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COLUMN: Down the river without a paddle

J.A. Bolton

In this week’s story, I’m going to tell y’all about a fishing trip I had long ago. Yessir, this here fishing tale happened along the banks of the mighty Pee Dee River, not far from where Cartledge Creeks runs into the river. 

So happened that winter, my Dad built us a wooden jon boat that he had painted battleship gray. It had no motor, but we had two good paddles to propel it. 

On a Saturday evening, after dad got off work at 12, he, my uncle and myself launched our new wooden boat off the bank into Cartledge Creek. 

As we neared the mouth of the creek, the Great Pee Dee River lay just in front of us. The water in the river was low and huge rocks sprung up everywhere. The water looked clean and pure as it poured around the rocks.  Several large fish cranes were flying over the river looking for a free meal. Garfish swirled on the surface just in front of our boat. Something told me that I would never forget this first trip in our little gray boat.

As we paddled down the edge of the river, huge trees lined the banks of the river. Just above the water, their limbs hung heavy from the weight of their green leaves. The water was moving ever so slowly down toward South Carolina and eventually flowing into the Atlantic Ocean at Georgetown.

Finally, we anchored our boat about 30 yards off the bank of the river. We then baited up our cane poles and started drowning a few worms. Them catfish were biting so good that I decided to put a line and hook on both ends of my pole. All of a sudden, two of the biggest fish in Pee Dee River decided to bite at same time, one on each end of my pole. I couldn’t do nothin’ with them fish, so I just laid the pole across the boat. Why, them fish made that pole look like an archery bow, don’t you know? Why, they’d have pulled our boat under if’n Dad hadn’t reached over and cut one end of the line. Well, that other fish on the line took off pulling us like a ski boat all over that river. I didn’t know what I had on my line, but whatever it was, it was big. My Uncle said it could be a large striper or a big sturgeon, both used to hang out in the river. After two trips down and around the Highway 74 bridge and back, we knew it had to be Ol’ Whiskers, the biggest and meanest catfish in Pee Dee River.

You see, Ol’ Whiskers, was a legend ‘round these parts. They say way back in colonial days, an old conjurer woman had put a curse on that fish for drowning her only son. The spell caused the big fish to swim up and down the bottom of Pee Dee River for eternity, never to see daylight again. A lot of people had hung Ol’ Whiskers, but nobody had ever put him on the bank. 

Won’t long before that big fish, or whatever it was, swam under a huge rock in the middle of the river. All the rocks around us seemed to shake and the water in the river started to rise. Why, I thought we was a having an earthquake.  


Dad said, “Boy, just throw that pole in the water and pull up the anchors for they done and turned the waterwheels on at the powerhouse.”

 Having anchored our boat about a half of a mile down from the powerhouse the water was coming up fast and the current was getting stronger. We pulled the anchors up and started paddling as hard as we could toward the mouth of Cartledge Creek and to safety.

Why, I thought we had enough excitement for the day, but what did I know? We were making a little headway in the current when my uncle done and broke one of the paddles on a submerged rock.

What was we gonna do now? Has anyone ever tried paddling a boat against a strong current with just one paddle? It seemed our little boat would end up in Cheraw, South Carolina, or hung up on a rock somewhere in between.

Finally, Dad managed to get the boat to the river bank. Why, we just started pulling on the branches of trees along the bank and making our way up the river. I can’t recall how many snakes and wasp nests there were on them branches, but it didn’t seem to make no matter at the time.

At last, after pulling and paddling our little boat up the river, we finally made it to the mouth of the creek and safety. Didn’t take us long to get up the creek to the steel bridge where we had parked our truck. Won’t never so glad to see that old truck in all my young life, no sirre. Somehow, we managed to get our boat loaded, just as the sun was setting below the treetops in Anson County.  

This was just the first of many experiences in our new boat. Our little boat had passed the test. We couldn’t wait to take it out again, but you can bet the next time we had more paddles, heavier anchors and of course a mighty big fishing story to tell.

J.A. Bolton is the author of “Just Passing Time” and co-author of “Just Passing Time Together.” He is also a member of the Anson County Writers Club, the Anson and Richmond County Historical Societies, the N.C. Storytelling Guild and the Story Spinners of Laurinburg. Contact him at  ja@jabolton.com.

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