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Bamboo Cane Fishing Poles

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True simplicity in fishing consists of a bamboo cane pole about 10 feet long attached to a fishing line of about the same length, with a bobber, sinker, hook, and a wriggling worm.

Sitting on a dock, riverbank or the shore of a lake, pond, or stream, all you have to do is wait for your bobber to go down, and fun begins.

In the deep past, a bamboo cane pole was every kid’s “starter” rod, an introduction to the lifetime sport of fishing. Little line-tangling, lots of panfish nibbling, much bobber-watching – all the delights of angling.

On this date, in 1903, an article in the Cooperstown Courier compared the qualities of a cane-pole made of bamboo, imported from Japan, to those of an old-fashioned wooden pole made of hickory, ash, hazel or willow:

“Every country schoolboy is aware of the superiority of a bamboo fishing pole over any other. Its flexibility, lightness and strength distinguish it sharply from any American pole and make it better suited for a fishing rod than one made from any wood grown in this country.”

The U.S. imported several million bamboo fishing rods every year, with perhaps 10 million from China and Japan sold by 1910.

Generations of North Dakota kids dug in their gardens for enough angleworms and dirt to fill a tin can before heading to their favorite fishing-hole with bamboo pole in hand – out to catch bluegills, sunfish, pumpkinseeds, black crappies, or maybe even a big-mouthed bass, a rip-roaring northern-pike or a keeper walleye.

The anticipation of fishing was almost as sweet as watching the bobber go down.

Those bobbers changed through the years: from bottle-corks and balsa wood, to red-and-white plastic balls, and most recently, foam slip-bobbers that let make it easy to adjust the depth of the bait.

And that bait could be nightcrawlers or angleworms or grubs or grasshoppers or frogs or minnows or leeches, maybe even a kernel of corn or a marshmallow. Whatever the bait, when the bobber went down, the joy came up.

Isaak Walton said it best, “We may say of angling as Dr. Boteler said of strawberries: ‘Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did’; and so, if I might be the judge, God never did make a more calm, quiet, innocent recreation than angling.”

Doubtless, too, a bamboo starter-pole could get a kid “hooked” on fishing.

Dakota Datebook by Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, MSUM History Department


“Profits in Bamboo,” Cooperstown Courier, July 23, 1903, p. 3.

“Bamboo Culture,” Minneapolis Tribune, October 30, 1924, p. 12.

Steve Schmidt, “Cane Pole Nice Friend,” Bismarck Tribune, May 14, 1971, p. 13.

Ted Peterson, “Joys of Fishing—Before Days of Fancy Gear,” Minneapolis Tribune, June 19, 1966, p. 65.

“Fishing Tackle is Main Street’s Big Business as Season Opens,” Hope Pioneer, April 26, 1951, p. 2.

“Fair Hills,” Minneapolis Star-Tribune, June 18, 2017, p. G6.

Isaak Walton, The Complete Angler (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., 1884), p. 117-118

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