Friday, 25 June 2021 14:36

COLUMN: Running trot lines in the Pee Dee River

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The Pee Dee River, a good place to fish and relax. The Pee Dee River, a good place to fish and relax. J.A. Bolton

Trotlines are to fishing as tractors are to farming. Both require less time and work to accomplish your goal.


Trotlines are usually made by using a heavy-duty nylon main line and shorter, lighter lines tied about every two or three feet dangling from the main line. On the shorter lines, large fishing hooks are tied and baited with whatever type of bait the fisherman prefers or whatever is legal.

When setting a trotline, one end is tied on an overhanging tree on the bank of the river and the other end is tied to a stump lying on out in the river. Most fishermen place some type of weight about middle way of the trot-line to allow the line to stay on the bottom.

If you are fishing for catfish, the hooks on the line can be baited with cut-bait or most anything that puts off a strong odor. In some cases, smaller live bait such as shad or bream can be attached (check your wildlife rules before doing this.)

Now if’n you want to catch a blue-fin sucker or carp, you might want to try dough balls. You can buy them already made up or you can make them the ol’ timey way, which I find works the best.

There are many different ways to make dough balls, but my recipe says to take one part cornmeal, one part flour, one part water, I tablespoon of vanilla flavoring, marshmallow crème, cotton balls, and to add color use a dab of food coloring.

Put your water and flavoring in a pot, bring water and flavoring to a boil, then add cornmeal and the flour mixture. Lower the heat and let the dry mixture absorb the water. Then lay it out on a table and knead out the dough till you get it to the right consistency, ‘bout like making homemade biscuits. Then roll the dough into balls, adding the marshmallow crème and cotton into each ball. This will help hold it together when it gets wet and help it float off the bottom.

Man, this smells so good you are tempted to take a bite yourself — but please, save it for the fish.

A trotline can be long as you want it to be. I know I’ve run lines with as many as 250 hooks. It’s a little more trouble but, hey, you are out there to catch as many fish as you can.

Sometimes folks tie empty gallon jugs on the line to mark it and be able to find it at night, but beware other people can find it as well.

I think by law you are supposed to run a trotline parallel with the run of the river, but I’ve seen many a line running across the river.

When I was a little younger, we used to love to catch blue-fin suckers. Why, sometimes those fish would weigh up to 30 pounds. For their size, they have a very tender mouth and you have to have a large catch net to get one in your boat. We usually made our own catch nets out of a split oak limb and chicken wire. While working the trotline hand-over-hand, you can feel the tug of the fish as you get near them. As you dip up the fish, if’n any part of the net touches the fish until you get it under him, he will tear off or straighten the hook right out.

Seems like every time you put a large blue-fin in your boat, he will flop around making enough racket to be heard all up and down the river. 

Blue-fin and carp are not my favorite fish to eat but, hey, anything tastes good if’n its cooked on the river bank. Why, most every trip to the river we’d have our frying pan, a little grease, a can of pork-n-beans, cornmeal and an onion. When we started eating, we thought we had a meal fit for a king.

My friends and I would usually work our lines with a 14-foot boat which had 9.9 Mercury motor on the back. It was about the right size to maneuver around the section of the river we called Grassy Islands. With all the logs and stumps all around this part of the river, our boat motor would take a beating.

Just so happened, one time we had lines to be checked and my friend’s boat motor was torn up. We borrowed another friend’s little 10-foot wooden boat which only had paddles to propel it. The little boat had narrow sides and with two grown men and a large net in the little boat, she sat low in the water. 

We paddled out to our lines and began to haul in our catch. With every fish we put in the boat, it got lower in the water. It started taking in water every time one of them fish flopped around. Then we hauled in two of the largest Blue-fin that we had caught so far. Those fish started flopping around and our little boat was bobbing up and down, taking on more water each time one of them fish flopped. We had to get to the river bank before our little boat sank, don’t you know. While one of us paddled, the other tried bailing out the water but it wasn’t enough. Our boat was sinking fast and there wasn’t nothing to do but bail out ourselves — and so did our large fish. As we entered the cool muddy river, the only thing we had was the end of an anchor rope as we slowly pulled the half-sunken boat behind us to the shore. 

Even though we were wet river rats that day, I learned a good lesson that I have carried with me for the rest of my life. That is to never, ever overload your boat with things of this world because your boat just might sink on you!

J.A. Bolton is author of “Just Passing Time," co-author of “Just Passing Time Together,” and just released his new book “Southern Fried: Down Home Stories,” all of which can be purchased on Amazon. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..