Florida Backcountry


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 fish. 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.


Remember, 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 line ?


To move straight ahead- Place push pole foot in the circle area while poling forward.


Direction of force or push should line up with boats centerline

To 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 proper technique.

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 !

Tom Mitzlaff



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 works well.

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!

Tom Mitzlaff


Choosing a Push Pole

Once you 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 Florida coral.

- 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 Push Poles™

kevin-shaw fishing-catch
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