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Pole Fishing – A guide to getting started

If you’re thinking of taking up pole fishing, Black Country Angler, Chris Smith explains some of the basics to help you get started and what you’ll need to take up this popular form of fishing.


So, you’ve just purchased your first pole and can’t wait to get to try it out. Whoa, not so fast! Buying the pole is just the first part of the fun. Now you probably need to elasticate it, buy a few essential accessories as well as make sure you have the right seat underneath you.

There’s also the important question of which line and hook lengths to use. To help you get started, I’ve put together this handy guide on the basics of pole fishing with a particular look at line selection and hook lengths – and why this is so important. So, here is my basic guide to pole fishing – how to get started. I hope it helps in your first steps towards this rewarding pastime.

The importance of the right seat box for pole fishing

More than with any other angling discipline, it is essential to use a pole while seated on a suitable, comfortable and perfectly level seat to ensure you don’t cause yourself untold long-term back injury. The obvious and ubiquitous choice is a fully adjustable seat box, preferably with a footplate.

Foremost amongst all your items of tackle, a seat box can become the most personal of them all. After sitting in the same place for a whole day it is easy to love or hate your box, especially if you are trying to wield a long pole at the same time. One angler’s perfection is another angler’s frustration.

To get some idea of the box that suits you don’t just look at pictures. Try out a friend’s box, ask other anglers what they think about the box they own – they may even let you sit on it. Stick with it and take your time making your choice because the ability to be comfortable and to get your posture correct will likely save your spine for future use elsewhere. This is one of the main reasons why today’s modern fully adjustable seat boxes are the most popular choice out there. Choose wisely and you will learn to love your box.

Whatever box you select, make sure it allows you to sit with your knee joints as near to 90° as possible. Your feet need to be flat on the footplate and your back should be straight.

Black seat box with adjustable legs.

A typical example of a modern seat box. The multiple legs are fully adjustable and all have mudfeet. The excellent seat cushion is comfortable to sit on all day and six legs ensures maximum stability.

How to choose the right seat box for pole fishing

The first thing to look for is a nice supportive seat cushion, the height of which can be adjusted up or down to your individual needs. Too high is just as bad as too low. A footplate is also considered essential these days and it is a great option because you can keep your feet flat to the ground.

Locking the height between the seat and the footplate will ensure you always sit comfortably. You will also require telescopic legs, at least on the front of your box. Telescopic legs can be extended to accommodate any unevenness in your peg without you having to move your footplate. A box that seems great in the tackle shop, when you are only faced with setting up on a level floor, may not be so great on a muddy 45° slope in the pouring rain.

Good sturdy legs that will take accessories are also seen as essential these days, but don’t get carried away by the desire for 36mm diameter legs. Not only can the boxes with big diameter legs be eye-wateringly expensive, they are also not really necessary for most of us. In practice a box with 30mm or 25mm diameter legs can perform perfectly and should work out much cheaper.

Good posture will lead to good habits when handling your pole, and repeated good habits will create ‘muscle memory’ which is when you will begin to make this pole fishing lark look easy. With the right seat box underneath you, pole fishing will become much easier and more fun.

How to choose elastics for pole fishing

The sheer amount of elastic choice facing today’s angler can be mind-blowing. I will wager that if you ask twenty anglers what elastic they use, and the reasons why, you will get twenty different answers. Their reasons will vary from brand loyalty, to always using the same elastic they once won a match with, right through to colour preference… or you may just get a ‘thousand yard stare’ as they admit that they don’t really know.

Some experienced anglers will tell you that solid elastic is right for certain applications and that hollow elastic is preferable for others. There will be just as many who will insist that hybrid elastics are the future. My advice to a first time pole angler is to stick to the ‘old fashioned’ solid elastic to avoid confusion and keep it simple, then there is only one question that needs to be answered. What kind of fishing will I be doing?

A man pole fishing on a lake

Choosing the correct pole elastic is a personal choice, but it should be dictated by the size of fish you are aiming to catch and the venue you are fishing.

Once you have determined what kind of fishing you plan to do with your pole you are well on your way to knowing the size of elastic to use. Canals may require the lightest elastics, rivers and natural lakes will require slightly stronger elastic and commercial fisheries demand some bigger still. There are myriad scenarios in between, but you can worry about those once you no longer consider yourself a beginner to pole fishing. Once experienced you will have plenty of time to develop your own preferences, fine tune your selection and try out the different types of elastic.

