Bryan County, a area of fascinating historic sites, folklore and Southern culture, has its own style and customs. From as far back as anyone can remember, the ancient custom of fishing has been important to the people of Bryan County.
Fishing enabled the people to become self-sufficient and feed their families. Equipped with the knowledge of their elders, the people along the Ogeechee River learned the art of cast net making, crab picking, shrimping and oyster harvesting. The river, a source of livelihood for generations, still offers a bounty of food.
The natural beauty of the Ogeechee River from Morgan’s Bridge to the Intracoastal Waterway serves a multitude of purposes. Commonly referred to by the locals as the ‘Geechee,’ it’s truly a sanctuary of estuarian delights. The river offers numerous recreational activities and easy access to beautiful nearby islands.
Flowing peacefully into the Ogeechee River is Sterling Creek. According to Bobby Carpenter and Richard Davis, (natives of Bryan County), Henry Ford had a Mr. Lee dig the canal in the early 1930s. Mr. Lee, who lived at Ogeechee Farms near Savannah, used a 34B dragline to do it. Richard adds, “Sterling Creek’s been there a long time…since I was a young child. It starts up there by the viaduct (south of Richmond Hill).”
Crossing Sterling Creek these days, I don’t see the nice bridge and lush green trees close to the water’s edge. My memory goes back to my childhood, when I fished there with my dad and granddaddy. Little did I know we were actually fishing for our next meal. Those were the days when the road was built over a floodgate. When the new road and bridge were built, the old roadbed was removed.
Few people in Richmond Hill remember fishing Sterling Creek years ago. In the springtime, around the full moon, it was common to see people wearing straw hats lined up along the bank. Standing, or sitting on 5 gallon buckets, they fished the incoming tide and stayed until the tide turned.
Mae Boles, daughter of Otis and Gladys DeVillars, often went there with her mother. After digging worms from a field near their house on Brisbon Road, they left early in the morning and fished until dusk. Mae recalls, “We usually caught mullet and sometimes a few bream. That was our supper…we never went hungry.” Mae cherishes those days with her Mama, “We fished about every other day. When we had fish for supper during the week, it was just fish and grits. On weekends, Mama fried the fish and made hush puppies and cole slaw.” Life on the old dirt road was good.
Ellis Phillips has fished the Ogeechee River for over 50 years. In 1989, he caught a State record 30 lb. stripped bass from the Ogeechee. Ellis says, “During February and March shad fishing supplemented our income. Shad fishing was the most interesting for me…when the ‘big run’ would come and the shad were plentiful, the price would drop to 10 cents a pound. We couldn’t sell them around here anywhere; we had to send them to New York. Now the salt water has ruined the breeding grounds for shad and they are scarce.”
Bobby Carpenter told an amusing fishing tale. It seems Ellis and Tink Sauls were fishing for rockfish in Sterling Creek when they encountered a large ‘gator’. Ellis laughed outright as he remembered, “Lee England had put out baited plastic jugs to catch rockfish. We were watching the jugs and saw one of them kept going under. We just knew it had to be a big fish! Tink got excited and started pulling the line in. When he finally got the line pulled up, he had a fit! There was a 10 foot gator at the end of it – right up close to the boat!” Bobby laughs, “By the time the story made it to the Crossroads, that gator had grown to 20 feet!”
A slow-paced life was enjoyed back then among Cherokee roses, majestic trees and tidal marshes. I want my next fishing trip to be like it used to be at Sterling Creek…although I know it will only be in my dreams!
Hiers was born and raised in Richmond Hill. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.