Push poles are as essential as rods and reels to anglers who stalk the flats. They have evolved from wooden poling oars hewn from solid timber to technological wonders of carbon fiber, Kevlar and graphite. In the early years of flats fishing, short poles were all that were needed as anglers’ hunted fish in shallow waters, poling from the deck and the motors of their boats.
As flats boats evolved, elevated platforms allowed anglers to peer into deeper water, requiring longer poles to reach the bottom. Long wooden poles were too heavy and cumbersome and anglers searched for lighter poles to propel them across the flats. Tubular aluminum and Fiberglas poles were developed with Fiberglas becoming the material of choice.
Technological advances in rod design shifted from Fiberglas to graphite, and it wasn’t long before graphite push poles began replacing Fiberglas. Graphite is light, causes the angler to expend less energy and allows a skiff to be poled faster. This material is able to store more energy under a load, giving it a much faster recovery rate that puts energy into propelling the boat. Fiberglas poles have a lot of flex and recover more slowly. Graphite poles can be made stiff with much less material, creating a lighter, more dynamic product.
Initially, these new poles were crafted of pure graphite, but due to the cost and problems with breakage, products were developed that blended graphite with Fiberglas. Now the carbon fibers are blended with epoxy resin. The new push poles incorporate the strength of fiberglass with the lightness and dynamics of graphite. It also lowered the price point of the pole. The two most popular lines are manufactured with cutting edge materials including Kevlar and carbon fiber, incorporating techniques that allow them to be made strong without Fiberglas.
One of the most popular brands on the market is made by Carbon Marine in Tampa, offering three models of push poles. The Mangrove is the company’s entry-level push pole manufactured from 56-inch sections of carbon fiber and epoxy resin tubing. The Mangrove is its least stiff push pole and the company claims it gives anglers the lightweight advantage of carbon fiber, compared to Fiberglas.
The mid-range push pole, the G2LR is considered the work-horse class push pole. It’s built from 8-foot sections of stiffer carbon fiber and epoxy resin. The G2LR is one of Carbon Marine’s stiffest push poles. It provides one-piece push pole performance at a lower price-point.
The G3LR is the top of the line, one-piece push pole. G3LR push poles are cured in an autoclave resulting in an extremely lightweight, strong push pole.
Another top contender is Stiffy Push Poles. The company claims the Stiffy brand push poles are the strongest on the market. Stiffy makes a full line of push poles for flats guides as well as kayakers. Its top of the line push pole, the Stiffy Guide Series, comes in sizes from 12 to 22 feet. The 20-foot model weighs in at 3 pounds, 1.25 ounces.
The points and forks of most major push poles do not vary significantly. Most are made from a specially formulated abrasion resistant plastic for longer wear. The majority of forks are a simple Y design. A better option is a fork with a tapered mud bar that runs between the legs of the fork. The best are cupped, widened in the center for support and designed to shed mud better than standard forks. They allow the angler more latitude when poling over a soft bottom, so less effort is expended pulling the pole out of the soft bottom.
Anglers who pole over hard bottoms can opt for a metal tip that screws into the end of the point. The tip grabs bottom, wears longer, and is easier to push into the bottom to hold the boat. An appropriate length of the push pole is best determined by the depth of the water generally encountered and the size of the angler’s boat. Eighteen to 24-foot poles are most common.
Push poles are one of the most important components of the modern flats boat. There are a wide variety of push poles on the market for every budget. Check the warranty and make sure that you can get quick service if you ever need to repair or replace the pole. The most expensive poles can cost $1,000 plus each so it’s a good idea to actually try a push pole before investing in one.
Push poles help you approach fish quietly – a big advantage as more and more boats ply the flats making fish more skittish and harder to approach. For more information, visit Carbon Marine’s site and Stiffy’s website.
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