Don’t forget, you simply cannot select a single elastic that will cover every size of fish you might catch. One size most definitely does not fit all. For this reason poles are supplied with multiple tip sections so you can have multiple different elastics available. You will have to select the right elastic from your armoury on the day that you fish, basing your choice on what size MOST of the fish are likely to be. There will alway be the odd monster that comes along, and if you are patient you will hopefully land it.

Your local tackle shop will supply and fit your elastic, including the fitment of the PTFE bush into the tip. The PTFE bush will provide a smooth exit for your elastic to slide over and will need to be size-matched to the elastic you select. Doing this yourself is not something I would recommend to a newcomer to pole fishing unless you are super confident.

Before you go to see your local tackle dealer it would be a good idea to check out the guide below. This will hopefully give you an idea regarding which thickness of elastic you need. It is always a good idea to become a little informed before you are about to invest in any new equipment.

Pole fishing on a lake in spring

Poles have been come lighter, stronger and longer over the last 20 years. It’s now possible to have an 18M pole to fish with.

An idiot’s guide to elastic rating for poles

According to this particular idiot, in the beginning there was but one type of elastic. It was solid, and it was good! The strength of these solid elastics varied with their diameter. The first commonly available elastics were numbered from 1 to 8 starting at the thinnest. There was no real call for anything thicker because catching massive carp on the pole had not yet been invented.

Easy-to-stretch thin elastics were perfect for small fish and would be used on canals for bashing out gudgeon and small roach, etc. The thickest elastics were usually reserved for carp fishing and were designed to handle the bigger fish caught in commercial fisheries.

In the early nineties, when Billy Makin opened the first ever commercial coarse fishery, the carp were still babies. Move on just a few years and as the original fish grew bigger, pole strength and elastic rating began to be tested to destruction, quite literally.

So called ‘margin poles’ were born and manufacturers developed new stronger elastic and eventually sizes up to 20 and beyond were created. I recently heard of a whopping size 30 elastic now being made available. Where will it end?

The elastic rating, which originally applied to solid elastic, is still used today. As elastics were developed and improved, solid elastic was joined by hollow elastic and now we have hybrid elastics which claim to have the best attributes of solid and hollow combined.

Though manufacturers still use the original number rating, there is no precise definitive ‘like for like’ across all manufacturers. Take the rating as a guide only until experience teaches you the exact size and type of elastic that suits your needs.

In the meantime, if you refer to my suggestions below you hopefully won’t go too far wrong. A top tip is to err towards lighter ratings as this will probably help you land more of what you hook. An elastic that is too heavy will ‘bump off’ small fish, particularly on barbless hooks, and it gets very frustrating after a while.

I recommend that you either aim for the big fish and put up with the tiddlers potentially dropping off, or aim for the average fish and hope that your tackle will cope with the odd bigger fish that comes along.

Suggested elastic ratings to use as a starting point

  • Small roach, rudd, perch, etc. less than ½ lb (250g) – size 2 to 6
  • Mid range fish, bream, carp, chub, tench, etc. up to 6lb (3kg) – size 6 to 12
  • Bigger fish, carp, barbel, etc. up to 10lb (5 kg) – size 10 to 16

If you are planning on regularly catching fish over 10lbs on the pole then please seek additional advice about every aspect of your tackle. Not only will this save you from making some expensive mistakes, but more importantly it will save big carp from having to drag a broken pole section around behind them. That is lamentable for both angler and fish alike and should be avoided.

Getting your elastic set up is so important. Most poles come with at least a couple of spare top sections, this gives you the option to use different elastic set ups and quickly change as bigger fish move into your swim.

Getting your elastic set up is so important. Most poles come with at least a couple of spare top sections, this gives you the option to use different elastic set-ups and quickly change as bigger fish move into your swim.

Choosing your line for pole rigs

There is a common misunderstanding regarding line selection, which is that you need a 10lb line to catch a 10lb fish. This is simply not true. With no snag in the swim a fish shouldn’t ever break your line, it is almost always the angler who does this, either by not giving line when the fish requires it or by simply pulling too hard.

Your pole is slightly different when compared to using a rod and reel. Elastic can ‘bottom out’ and at that point it is impossible to give any more slack. You need to ensure that your pole will never break and to do this your tackle must be balanced.

