecting the right pole depends on budget, obviously, but also application and use.
"Fiberglass push poles are fine for novice users or those who won't be poling very much," explains Kevin Shaw, owner of Stiffy in Corpus Christi, Texas. "Here in Texas, boaters have the option of a paddle or push pole for their required safety gear, so the 10-foot fiberglass poles are our biggest seller. A guy in a 22-foot bay boat isn't going to pole too often, but he can use it to push off an oyster bar or fend off a dock. Our Hybrid model is our mostpopular. It's 80 percent graphite with 20 percent glass wrap for an abuse factor. And we build three graphite models, including the ultimate technical pole, the Graphite Extreme. It's made from HR40 high-modulus graphite with unidirectional weave. A 21-footer weighs 212 pounds and is very stiff. It's also only 114 inches in diameter, to help reduce fatigue. We designed that pole for professional guides who are on the platform all day long."