MATTHEWS, Ga. -- Sid Newton often finds himself up a creek, but never without a paddle.
"I started out creek fishing when I was 6 years old," the Jefferson County man said. "The No. 1 thing is to have a good boat paddle."
Paddles -- in particular the hand-crafted ones needed to navigate cypress swamps and blackwater creeks -- are an art form unto themselves. But they're disappearing fast.
"Today it's kind of a lost art," he said. "But in years past, a lot of my fishing and hunting buddies either made their own paddles or had them made."
Newton, who has spent a lifetime creek fishing for redbellies and warmouths, still has one of the first paddles he ever owned -- and dozens more he's accumulated since.
"Back in the 1950s, when we were fishing Brier Creek a lot, a fellow gave me two paddles," he said. "One I lost a long time ago. I still got the other one, though."
That paddle, hewn from cypress and worn from age and use, survives today as the core of his mini-museum of creek-fishing history.
"This paddle's still around today because I took care of it, kept it inside and didn't beat snakes with it," Newton said.
One of his favorites is a well-worn, almost unrecognizable paddle he found one day while fishing.
Creek anglers often stick their paddle into the muddy bottom and tie the boat to it. One day Newton and some friends had tied off to a worn stick in the swamp. When they prepared to leave, the stick was lifted from the water and turned out to be an ancient paddle left behind by someone long ago.
"Most of them are cypress," he said. "A really good one might be made of sassafras, but those are hard to find."
Creek fishing paddles, sadly, are evolving toward extinction, much like wooden outhouses.
"There's not that many creek boats around anymore," he said. "Today, most people fish ponds. And nowadays, everybody has a trolling motor."
Creek fishing, he added, differs from other types of angling.
"In creek-fishing language, bream fishing meant using bait for for redbellies, stump knockers and warmouths," he said. "Plug casting for bass was called `reeling."'
Other creek fishing was for catfish -- usually from set lines and bush hooks. But the paddle still was the primary tool.
"The unique thing about creek fishing is, the boat's got to be slower than the creek," he said. "That's where the paddle comes in. It's the basic tool of creek fishermen."
Newton's oldest paddle is a short, but superbly fashioned, specimen a friend found in a barn back in 1935.
"He had it for years, and he offered it to the family of the people who owned that barn," Newton said. "They declined and he gave it to me."
Each paddle holds fond memories, and great fishing stories. To insure those stories aren't lost with time, each paddle has a small description of its history taped to one side.
"For the most part, these paddles were given to me by friends who fished Brier Creek," he said. "If you look at them you'll see they all have a long blade -- and a long handle."
Newton also makes his own hand-crafted paddles. Sometimes people give him their old paddle and he reciprocates with one he made himself.
Framed under glass near his paddles is a favorite wooden fishing plug -- a Bomber lure from the 1950s. "I caught 230 fish on that plug in one year," he said fondly. "One day a jackfish hit it and cut the line and I lost it."
A fishing buddy found it floating in the creek the following day and returned it to Newton. "That's when I put it away," he said.
Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 119, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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