Charles Salter
Photo: Family photo
Photo: Family photo

Charles Salter, journalist known for Georgia Rambler columns, dies at 85

Charles Salter, the Atlanta Journal's former "Georgia Rambler" columnist, fished for memorable stories in his beloved state back in the 1970s.

This is how Charles Salter began his workday: He'd grab his reporter's notepad, his bulky tape recorder, and his 35mm camera and hit the highway out of Atlanta in search of his next column. 

"I think I'll head east," he might tell his wife, Sallye. "But I'll be home for supper." 

And off the Atlanta Journal's Georgia Rambler went, looking for an "unforgettable person" in Madison, Milledgeville, Union Point, and beyond. 

Charles Salter, whose enduring love of the South, and Georgia small towns in particular, guided a long and colorful journalism career, died in Atlanta on May 1. He was 85 years old. 

> RELATED: Charles Salter chronicled Georgia life

Salter worked at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 30 years in a variety of roles, including make-up editor, picture editor, state news editor, metro reporter, and weather columnist. But his most notable jobs were as a longtime fishing columnist and as the Georgia Rambler. 

Crisscrossing what he liked to call "the biggest state east of the Mississippi" in a white station wagon emblazoned with "Charles Salter, The Georgia Rambler," he was equal parts reporter, historian, and Southern ambassador. 

"I believe that almost everyone has a good story to tell about his or her work, personal experiences, and something that happened in the lives of family members and others in their town," he once wrote. 

Charles Everette Salter's own story began in south Georgia, in the town of Ocilla. He was born in 1933, the only child of John Darling (J.D.) and Iza Salter, and grew up primarily in Athens and Waycross. His father was a teacher and school superintendent, whom Charles referred to as "the best pal I ever had." J.D. instilled in him a lifelong love of fishing, reading, and history. 

Charles's love of Southern cooking, his appetite for grits, pound cake, and creamed corn, came from Iza. 

After earning a journalism degree at the University of Georgia, Salter began his newspaper career at the Macon News. In addition to working as a local reporter, he convinced the editors to let him write a fishing column. A few years later, after a stint in the Army at Fort Greeley, Alaska, he did the same thing at the Atlanta Journal, kicking off a 24-year-old run as the fishing columnist. 

In 2002, he was inducted into the Fresh Water Fishing Hall of a Fame as a "legendary communicator." 

For anglers throughout the South, Salter was indispensable. He reported on which lures fish couldn't resist, from spinnerbaits and buzz baits to silver spoons and a Picasso's palette of plastic worms -- and he advised the best conditions in which to use them. 

Profiling amateurs and pros alike, he turned weekend fishermen and little-known expert guides into local celebrities and covered the cast-by-cast action at the annual Bassmaster Classic tournament as if it were the Masters. 

With a sharp eye for novel stories, he introduced Atlanta readers to Fudgey the duck, a pet that pointed at fish like a bird dog from the bow of a boat, and reported on the funeral of Big Bad Leroy Brown, a legendary large-mouth bass reported to have been 70 years old. 

From time to time, actual celebrities appeared in his columns, such as Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, where Salter explored their passion for fishing. 

His authority on the subject derived not just from his reporting but also from personal experience. He regularly fished Georgia's big lakes -- Allatoona, Lanier, Oconee and others -- and its ponds and streams with an expansive circle of fishing buddies. 

Like his father, he taught his children and grandchildren to fish. 

Salter marveled that he managed to turn his love of fishing into a journalism career that lasted until 1998, when he retired from the AJC. 

In subsequent years, he operated what amounted to a one-man news bureau devoted to disseminating the essentials: the latest stories about Georgia Bulldogs football, the AJC's Mike Luckovich's daily cartoon, recommendations for classic movies on Netflix, and his photos of the azalea or magnolia blossoms in his yard. 

In 2010, the public radio show This American Life featured Salter in an episode inspired by his Georgia Rambler column. The following year, the show aired a story exploring one of the Rambler's more unusual discoveries, a recipe purported to have been the original formula for Coca-Cola

The renewed interest in Salter's work led to the 2011 publication of "The Georgia Rambler: A Potter's Snake, the Real Thing Recipe, a Satilla Adventure and More," a collection of his columns. 

Earlier, in 1992, Salter had published a collection of his fishing columns, "Bent Poles and Tight Lines." 

In a lifetime of fishing, he claimed his biggest catch was Sallye Roberts, the fetching new reporter at the Macon News who agreed to go on a date with him within days of joining the staff. They were married in 1958 and rambled together for 61 years.

Charles Salter is survived by his wife, Sallye; their three children, Suzanne Alexander [Brad] of Thomasville, Ga., Laura Braaten of Cazenovia, N.Y., and Chuck Salter [Lisa Pollak] of New York, N.Y.; and their six grandchildren, Tyler Alexander [Lindsay] of New York, N.Y., Mary Catherine Alexander of Nashville, Tn., Chris Alexander of Washington, D.C., May and Claire Braaten of Cazenovia, N.Y., and Leo Salter of New York, N.Y. 

A memorial service will be held Sunday, May 5, at 2 p.m. at Moore Chapel at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church in Buckhead. In lieu of flowers, the family welcomes donations in Charles Salter's name to the outreach programs at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church.

Read and sign the online guestbook for Charles Salter

Published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution from May 4 to May 5, 2019

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