UPCOMING EVENT: Costa FLW Series - 2019 - Santee Cooper

FISHING LEAGUE WORLDWIDE

Keys to Cane Piles

Keys to Cane Piles
Cane Pile

Anthony Gagliardi says the first time he put cane piles into Lake Murray was around the winter of 2006, in preparation for a February FLW Tour event.

He wound up winning the tournament after weighing nearly 50 pounds over the final two days – and his carefully prepared cane piles didn’t help him at all.

More than a decade later at the 2017 Forrest Wood Cup, cane piles were the story of the tournament, as third-place finisher Brandon Cobb and champion Justin Atkins keyed on them for big stringers each day of the tournament, and others in the top 10 sampled cane piles here and there. The success of the cane pile pattern was a surprise, but only because of the time of year.

 

Cane Piles

What is a cane pile?

Planting cane piles is an ingenious solution to the bass behavioral changes triggered by blueback herring being introduced to reservoirs. The presence of a cane pile concentrates bass that would otherwise roam over a broad area in search of herring, and it makes it possible to target bass that key on the speedy, pelagic baitfish with a greater degree of precision.

The key part of a cane pile is its height. A pile is usually made out of three to five stalks of bamboo stuck in a bucket or concrete block filled with concrete. Many are more than 10 feet tall. Sometimes folks will attach a float near the top of the canes to keep them upright, and the result is a piece of cover that reaches higher in the water column than an average brush pile. The objective of a cane pile isn’t to provide cover on the bottom of the lake. It’s to provide cover up where bass like to suspend in the summer and fall.

In general, fresher, leafier cane piles are better than older ones where only the trunk of the bamboo remains. In practice for the 2017 Forrest Wood Cup, Michael Neal began his search by running a large collection of cane pile waypoints that he’d accumulated in the 2014 Cup on Murray. As he checked them this time around, Neal deleted waypoints for any spots where the piles hadn’t been refreshed. Not only are the best cane piles more likely to be kept fresh by enterprising local anglers, but the bushier ones simply offer more cover for bass to hide.

 

Cane Pile

Finding them

Unless you place them yourself, actually finding cane piles is a little tricky. Because they are made of softer wood than a standard brush pile and are much narrower (a regular pile of hardwood limbs might be 5 to 10 feet in diameter), cane piles don’t stick out very well on side-looking sonar. They show up great on DownScan or 2-D sonar if you ride right over them, but that’s not as efficient as using a system such as Lowrance StructureScan. Because of the nature of the cane and the usual bottom composition of Carolina lakes, marking the bucket or concrete block holding the cane is sometimes a better giveaway than marking the cane itself.

Atkins is a sonar pro, and he says he figured out how to mark them pretty well. For Atkins, the biggest key was turning up his chart speed, which would stretch the sonar “shadows” thrown by the cane.

Neal is also as good as it gets when it comes to sonar, and he was able to spot cane on his StructureScan as well. He didn’t greatly alter his sonar settings, but instead kept his eyes peeled for small shadows that denoted the cane, and focused on the bright returns from the buckets and blocks used as bases. One tweak Neal did make was to change his color palette from blue to the standard brown color, which he says made the piles show up a little better. Cobb recommends the same palette change, but likes to stick with a brighter palette on his DownScan.

Once you find a cane pile and idle straight over it, it’s pretty easy to tell how fresh it is. An old one will look like a few sticks, while a new one will be “bushier.” Often, you can mark fish in or around a cane pile, and if you’re practicing and aren’t going to fish them until the tournament, that can go a long way toward picking out the best ones.

 

Brandon Cobb

The pattern details

The cane pile blowout at the Cup came as a surprise to many observers because mid-August isn’t the typical season for that pattern. According to Cobb, cane piles can dominate in a narrow window beginning when postspawn bass start to move offshore, but the pattern doesn’t really get good until the herring are done spawning in the shallows. Once the herring and bass move out, the early summer, postspawn offshore bite doesn’t last too long because the heat typically drives the bass to school more or go to the bank. It cranks up again in early fall, which is the primary cane pile season.