A brief explanation of ‘balanced tackle’

Balanced tackle means that when playing a fish (or possibly pulling for a break if you are snagged) your hooklength will break first, your mainline second, and only then might your elastic break. All this should theoretically happen way before you put your pole at risk. Many anglers will refer to having balanced tackle and here are a few principles to enable you to achieve balanced tackle yourself:

  • Your pole should be strong enough to withstand any pull the elastic can exert. In other words, if you are pulling for a break the elastic should break before the pole.
  • Your elastic should be strong enough to withstand any pull your mainline can exert. In the same scenario, if you are pulling for a break the mainline should break before the elastic does.
  • Finally, your mainline should be strong enough to withstand any pull that your hooklength can exert. In other words your hooklength should always be the weakest link.

Why having balanced tackle is important when pole fishing

Well, there are two main reasons. The first is that it is unforgivable to be playing a fish and having your pole snap as you exert too much pressure. The last thing you want is for a magnificent big fish to be dragging a pole rig, elastic and a metre or two of carbon fibre around a lake.

The second reason is common sense and cost. A new hook length is far cheaper and easier to replace than a pole section, your elastic or even a whole rig.

  1. Suggested canal rig line. For fishing a canal, rigs made of 2lb breaking strain line are not uncommon and ½lb hook lengths can be used. Combined with a no 2-4 elastic, this will usually successfully land any fish you encounter.
  2. Suggested river rig line. For river work, 3½ lb breaking strain line is acceptable, with hook lengths up to 2½ lb. An elastic rating of 6-8 is generally right for light river work.
  3. Suggested commercial rig line. As a starting point for carp rigs, I suggest that you use nothing stronger than 6lb breaking strain (0.22 – 0.24) line for your rigs and use hook lengths no stronger than 5lb breaking strain (0.20 – 0.22). A number 10-12 elastic will cope with most carp but may need to be stepped up to cope with double figure fish. You can always use lighter hook lengths if you wish to have a more delicate presentation.

Four pole accessories for beginners

Anglers new to the pole will soon recognise the need for a stable and adjustable rear rest that will also stop your pole blowing away in a breeze. Pole Rollers come in many different options and you are sure to find one that fits the bill.

The next thing you will need is a front rest for your pole for when you are holding the pole steady for long periods, especially in a wind. A front Pole Rest, otherwise known as a Spray Bar, will do just that.

As you break your pole down to land a fish you will find that the main body of your pole will often slide forward off the pole roller, threatening to plunge into the water. To avoid this potential mishap a Pole Sock can be used. Simply stuff the end of your pole into the Pole Sock where it will sit safely until you need it. They also assist in stopping your pole from blowing away.

As your expertise increases you will find yourself wanting to use multiple top sections. Rigs for deep, others for shallow, a rig for maggots and another for corn or meat. Where do you safely store all these top sections whilst you are fishing? Check out pole top-kit roosts, they were made for the job.

Pole fishing on a lake

Pole Rollers come in many different designs and can make it so much easier when feeding the pole backwards. They also help protect against damage.

A cautionary post script.

If you absolutely insist on using line stronger than 6lb breaking strain before you go ahead, please try this experiment. Find something that weighs six pounds, attach your line to it and see if you can lift the six pound weight off the floor with your pole. If you can, just keep adding more weight until you chicken out …. or your pole breaks.

You now understand the maximum mainline that you can safely use with your pole. I am obviously joking about actually breaking your pole – please be careful. That’s an expensive piece of kit you are using there, you really don’t want to break it, do you?


For me the beauty in using a pole lies in the ability to fish a delicate presentation in an otherwise impossible spot, catching fish that might be denied to a rod and line angler. It is not hard to see why advances in poles have led the way for several years and why they enjoy a popularity that keeps on growing. I hope my few insights here will have demystified some of the factors that are key to successful pole fishing.

Happy fishing and tight lines!

Chris Smith
Written by Chris Smith
With over sixty years of angling experience under his belt, Chris got hooked on fishing by catching perch and roach from his local Fens Pools. Having fished his first match at the age of eight, Chris was a keen club angler for 30 years and captain of Severnside Match Group. Now retired, Chris enjoys his fishing more than ever and loves being able to pass on his knowledge to other anglers.


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