The Perfect Blend of Tactics
by Terry Madewell
Veteran fishing guide Bob Winters and son Bobby, who’s taking over the family guide business, both became more complete fishermen during a year of working together.
Every catfisherman is unique in terms of knowledge, skills, and abilities regarding finding and catching catfish. There is no single formula for success that fits everyone.
Bob Winters from Moncks Corner South Carolina, a fishing guide who has helped anglers make huge catfish catches for 40-years on the Santee Cooper lakes, said the ideal skill-set varies with every individual angler.
“I’ve seen catfishermen with a conservative philosophy and others who were quite aggressive make consistently outstanding catches,” he said. “The bottom line is every angler must find the right balance, a perfect blend of tactics and techniques that fit their individual style.”
Bob Winters put his theory in practice the last year of his long guiding career in 2018 by taking his son Bobby under his wing to help him polish his elite, but raw, skills into becoming a complete fishing guide.
My first opportunity to fish with the elder Winters was in late 2017. Boarding the boat, I realized he was with an ‘old school’ fisherman, complete with an ancient Lowrance 24/60 flasher unit as his only electronic equipment.
On that day we fished and discussed fishing tactics old and new and I left with a well-founded basis for understanding why his ‘old school’ methodology was still cool. It’s cool because we caught catfish, including big catfish.
Fast-forward a few months when Winters told me his son Bobby, a recent college graduate, had decided to go into the family business of guiding.
“Bobby has fished all his life, much of it with me,” he said. “He’s got natural skills, a great work ethic and a solid understanding of fish behavior. But his young mind is focused on modern equipment and more aggressive tactics.”
Team Winters formed a year-long partnership to enable Bobby to literally learn the art of the guiding business with his dad as personal mentor. At the end of the year the elder Winters, at age 75, planned to retire from the guide business.
I had the opportunity to fish with Team Winters during the year and saw how old school and new school ideas morphed into new, and strategically successful, tactics for both men.
Ultimately, the blend of new and old made both anglers better fishermen.
A late spring trip in 2018, a few months into the year-long event, was my first opportunity to fish with them as a team. When we met Bob’s old Glassmaster boat we’d fish in previously had been replaced with a roomy pontoon boat with a new electric motor on the front and a modern graph on the pilot’s side.
The elder Winters said he was already ‘buying in’ to new technology after using it for a while.
“I’ve compared the new graph to my flasher and was really impressed,” he said. “I did perfectly well with the flasher, but I’m sold on the modern graph. It does everything I need and more. The important part is that Bobby has learned to use the advanced capabilities of the unit. And he’s right, learning how to utilize all the features of these units will make a person a better fisherman as long as they already understand the fundamentals of finding and catching catfish.”
The young Winters said that after a few months in the mentoring process he’d learned the value of patience and perseverance and trusting his instincts, per his dad’s advice.
A perfect example occurred that day. Bobby marked fish and forage in an area where they’d been consistently catching catfish on recent trips. But the first drift produced no bites. The elder Winters suggested a slight change to fish nearby deeper water and Bobby agreed. On the first drift in the new spot, multiple fish were caught and at one point six catfish hooked at one time, with five landed.
“I’m learning to be patient, but still practical,” he said. “Without success at some point I’ll need to change locations or tactics, but giving a potentially good area a reasonable effort is crucial.”
Bobby said he’s also learned from his dad that drifting is not a random method of catfishing.
“To the untrained eye drift fishing may appear to be a random approach but that’s not accurate, “he said. “Dad’s taught me that an organized drift, covering a specific area of water for a pre-determined reason, is essential. The reason may be obvious, such as forage and baitfish lighting up the graph screen, or it can be subtle.”
The young Winters said drifting up an underwater slope is generally more productive than drifting down it.
“Dad’s taught me since I was very young that drifting baits up a ledge produces best and after fishing with him daily and tracking results, I’m now all in on that,” he said. “I may have eventually learned that on my own but that’s one of many of the ‘old school’ tactics he’s learned on the job that I’ve incorporated into my arsenal of techniques.”
Bob Winters said he’s not opposed to new technology; in fact, he embraces it and has enjoyed learning more and finding ways it works within his tried and true system of fishing.
“I’ve stayed open-minded thanks to Bobby,” he said. “He’s 25 and he’s now guiding as his chosen profession. He likes new technology and it clicks for him.”
Adjusting to change is always an interesting process regardless of the field and catfish guiding is no exception. For Bob and Bobby Winters, the process involved the morphing of both fishing guides to new ways of thinking. By the end of the year-long transformation process, Bob Winters, long an icon of Santee Cooper catfishing and traditional ‘old school’ methodology moved the needle considerably toward the modern side by embracing certain facets of modern technology and equipment.
“After nearly a half-century of successful guiding it’s refreshing to know I can still appreciate change when it is for the better,” the elder Winters said. “But old school is still near and dear to my fishing style. But I’m proud that Bobby has helped me come full circle to embrace and use some modern technology.”
Bobby, the energetic and wildly talented new gun is high on modern technology. Science and biology opened his mind and he has embraced several of his dad’s old school tactics.
“I’ve learned to blend the old and new simply because it works, is reliable and enables me to keeps a cool connection with dad,” he said.
Guide Bobby Winters can be contacted through Blacks Camp on Santee Cooper at (843) 753-2231 or (843) 709-0626).
I had the honor to be one of a handful of writers on board Team Winters’ boat on the elder Winters last official day of guiding. It was a cold 2018 December day and a strong frontal passage had slowed the bite from the previous week.
After a year of working together, Team Winters felt positive about the day. On multiple occasions, father and son huddled together discussing options about how, when, and where to make adjustments to catch fish.
Fishing success and the size of fish caught improved as the pattern came into sharper focus for Team Winters. Fittingly, after a lengthy consultation later that afternoon, and with both guides nodding affirmatively on the decision, young Bobby made one last move to another spot.
A few minutes into the drift, a rod bowed deep with a big catfish hooked. The weight remains unknown but the big cat stripped line from the reel and simply outdueled the guy manning the rod.
Encouraged by the quick big fish bite the ‘old school’ secret weapons of patience and perseverance were soon rewarded with two quality blue catfish, one 20-pound-plus class and another 40-pound class catfish.
When the final big fish was hauled aboard it was literally the grand finale for the day, the trip, and 40-year guide career for Bob Winters. The father and son team sported smiles while holding the two fish as their year-long journey came to a close.
Bob Winters made the analogy that at the end of the day a big catch of catfish today is remarkably similar to a big catch in 1979. He said successful fishing is always an on-going learning process pointing out that what’s considered ‘old school’ today was the new technology and the ‘hot stuff’ of that era when he began guiding.
Perhaps his greatest fishing lesson to his son is that for good fishermen the learning curve and potential for improvement never flat-lines if they’re open to change.