FISHING with the only GEORGIA RAMBLER

in the world....by Bill Byrd.

As a fly fisher of many years, and as a writer, I have been privileged to meet some outstanding fishers, and fly fishers, and have experiences that I would previously never have thought possible. Also over the past years, I have seen people and companies fluorish and disappear. It is part of the "life cycle" of so much including family, friends and associates. Now as I have turned 70, Charles Salter has died May 1st at age 85, and that never ending process of losing family, friends, and associates is hitting me harder.

Charles spent a career in journalism probably best known as the Georgia Rambler -- no he didn't drive a rambler -- but he did ramble all over the state in search of stories for publication. Topics included fishing, southern cooking including BBQ, and "local" info about those who really knew how to catch fish were some of his later topics. In addition to his columns, he was a published author and I still have one of the last new signed copies of Bent Poles and Tight Lines in my library.

When I began fly fishing in 1968, there were primarily only big, heavy fly rods, built of fiberglass or cane. I was out of fly fishing for a few years, but in the late 1980s, I returned to fly fishing and it was a revelation. Those huge, heavy glass rods had been replaced with graphite rods that weighed ounces, with sensitivity I'd only imagined before. Lines had improved GREATLY, plus fly fishing gear and accessories were at an all-time technical high. It was mind boggling!

After much trial and error, and thousands of hours fly fishing I became an ultralight fly fishing enthusiast. My conversion brought the full joy of fly fishing to me. As I spoke with fly tackle equipment designers and manufacturers, I didn't find much enthusiasm for UL fly rods. The "party line" was against them. Then I got my hands on a Howard Steere - Jim West designed Orvis Superfine 2-weight, then a 1-weight and I was in! I have experienced a love affair with ultralight fly fishing ever since.

On March 13, 1995 it was my good fortune to catch a rather heavy 8 pound 9.7 ounce largemouth black bass on light tippet on one of my favorite lakes. I caught this big bass on a 3 weight rod with one of my #14 water spiders. Word got back to Charles Salter, a fishing super sluth and Journal-Constitution outdoors writer, and he called me for an interview regarding that catch. (Charles was to retire 3 years later from the AJC.)

Charles pushed me to submit the big bass catch to the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame and it was certified a world record at 8 pounds 9 ounces on 6 pound tippet. That would be the first of 13 such world records from that certifying body. A recent quick check finds that 4 of my records have held up since 1996.

I believe my quest into the world of really small, light flies and fly tackle fascinated Charles. He couldn't get over my catching large bass on a fly that was small enough to sit on my thumb nail. I was fishing totally against the "party line" on fly fishing. After Charles three articles regarding my light line catch...Charles sent me to another fly fisher who was fishing the Orvis 1 weight rod. He was the only other 1 weight fly fisher we knew about at the time. Carter Nelson was fly fishing manager for Callaway Gardens. We hit it off really well and began to fish together.

This introduction was to have a huge impact on my fly fishing career. We fished together, tied flies together, and I developed two families of flies created to let me fish from the surface to 14 feet. Meanwhile Carter recruited me to be a fly fishing guide at Callaway, where I continued to work on UL deep water flies and techniques. I developed my families of flies and proofed their effectiveness at Callaway.

Parallel to this I had the opportunity to try my hand at writing. Because of Charles' encouragement I decided I might have something different to say, so I set out to do that.

My first article was published in Bassmaster Magazine in the Member's Notebook section. It stressed what was later called "finesse" fishing with a fly rod. They even paid me for it! Over the ensuing years I wrote for at least four additional national fly fishing publications and was SE Regional Editor for one. Then I created my now 21 year old fly fishing website.

As we had time Charles and I fished together at the club pond, at Calvin Jaynes pond, at a local lake, and at Sallye's pond in central Georgia. I have lots of wonderful stories from those experiences, but for brevity's sake I shall try to restrain myself more or less.

One of Charles best friends is a very serious businessman by day, and a crazy fisherman comedian in his off time. His name is John Robinson. John and Charles sponsored me the first time I joined "the club." John and I have spent time together fishing, putting used Christmas tree cover in the pond, eating lunch with Charles, and fishing at the club pond. John and I will spend more time fishing together because of Charles' passing. If you'll notice in the image left John is the funny man in the back of the boat trying to signal how big the last bass that got away happened to be. Charles is trying to be the straight man in the front but that won't work with John in the back. Charles couldn't keep a straight face. Would you buy a used fish from this pair?

Just recently a VERY close friend accused me of telling too many stories. Most of the time I feel that if one has stories stored up -- TELL THEM! Stories equal experiences, and as "pop" in Grumpy Old Men said -- "life is all about experiences!" It is my belief that good writing is story telling in print. Just like Charles I found have a lot of stories in me. Most of them are mostly TRUE!

