Those summer days on a lazy river

G. Sam Piatt

My tulips are four inches above ground.

Twenty-four days ‘till spring.

But it’s the lazy days of summer my mind is dwelling on today. I spent my boyhood days along the Ohio River. We sought relief from the barefoot days of July swimming and fishing her waters.

Today I’m thinking about the time my old Scout Master Delbert Grizzle and I got caught in that gully washer while looking a trotline.

I sat in the rear of the old wooden johnboat and used an oar to hold it steady in the light current. In the bow, Delbert moved us along the trotline and baited each hook with four-inch chubs we had trapped from the river.

Twilight was gathering itself into the valley as we noticed dimples dancing on the surface all around us.

“My oh my, look how the minnows are working,” Delbert said.

Then we felt the fat raindrops splattering on our heads and arms and knew it wasn’t minnows. He dropped the line back to the bottom, moved to the middle seat, and rowed for shore, 40 yards away. Before we covered the distance, the heavens opened and the rain came down with a fury.

Rainwater was sloshing in the bottom of the boat as we leaped out and pulled the boat up. The bank was mostly clay and we boys had cut “steps” in it for the path leading from the village of Beattyville down to the landing. Water was coming down over those steps like miniature waterfalls.

We were about halfway up, Delbert in the lead, when he went down. He shot by me on his back, arms and legs extended. I tried to grab him and down I went. Delbert crashed into the boat and I crashed into him.

“Gracious sakes alive,” he said.

Up the bank we started again, and down we went again, once more winding up on our backs back at the boat. We finally made it into the village by going downstream, slashing through a grove of willows, and plowing through a narrow field of corn.

Events like that night of the summer rainstorm become cherished memories that stick in our minds through the years. I was 11 or 12 at the time. Delbert, long gone now, was the leader of Boy Scout Troop 160, sponsored by the Methodist church. He taught us outdoor skills and love of God and country and took time to teach me how to set an Ohio River trotline.

Set the to trotline

We tied one end of the line to a flat rock weighing 30 to 40 pounds, then rowed out into the river for 30 or 40 yards before pushing it overboard. We played out enough line to tie on a cork float, the line long enough to allow the marker to float on the surface with the trotline on the bottom.

Then, rowing on a slight upstream angle to combat the current, we played out a hundred yards or more of line, which was coiled on the bottom of the boat. The other end of the line was tied to another large rock. When the line was taut, we pushed that anchor overboard.

We rowed back and picked up the cork, pulled the line off the bottom, and began tying as many as 50 hooks at two- to three-feet intervals, adding two or three additional, smaller weights to keep the line down where the big ones swam.

The hooks were baited on the way back, with the baiter moving the boat along by playing the line over the bow.

Five or six hours later came the thrill of rowing out, grabbing the float, and “looking” the line, feeling the surge and tug of a dozen or more cats waiting to be taken off.

We boys made money for school clothes by dressing the catfish, rowing across to the Court Street Landing in Portsmouth, and selling them on Market Street.

One early summer morning one of the boys and I went out to look a trotline without waiting for the fog to rise, a foolish maneuver that Delbert had warned us never to do.

Near the end of the line, with what we figured was a huge catfish jerking the line up and down, we heard the sound of water rushing around something big. We looked downstream in terror as empty coal barges, three abreast, came out of the fog and straight for us.

How we escaped from that is another story for another day.


What is the longest word in the English Language?

Answer: Smiles. There’s a mile between its first and last letters.

G. Sam Piatt

Reach G. Sam Piatt at [email protected] or 606-932-3619.

Reach G. Sam Piatt at [email protected] or 606-932-3619.