The Chipola River is a special place to many folks, both old and young alike. One old timer that has a boat load of fond memories of his time on the river is Marianna's J.Y. Folsom, Jr.. At age 86 Folsom may not get around quite as well as he used to, but he still can recall story after story of his days on the Ole Chipola.
James Young Folsom Jr. was born May 6, 1926 in Marianna, just about two blocks away from his current house on Caledonia Street. His father, James Young Folsom Sr. was a local dentist. J.Y. Jr. attended Marianna High School before joining the Navy in 1943 during World War II. He served in the Pacific campaign on the USS Kittyhawk. He got out of the Navy in 1945 and went to trade school in Troy, Alabama. He then came back to Marianna and opened a welding shop, J's Welding, which he operated for the next 42 years. He married and had a daughter. Sadly his wife of 63 years, Hilda, passed away two years ago but he and his daughter, Nancy Perkins who lives in Tallahassee, are in constant contact with each other.
Folsom recalls playing and fishing on the Chipola River from the time that he was a young boy. He also recalls doing a lot of night fishing with his father on Merritt's Mill Pond. There was a grist mill at the highway 90 dam back then that would grind his mother's corn. The grist mill later became an ice house (same location of the current El Rio Restaurant and Bear Paw Store). Time on the river came easily to Folsom as his father always had boats and motors. From an early age he found that he preferred bass fishing to bait fishing (bream, shellcracker, etc). He would periodically depart from his bass fishing just enough to set some bush hooks to catch catfish for fish fries. The upper Chipola River was fished less frequently due to being tough to get around (and still is). But from south of the Caverns State Park to the Jehu area (Calhoun County) Folsom spent the next thirty years honing his skills as a bass master. Those skills got him some notoriety in the mid 1970s.
In April 1976 Folsom was featured in the Florida Wildlife Magazine in an article written by Charles Dickey. The writer spent several days on the Chipola fishing with Folsom and produced a four page article along with photos. Dickey was impressed with the fishing on the Chipola River, and even more impressed with Folsom. The article's closing lines summed up Dickey's thoughts. "Each spot looks better than the one before. The Chipola River makes an optimist out of you. Fishing with J.Y. Folsom makes a believer out of you."
The early years saw Folsom prefer a top water plug. "There is no greater thrill than to catch a bass on a top water plug," said Folsom. He does admit however to using plastic worms in some of the later years. In addition to fishing, Folsom also had a long time passion of target shooting with pistols.
As one might expect Folsom has seen a lot of change on the Chipola River and his hometown of Marianna. He recalled how much Marianna had changed when he came home after World War II. And that change has continued. But Marianna is still home and will always be home to him. "It's where I was born and raised. I wouldn't have wanted to live anywhere else in the world," commented Folsom. He has also seen a lot of change on the river, much of which he doesn't care for. "The increase in all the tubes and canoes has hurt the river in my opinion. There is just too much traffic for that small a river," Folsom said. As pointed out in the magazine article, Folsom recalls many a day when he could fish the river all day and see maybe two other boats. Those days, sadly, according to Folsom are long gone. But don't let that make you think that Folsom is not itching to get back out on the river. A car accident a year or so ago has slowed him down for the time being, but he still has plans to get out there. And he has his boat sitting on ready. While the bass may have enjoyed his abscense, this writer suspects the ole Chipola would welcome the site of her old friend.