“Normally I like to fish the bank, and every situation I’ve ever seen, other than September or October, you can beat the offshore fish on the bank,” says Cobb. “Normally the shallow fish in the spring are bigger than cane pile fish, and in the dead summer they don’t work at all.

“When you start fishing them is kind of hard to say. You can catch a few all summer, but one day you’ll go and they’ll be on almost every cane pile,” says Cobb, adding that the bite usually tapers off once the lake turns over. “You’ll go one day and the lake will have that bubbly brown look, and they won’t be on them.”

Cane can be productive in the winter, but Cobb says it isn’t the focal point of his fishing then.

“There’s a lot of cane in pockets on Hartwell, and I’ve caught fish off it in the winter, but I don’t think it works better than any other brush pile,” explains Cobb. “In the winter the herring aren’t suspended, so they don’t need that extra height.”

Aside from the height, the location of the piles is really key in the summer and fall. Typically, Cobb finds his best piles on points in about 18 to 22 feet, but he fishes some as deep as 25 feet.

“Herring stay out in the deep water, and the bass like to sit on the thing that’s farthest out into the deep water,” says Cobb. “If you go put a cane pile on some unobvious spot that’s 30 yards off the bank then they probably won’t get on that.”

 

Calling them up

Tons of tournaments have been won running and gunning brush piles, and running cane isn’t that different. It works so well because of how the bass relate to the piles.

“It’s a group of fish, and that’s the problem,” says Cobb. “Even if you get one bite and don’t catch them, you still ruin the cane pile. If one decides they want to eat it, every fish in the cane pile is gone. They’re now sitting under your boat. On cane piles, I’ve probably caught more than two fish just a handful of times.”

Atkins’ huge final day at the Cup was keyed by catching multiple fish that were relating to the same pile, but that’s hardly usual. Typically, you’ll catch one, make a few more fruitless casts and then re-visit the pile later for another shot at them.

Though you can use soft jerkbaits and small swimbaits and the like, big pencil poppers and other large topwaters work well for a few reasons. The first is the sheer drawing power. A big topwater mimics a large blueback herring very well. In clear water, the bait is visible from far off and provides a nice target for hungry bass. Bigger topwaters are also good because they select the size of the fish for you. Atkins says he rarely caught a fish that weighed less than 3 pounds with the ima Little Stik 135 he was tossing at the Cup. Finally, bigger topwaters often have three hooks, and that’s essential to landing as many bites as you can.

 

The effect of the sun

“A little breeze and dead sunny, that’s when it’s supposed to be the best, and that’s when it always has been in my whole history of cane pile fishing,” says Cobb.

At the Cup on Murray that wasn’t the case. They bit great when the clouds were out.

But, generally speaking, the amount of light affects the behavior of the blueback herring quite a bit. Typically, sunnier conditions bring the blueback herring closer to the surface.

“I don’t know that Murray has as many herring as some of the other Savanah River lakes, but on Hartwell sometimes when it’s sunny you’ll actually see beach ball-sized groups of herring going across the middle of nowhere,” says Cobb. “It’s like if you were out drifting in the middle of the ocean. But, I’ve never seen that when it’s cloudy.”

Cobb believes that throughout a given day the bass usually sit at about the same level in the pile, but the height of the herring determines how likely they are to chase. On sunnier days with the herring up high, they might readily attack a topwater, but on a cloudy, rainy day when the herring stay down a Zoom Fluke on a weighted hook will do more damage.

Cane-dwelling bass definitely do hit the bottom at night. Cobb says he puts the topwater down once it gets dark during night tournaments. Also, many pros reported topwater bass spitting up crayfish in their livewells at the Cup, suggesting that they were also feeding on the bottom.

This summer’s Cup on Murray was really the first time a big tournament has been won fishing cane piles, and it was extraordinary in a number of ways. If anything, it proved that fishing cane is like anything else in fishing – far from an exact science. Nonetheless, it’s certainly a pattern that anyone fishing around the blueback herring would be wise to keep in mind.

Tags: jody-white  article 

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