It is not accurate to label sculling as a lost art in fishing. Numerous anglers in Arkansas scull today.

But their numbers are undoubtedly much fewer than a couple of generations back.

Sculling has been termed "the poor man’s trolling motor." That may be true, or at least partially true. Sculling was used regularly when there was no such thing as a trolling motor.

OK, the definition of sculling for our purpose today is using a short paddle to propel a small boat slowly and quietly in fishing. The usual pattern is to work the paddle with one hand in a figure 8 fashion, keeping the blade of the paddle in the water at all times.

We are talking about small boats – 12-foot, 14-foot flatbottoms, canoes, kayaks. Sculling would likely be difficult in a bass boat.

A fisherman sculling can do it either from the front of the boat or the back of the boat. You slip the paddle into the water and begin the figure 8 work. The boat moves forward, slowly. By a turn of the wrist, you change the angle of the paddle’s blade slightly to go to the left or go to the right.

There is no noise, unless you are careless and bump the paddle against the boat.

Sculling takes the boat and the fisherman back where the crappie or bream may be, back in the stickups, stumps, fallen logs. Bass may be there as well. Sometimes catfish hang out where sculling is the means to reach them.

Sculling paddles are short wooden or plastic boat paddles. At least one manufacturer produces a telescoping paddle that can be used for sculling in its closed position then extended for regular paddling if needed.

More than one fisherman has taken a full-length, 5-foot or 6-foot, paddle, cut out part of the shaft with angled saw cuts then glued the two pieces back with a tight wrapping of duct tape added. Yes, this is crude, but it works.

In Arkansas, sculling was something nearly every angler learned when fishing was mostly in old oxbow lakes off main rivers and creeks. You sculled with one hand and held a fishing rod in the other hand. The rod was likely a cane pole. There usually was no casting, just the dropping of the bait in a chosen spot with a long pole.

Quiet. That was the bottom line.

Noise is the ruination of many fishing outings. Sound travels more readily underwater than it does in open air. Shuffle your feet in an aluminum flatbottom, and sound erupts under the water’s surface to spook nearby fish. Drop a tackle box or a cooler on that aluminum bottom, and the noise is major.

In those oxbow lakes or in any body of water, stickups and stumps are fish hangouts. Sculling can move the small boat from one of these to the next one easily and quietly.

Battery-powered trolling motors are more familiar to today’s fishermen, and these do some of the things sculling does. Trolling motors make noise, not much but some, underwater. They cost somewhere in the three-figure range new and a heavy battery is required.

Some Arkansas fishermen operate with three means of propulsion. One is a gasoline outboard to cover distances, a second is the electric trolling motor after the destination is reached, and the third is a sculling paddle for the close and quiet situations.

It is not at all difficult to learn to scull. Put the paddle in the water, start that figure 8 routine and watch how the boat moves.

There is one significant drawback to sculling in flatbottom boats. When the wind comes up, sculling is difficult.


Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at