The sun was just beginning to light up the U.S. 17 Bridge in the background on this Saturday morning as Rayburn Poston began addressing the group of teenage anglers standing before him.
The location was Georgetown’s Carroll Ashmore Campbell Marine Complex on the Sampit River and the event was the finale of the 2016-17 season for Poston’s Student Angler League Tournament Trail.
A cold front had roared through overnight, and Poston told the teams it could be tricky navigating the sprawling bay on this day thanks to the windy conditions.
Soon, Poston stood at the end of the dock and watched as one-by-one the variety of boats – bass boats, flats boats, center consoles – eased by to show the tournament director there was nothing in their live wells.
Known by its acronym, SALTT, the league was founded by and has prospered under the tireless efforts of Poston.
“We went from the first year having 13 kids to 31 the second year and (this year) we had 40 boats registered and 82-84 kids on the roster,” said Poston
A team fishing in the SALTT consists of an adult (21 years or older) who serves as captain of the boat for one or two students registered in grades 6-12 in any South Carolina public, private, charter, virtual or home school.
Poston earned his Masters in Learning Disability/Special Education from Francis Marion University and is currently an academic advisor at Academy for Technology and Academics in Horry County.
Poston was formerly the fishing coach at Conway’s high school and middle schools but in the last few years has focused his attention solely on, as he calls it, the SALTT.
He handles all of the considerable duties related to organizing and staging such a tournament trail himself, and he does it all for the youngsters in Horry and Georgetown counties and surrounding areas.
Before Poston founded the SALTT, Conway and Waccamaw were the only area schools that had fishing teams. The idea of SALTT came up at a fundraising seminar Poston was hosting for his Conway fishing teams.
“From listening to some of the speakers we had at seminars, Englis Glover being one of them, they looked at me point blank – said, ‘Man, why can’t we have fishing for all the kids in our area?’ “ recalls Poston. “I took that as the match to start the fire to do something for everybody.”
As the SALTT has grown, Poston has been glad to see the student anglers are learning more than just good fishing tips and techniques.
“You see those kids in the morning, it’s like pregame, the lights are on, they’ve got a twinkle in their eye,” said Poston. “One of the things I like the most is at the end of the tournament, the sportsmanship and camaraderie these kids have, mixing in from the different schools, congratulating each other.”
Life lessons were also in the mix during the five-tournament schedule in the 2016-17 season.
“Some of the dads are actually using fishing as a teaching tool for discipline, and reward,” said Poston. “If you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing at home then you’re not going to get to fish. It’s been tough on some of the dads to make that call to me, that their kid, things happen at school or home, and they haven’t earned the right to fish that tournament. We want it to be a reward for these kids that they get the opportunity to be with us.”
All fish weighed in during a SALTT tournament are released, which is another lesson in itself.
“It’s amazing to see these kids, the smile on their face, they know they’ve done something good, when they’re used to catching fish, putting them in a cooler and taking them home,” said Poston.
“It makes me feel like they’re understanding the rewards of catch and release are far greater than a nice fish fry. That’s what we want to instill in these young people – it’s going to be up to them to preserve the resources when we get older.”
Glover, who serves as an adult captain for the league, loves where the SALTT is, and where it is headed.
“SALTT has been and will become a great tool for protecting our great sport,” said Glover.
The Redfish Division of the season finale on March 11 was won by Dylan Skipper and Walker McKenzie of Andrews High School with a two-fish aggregate weighing 5.72 pounds including the big fish, a 3.91-pounder.
In second were Cody Lively and Mitch Soles, also of Andrews High School with two fish weighing 3.85 pounds. Noah Payne and Kadyn Kellahan of Rosemary Middle School, also in Andrews, narrowly finished in third, with two fish weighing 3.84 pounds.
In the bass division, Conway High School’s Gage Fortson and Jacob Richardson won the finale with a five-fish limit weighing 9.95 pounds followed by T.J. McKenzie and Mike Paglio of Waccamaw High School with five fish weighing 8.52 pounds.
Ben Cooper and Todd Howard of Conway High School were third with five bass weighing 7.54 pounds.
The overall winners for the 2016-17 SALTT season were:
High School Redfish: Henry Poston (Academy for Arts, Science and Technology) and Benjamin Biddle (Blackwater Middle School).
Middle School Redfish: Noah Payne and Kadyn Kellahan of Rosemary Middle School.
High School Bass: Blake Thompson and River Squires of Conway High School.
Middle School Bass: Austin Winburn and Harrelson Cooper of Whittemore Park Middle School.
For more information on the SALTT, visit www.salttfishing.com.