Jan/Feb 2019Pee Dee Memoirs By Lewis Rogers, Original art by Ellen Fishburne
I spent many spring and summer days during my grammar and high school years in the 1950s fishing primarily for long-eared sunfish, “redbreast,” on most stretches of the Little Pee Dee River in Marion County with my fishing buddies Gene and George. We were from Zion in Marion County, and fished in wooden one-man boats. We used a ten- to eleven-foot-long slender cane pole rigged with twelve-pound test monofilament line the same length as our pole, a small cork, a number four wire hook and a split shot lead sinker. We called this rig a throwline, and we fished on the move with crickets. Occasionally, we would take some Catawba worms and fish on the bottom with reels, but not too often. Too boring!
Back then, the Little Pee Dee was full of redbreast. In areas of the river with slower currents, we also caught bluegill, warmouth, stumpknockers, bass, crappie and jackfish. Although there were some outboard motors, we didn’t have them, or the smaller electric motors. When we did see occasional fisherman with a larger boat and outboard motor, regardless of how slowly they were going, we would complain that they were disturbing the waters where we fished. It’s because outboard motors were not common, and we couldn’t imagine how we could catch fish from larger motor boats.
So, we proudly paddled our little, home-made, one-man, wooden boats — shallow-built (eight-inch-high sides) made of marine plywood and cypress. These wooden boats were painted dark green. We used slim-blade cypress paddles. Jerry, a friend who lived in our Zion community, built these types of boats. Similar small paddle boats could be purchased at some outdoor stores, generally where fishing supplies and crickets were sold. I helped him build boats one summer to learn more about their construction. After that, I made a couple of the small boats during my years as a biologist at the Webb Center. (I’m interested in building another one now during my retirement years.)
There were swift-running waters and white sandbars in the Little Pee Dee River. It was very quiet and peaceful on the water . . . absolutely beautiful! Occasionally, we would see other people fishing in similar, small paddle boats, but not many fished in the swifter waters because few others were skilled enough to successfully catch redbreast in the strong currents as Gene and I could do. George had difficulty managing the currents, so he fished in slower sections of the river. He never caught many redbreast, and we usually kidded him about his poor fishing success.
In some places the river cut new channels, through the swamps, that we called “cut-throughs.” In the stronger-flowing water of these cuts is where we could find and catch more redbreast.
Shallower and slower-flowing water channels we called “old river.” Old river channels sometimes created oxbow lakes. The slower-moving shallow waters of oxbows are where we caught most of the other species of fish. A section of the Little Pee Dee, up-river from Cartwheel Landing, had several cut-throughs. This was one of our favorite fishing spots. We didn’t tell too many other fishermen about our best fishing holes.
I recall taking my future bride on her first boat-paddling experience on the Little Pee Dee River. We paddled up the river from Cartwheel Landing to meet up with Gene and cook some fish on a sandbar. We had everything for the fish fry, except our frying pan. So, we looked around in the swamp and found an aluminum pie pan. We cooked fish (one at a time) in the pie pan, and they were delicious. Improvising was the name of the game back then.
My buddies and I camped overnight a few times at two or three boat landings along the Little Pee Dee. Camping saved some travel time, and we were able to get an early start fishing. From time to time, during winter months, we camped to shoot wood ducks at daybreak.
Cartwheel and Sampson landings were two favorite locations for fishing. Sampson Landing was below Highway 501 near Galivants Ferry and near the junction of the Little and Big Pee Dee rivers. Sampson Landing was about thirty miles from Zion. The land between the rivers was all forest back then. At Sampson Landing, there were several cuts in the Little Pee Dee River. It wasn’t easy to follow the main river channel when paddling our boats, but Gene and I knew the cuts well and didn’t get lost as many others did.
The Little Pee Dee River channels in that area were really wild, but excellent fishing for redbreast. There were lots of wood ducks to hunt back then. Not many deer in the Little Pee Dee swamps, but there was a higher population of deer in the Great Pee Dee drainage. When I was in grammar school, my father hunted deer occasionally at a hunt club along the Great Pee Dee River in Marion County, and I would tag along.
Back then we didn’t have tents for camping. We slept on the ground on a bed of leaves near a campfire. When camping during warmer seasons, George would sometimes sleep inside the cab or in the bed of our pickup truck as he was very cautious of snakes. Next morning, he would complain of a sore back or not getting enough sleep. When camping to hunt ducks, we would take along a blanket and sleep closer to larger campfires.
I often drove my father’s pickup truck so we could transport our one-man boats in the back, as we didn’t have boat trailers. Once we ran out of gas at Sampson Landing and drew straws to see who would walk the thirteen miles to get help. I drew the short straw and had to walk all the way to Highway 501 and catch a ride to Galivants Ferry for gas. I was able to get a ride back to the landing. I still think the drawing was rigged! I remember jogging most of the way to save time. I was “lean and mean” and a good runner back then.
Huggins Bridge Landing was a narrow and shallow part of the Little Pee Dee River near Fork, in Dillon County. We often went there for swimming, sometimes at noon during lunch breaks when working on our farms. There was a long rope tied high to a cypress limb. We would swing out and drop into the center of the river. That was really cooling off. Of course, that wasn’t enough. We would climb the cypress tree and dive from a limb, being very careful to miss cypress tree roots. Sandy Bluff, near Mullins, was another place we had family outings to go swimming.
I’d like to revisit those quiet stretches along the Little Pee Dee River. It would be nice to go along with a group of family and friends. Of course, we must also steer clear of paper wasps on over-hanging limbs, but that is another story!