European style: Anglers use long rods without reels

That was easy. In the clear lake I could see sunfish swimming around as far as 50 yards away, and it was fun to lay a small piece of nightcrawler gently into the middle of a small school about 30 feet off and watch them race for it.

A 6-inch pumpkinseed won and pulled the float under, hooking itself in the process. But I didn't reel in the fish. Instead, I began pulling in the 32-foot European pole I was using, removing 4-foot sections until I had the tip section in hand, which I used like a conventional 6-foot rod to land the fish.

This rod wasn't equipped with a reel. Instead, a short fishing line was tied to a length of stretchy elastic fastened inside the tip section, allowing the fish to tug against it.

I have long been fascinated by European pole fishing, in which long, reel-less rods are use not to cast but to lay baits near spooky fish. The poles usually have a two-section telescoping top, 6-12 feet long, and from five to 10 removable butt sections, each 4-6 feet long

The angler deploys the rod by adding sections to the butt and pushing them out over the water; to bring a fish in, reverse the process.

For years, I limited my fascination to admiration, because the least expensive pole I could find, a 30-footer, was about $400. Top-level competition models, 54-footers made from exotic carbon fibers that weigh a couple of pounds, were $7,000.

Then Wacker Baits, a Chicago company that specializes in Euro tackle, had a clearance on a 31 foot pole for $88.

It has been a lot of fun, and when I use it, I'm forced to think about fishing very differently. I'm much more aware of the need for stealth and for doing things to bring fish to me.

But there is little reason for pole fishing in this country. The big difference between freshwater angling here and in Europe is that in North America we fish mostly for aggressive predators, while Europeans fish mostly for members of the minnow family that are afraid of their own shadows.

Americans also have far greater access to boats and can go to where the fish are, which is why our rods are short by European standards.

However, I have found situations here where pole fishing is extremely effective. One is for reaching over reeds and other vegetation where it's impossible to cast.

Another is fishing a couple of tiny flies under a float to visible suckers in rivers. It's even more fun than using a fly rod, especially when you're trying to control a jumping sucker (which leaps like a little salmon) and bring in the pole sections at the same time.

I've also used the pole to fish for trout, reaching from 25 feet away to lay flies within an inch or two of logs and other visible cover. It works, but you have to hold the pole sections under your arm as you remove them.

The leader tied to the elastic at the rod tip should be a maximum of about three feet long, and I've seen top European anglers use 18 inches. The concept isn't to cast to fish but to reach out to them and lower the bait into the water so gently that they don't spook.

I used three feet of 6-pound test fluorocarbon as a leader, with an oval float half the length of my thumb about 18 inches above a No. 10 hook. The smaller the float the better, because another key to success is putting enough split shots on the line that only the top quarter of the float is above the water.

While Euro poles aren't readily available here, Wacker Baits is now offering an 8-meter (26-foot) pole for $40, and many stores sell 20-25 foot crappie rods for $20 or so.

They work well for this kind of fishing if they're rigged properly, and it's a great way to teach kids about streamcraft when fishing from shore in a small lake or from a dock. I just love the game of reaching out to a visible fish or likely spot, getting the bait or fly in stealthily and then drawing a strike. I also like the idea of fishing the way our angling ancestors did before they could cast any distance.