Flats Boat Poling 101
First, let me say there is no better way to approach and
catch fish on shallow water flats or in shallow creeks,
than to use a push pole, and pole quietly, in a flats boat
until you are in casting range. It will amaze you how
close you can get to Redfish, bonefish, anything when you
are in a quiet skiff and poling it along. I have poled
across a flat and had fish literally jump out from under
us, all by using a push pole, and being QUIET !!
We will not try to give you all the details of poling
here, our focus is to help you beginners with the basics
to get you poling a skiff effectively enough to catch
Poling a skiff across a flat should not intimidate you, it
is actually quite easy once you know a few basic concepts.
In order to effectively pole a skiff and hold your
position a few key pointers will greatly help you
understand and learn the basics. Lets get started.
you are propelling the boat from the transom. In
order to go in a straight line towards your
targeted area, you must first point the boat in
the right direction by turning it with the pole,
actually pushing or spinning the rear of the boat
until it is pointed towards your heading. It is
comparable to backing up your car because you are
steering from the rear. This concept can be easily
demonstrated. Lets do an experiment. Grab a book
and put it on the table or desk in front of you.
Place a finger on the end of the book, centered
left to right, on the edge of the book. This is
like the position of your poling platform - the
rear center of the boat. Only use one finger and
try to push the book in a straight line. Notice
how you have to alter the direction slightly in
which you push to keep it traveling in a straight
||To move straight ahead- Place push pole
foot in the circle area while poling forward.
push pole lined up with center line of boat to
move boat straight ahead
of force or push should line up with boats
turn skiff, place pole where circle is, gently
push (and anticipate boat sliding and continued
drift) stop boat stern from drifting further right
when skiff is pointed on correct heading
Now try a few different things, aim at a spot on the table
and pay attention to what you have to do to get it there.
As you will see, you must first, turn the book by pushing
the rear to line up with your target spot ! Now push the
book in a straight line with one finger and gently push on
the side with another. While doing this look at what you
have to do with the push pole finger to keep it
going in a straight line or towards your target. You have
to adjust the direction of force to compensate for the yaw
of the book caused by pushing on its side. The same goes
for poling a skiff. But the book exercise will give you an
idea as to how your position and the direction you push at
the rear of the boat effects how you steer it and where
your skiff will be headed. Also try using a pencil to push
the book...it makes it even more graphic.
First things first. A point I want to make clear, which
will make things easier on you while learning is this;
when you are poling a skiff remember that your goal is to
get to the point you are aiming at, not keeping the boat
in a perfectly straight line, in other words the boat may
move in the right direction, say south, but it may
actually be pointing south-south east, get it? Look at
the drawing. The wind and tide will make the boat
"crab" along in a yawed or crooked position as you are poling.
This is important as if you are poling a flats boat cross
wind and trying to keep the boat "pointed" in the
right direction, you will most likely be headed in the
wrong direction. Look at the illustration, your boat is
pointed at "A" but your poling towards
"B". There is nothing you can do about this, except get used to
it. This is only the case when the wind or current is
yawing or turning the boat. In calm conditions you should
be able to push your boat in a straight line and keep it
pointed in the same direction.
The next point (and a very good one) I would like to make
is positioning your push pole. This is very important.
Always try to keep your push Pole foot as close to the
engine as possible. Imagine a hula-hoop tied to your
transom, in the center, dragging behind the boat just past
the prop of the engine (with the engine tilted), on the
water. This circle is where you should always place your
pole in the water and push the foot straight to the
bottom. The closer you place the foot of the pole to the
transoms center ,the easier it is to pole the boat
straight, and travel in the direction you want to. To turn
the boat you only need go off center slightly or to the
rim of our imaginary hoola-hoop to make quite a snappy
turn. The only time you really need to go out of this
circle is to do an immediate 180 turn or to stop, or avoid
an object, but we wont deal with these topics here. If you
concentrate on keeping your pole foot close to the skiff
when you place it, you will have come a long way towards
Now as far as pushing the skiff, TAKE YOUR TIME WHEN
LEARNING ! Most people use far to much force when trying
to learn and push the skiff all over the place zig-zagging,
only to get frustrated.
When your push pole foot contacts the bottom gently push
the boat forward, keeping your pole in line with the
center of the boat, remember you must push or apply the
force in a line with the center of the boat or where you
are headed, otherwise you will push the boats transom off
to the left or right pointing the skiff in the wrong
direction. Walk your hands down the pole as you apply
force, and bingo - off you go ! If you push the skiff and
it goes off to one side, pick up the foot and place if a
little off center towards the side the transom is moving
to get your boat back in line with your target. This is a
constant process that you will get used too. Just
remember, take it SLOW and easy while you are learning and
you will soon master the art of poling your skiff. Just
remember to keep the pole behind the skiff in the "hoola-hoop"
and keep it in straight line with the boats center
line....these two hints will help you greatly.
