Days Gone By - stories from the past

The run of the Red Horse – an Alabama fishing experience that no longer exists

The Red Horse


WPA writer

Demps A. Oden


During the 1930s, Great Depression era, many writers were employed to interview people around the United States, so their experiences and life history could be recorded. The program was named the U.S. Work Projects Administration, Federal Writers’ Project and it gave employment to historians, teachers, writers, librarians, and other white-collar workers. This is one of those unedited stories.

A type of fishing once popular on Coosa River, was that method by which fish were taken in shoal water by “gigging” as it was called.

Adapted from the Indians

Two fishermen in a canoe, 1 in the stern to paddle and the other in the bow, armed with a gig for killing the fish. The gig was a 3-pronged spear of iron, on a wooden handle 10 to 12 feet long, and in the hands of a skilled operator, a very effective weapon to kill and recover the largest fish. The method was adapted from the Indians, who were expert in the practice.

Near the middle of the boat was an elevated stand on which a bright fire of pine fagots burned. This light was supposed to attract the fish and aided the spearman in his aim. A common and, to those hardy fishermen, amusing incident, was of frequent occurrence, when the man in stern of the boat got interested in his companion’s efforts to land a big fish and permitted the boat to drift against a rock and upset – putting out the light, losing the catch and giving the fishermen a thorough wetting, without danger of drowning in the shallow water.

Unidentified man and boy fishing on the Coosa River, Talladega County ca. 1930s (Alabama Department of Archives and History)

The run of the Red Horse

The high-water mark of this type of fishing was associated with the annual runs of the “Red Horse”, a species of salt-water fish that spawned in the upper reaches of Alabama rivers. These fish came in vast numbers at the same time every year, the dark of the moon in April. The run lasted about one week and during that period were taken in such numbers as to be used even to feed hogs; since it was not unusual for a couple of men to fill a canoe more than once in the course of a single night.

Since the great dams have been built across Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers, the fish are unable to pass; hence, this type of fishing has become a thing of the past, to the regret of the many people living in the vicinity of those shoals whose murmur has been stilled in the interest of industry.

RIBBON OF LOVE: 2nd edition – A Novel of Colonial America Inspired by actual people and historical events! Based on the Cottingham ancestors of Bibb County, Alabama.

About Donna R Causey

Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and All her books can be purchased at and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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  1. If it is the same Red Horse that lives and thrives in the Cahaba River, then “Red Horsing” may not have been totally lost. It has been practiced in Centreville (Bibb Co.) since I know of as early as the 1920’s, and currently done today. I have never heard of the people here using a gig, only ever heard of, seen, and used a piece of piano wire or guitar string attached to a pole, often cane pole, with a slip loop on the other end and a weight on the bottom of the loop. You then ease up behind the fish as he’s navigating the shoals to spawn, slip the loop over his tail, and lasso him in a sense. That is the type fishing called “Red Horsing” that is still practiced today here in my small town.

  2. The Cahaba was/is one of the few rivers in Alabama that flows freely to the Gulf. Never damned but for low water fords and the occasional agricultural partial dam. The run of the “Red Horse” was an event that would practically empty Bessemer as many shops and offices would be closed and the men would rush to the Cahaba leaving only a cryptic sign on their business ” Closed Red Horse Running “

  3. What kind of fish is the “Red Horse” ??

    1. The article indicates they are a saltwater run fish however commonly throughout north and south, Redhorse are a sucker of the Moxostoma genus (and freshwater only). There are several Redhorse and they sure do make spring spawning runs however their numbers have been reduced in most parts of the country. This is a “Greater Redhorse”[email protected]/10098484223/

    2. Thanks Uland , you are the man !! The salt water connection had me confused.

    3. Well, common names are a mess and fish population do odd things. It’s possible they are talking about a saltwater fish of the same name. It’s also possible at one time a population of Redhorse thrived in brackish water? But seeing as what we call today Redhorse sure do have large spawning runs, I’d bet it’s just an error in the article.

  4. The Red Horse I’m familiar with is a type of Sucker that often rolls on the top of the water during spawning season. I’ve caught them in many creeks that had no connection with the ocean above their dams.

  5. We have a run of the River Red Horse in the Tributaries of the Tennessee River each spring

  6. What kind of fish were they?

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