The following story is absolutely true! Charles and I had driven to Sallye's pond in central Georgia. It was my second trip down there, but had been a few months since we had fished there. Charles fished light spin tackle and I was casting my 1 and 2 weights. We enjoyed catching and releasing literally dozens of fish. Mostly strong, fat bluegills, shellcrackers, and bass.

The weather was warm and we had fished around the pond down to the dam. We were probing for fish across the face of the dam. I was in back running the trolling motor and Charles was up front. As Larry Munson would say "Now get the picture..." Charles' jon boat was not really big NOR wide. Both of us were. At the same moment Charles decided to stand up and stretch so did I. To my amazement he literally flipped out of the little boat like he'd done a gainer landing on his feet. Then he just disappeared into the pond -- but like a true fisherman he held his spinning rod high, so I grabbed that, pulled him to the right boat gunnel and got him to hang on there. He was surprised but breathing so I figured we were lucky.

Next I had to get him to shore, so I jumped back in the rear of the boat and switched on the trolling motor. As I spun the boat around to get Charles on the dam side of the boat I started hearing this click click pop pop sound from the stern. Charles got his feet soundly on lake bottom, so he carefully started up the grassy face of the dam. Once I was sure he was ok, I turned off the trolling motor and raised it to see if something had wrapped in the propeller.

I discovered that In the confusion, my fly line had been sucked onto the propeller where it created a bird's nest like I had never seen. Broken into 4 inch pieces was the top section of my brand new Orvis 1 weight rod. After we quit laughing because we had escaped disaster, we had a snack and I spent 30 minutes unwinding my new fly line and favorite 1 weight rod off the propeller.

I actually kept all those rod pieces and sent them back to Jim West, a good friend and the man in charge of Orvis rod production and repair department in Vermont. I asked Jim whether he wanted an accounting of the rod's destruction. He said "no, I've heard 'em all" in his Vermont accent. In about two weeks I had a nicely repaired 1 weight in my hands again.

Charles relaxed and dried off and we called it a day. I did NOT shoot any images of this trip--didn't want any evidence. I never asked Charles if he had told anyone else about our little adventure. I rather think he didn't. John Robinson recently told me he had not heard that story. Charles and I decided that in the future if either of was to think of moving in the boat -- we'd make some big noise. Never had another problem.

Sallye's pond was the site of more interesting adventures. One of my favorite things was the big, strong hand sized bluegills. With ultralight fly tackle they were a thrill to catch and release. It was a wonderful, quiet fishing experience. Charles and I got to discuss many topics and fully relax to and from Sallye's pond.

One of our other Sallye's pond trips was on November 4, 2009. We arrived shortly after noon. Air temp was 70F and it was a beautiful fall day. Water temp was 65F. I was fishing #14 and #12 flies and caught 71 bluegills and shellcrackers and 5 bass. Charles fished spin tackle and caught 17 bass with the biggest fish weighing 6 pounds. He caught it in a tree top by the dam. So like a faithful hound I climbed into the wood and pulled the big bass out for him. That is my hand and Charles' bucket mouth bass in the forefront.

One other trip I was fishing a tiny black bead head nymph and hooked a really heavy fish, After at least 45 minutes of chasing this monster around the pond, Charles and I gently lifted a 19 pound carp to the side of the boat. Wondering why it kept jumping like a bass, we discovered it was hooked with a size 14 hook in his rear dorsal fin. We decided he must have felt that he was under attack and just took off! I have no photo, but that's the way it happened.

Charles Salter was 16 years my senior, but we had some interesting and fun times. We were both real fishermen and UGA DAWGS. We enjoyed telling folks about many subjects. We especially enjoyed good southern BBQ in places with wood shavings or saw dust on the floor, Brunswick stew, collards, cracklin' corn bread, cole slaw, and sweet tea.

One interesting comment made in his farewell column in the AJC July 5, 1998 on retiring from the AJC seems very appropriate. "Someone once asked me how I thought heaven would be. That's easy: Bluegills are bedding every day, and 90 percent of the bass are hungry lunkers." AMEN!

I have it on good authority that Georgia will beat Alabama in the playoffs. I hope it is soon.

Goodbye Charlie. You had a great run. Save a few lunkers for John and me. Keep tying those flies. Hope you get the answers to all the really important questions we all yearn to know. Oh....what a column that would make. Tight lines to you!

P.S. Please say Hello to Calvin and Jim Haynes, Revenal Winge, and Lefty Kreh for me. Before too long I'll probably be seeing you guys again.

Bill Byrd


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