One more item I will address. To stop the boat push your
foot into the bottom and gently "walk your hands down
the pole" pulling it to a stop, this takes a little
practice. You can also place the pole up in front of the
boat or to its side and stop but this takes practice to
keep the boat from spinning. These are things easily
learned though once you master the basics.
I hope this article helps you learn the basics of poling.
With a little practice you will soon learn it is not as
hard as some people may think.
Good Luck !
Shallow Water Skiffs Inc.
FLY FISHING ALONE IN A SKIFF - SOME TIPS
A lot of people like to fly fish yet it's hard to find
a partner to go out with every time. I thought I would
offer some suggestions to people who venture out on the
flats alone with a long rod in hand.
The hardest part of fly fishing alone in a skiff is
handling your equipment. Between the skiff, push pole, fly
rod, and fly line it can be a task but with a few simple
tips, its actually quite easy.
The key to fly fishing by yourself is having everything
ready in advance and at arms reach, I am mainly speaking
of your fly rod. The next important thing is what to do
with the push pole when it comes time to grab the fly rod,
we will address both of these issues.
First, when I am poling alone in my skiff, I do so from
the bow and suggest you do the same. It makes everything
much easier and it is much safer to fish from the bow than
your poling platform especially while fishing alone.
As far as equipment, to make all this easier to accomplish
two items are essential. First something to keep your fly
rod in and ready so its not sliding around the deck,
getting your line tangled. I use a Fly Line Tamer, made by
Alu-Marine products. It is basically a tall narrow
stripping basket that is heavy enough on the bottom to
allow you to keep your rod in it, in a vertical position
without it toppling over in the wind, it really is a nice
item. Second is something to keep your push pole under
control when you pick up your fly rod. Yes, you can just
put it between your legs but believe me, that can be a
real pain especially about the time the fish show up
suddenly, and you drop the pole spooking the fish. I like
using the Polemate. Its a wonderful little clip that
allows you to instantly clip the push pole quietly to your
side. It just straps on like a belt and works great.
Now the rest is basically simple though, it does take some
practice. Standing with your feet on the bow of the skiff,
place the fly line tamer between your legs as close as
possible to yourself. Strip about 25 feet of fly line into
the tamer and place the rod into the tamer. Hook your fly
onto a piece of foam glued to outside of tamer. Strap your
Polemate to whatever side is comfortable for you.
You will be poling the skiff backwards so here's the trick
when you pole up on a fish. I upon seeing the fish get
just in casting range (mine) and start pushing the front
of the skiff in an arc - a 180 turn if you will to put the
front of the skiff and yourself in a position where you do
not have to cast around the boat. Now when the boat is at
aprox. 90 degree angle to the fish I give it a little
added push to keep it slowly turning, put the pole in the
polemate on my belt, pick up the fly rod and begin my
cast. With a little practice and good timing you will be
casting just before the skiff is pointed at the fish. What
you also want to remember is that you want to think ahead of
you can time everything. With a little practice it really
Once in a while, another 'trick' I use to control
the skiff is I will actually sit on the bow of the
boat with my legs in the water and literally walk the boat
along with my feet. You have to have semi firm bottom for
this and a boat with low freeboard and shallow draft. When
you are bone fishing in the Keys this works very well for
me. You pole along, swing the boat as I described and if
you don't get the fish to eat right away, or they are
moving around a lot (as bonefish always do) put your pole
in the pole hooks on your skiff, and walk the boat along.
You get the advantage of wading and keeping a low profile
yet without sinking into the bottom, try it, I hooked my
first bonefish while fishing alone doing just that.
Good luck and tight lines
Shallow Water Skiffs Inc.
Choosing a Push Pole
have decided to purchase a push pole and start
poling, the next order of business is to consider
what length of pole best suits your
needs. Some of the factors to consider are;
- Where will you be poling from? The deck or from a
tower? If you are poling from a tower then we
recommend a minimum length of 18'.
Depth & Bottom Conditions
- How deep is the water you will be poling in?
Consider the bottom conditions carefully because a
pole will sink further in Louisiana mud than in
- Consider how much time you plan to spend poling.
You will want a lighter and longer pole if you are
planning on doing a lot of poling. Shorter poles are
fine for casual use. (staking out, controlling a
drift, or poling for relatively short periods of
time.) A longer pole allows you to "Walk" the pole
(hand over hand motion ) a few times between placing
it and picking it back up. This means less noise as
well as less work on your body. An extra 2 foot can
mean the difference between lifting the pole 50
times or 100.
Remember, store the pole fork toward
the bow and spike toward the stern, this way if the
pole happens to slip back during travel, the fork
will catch on the bow mounting bracket.
Captain Kevin Shaw Stiffy