Fantasy Fishing: Carmelitia Winters claims top prize

Carmelitia Winters, an East Texas grandmother who recently retired after a 36-year career with Alliance Bank, will have plenty of time to use her new 2019 Nitro Z18 powered by a 175 HP Mercury Pro XS, the Grand Prize for winning the 2019 Bassmaster Fantasy Fishing Challenge. She remained steady throughout the 11-event slate to beat her closest challenger by an impressive 61 points, fueled by a solid 1,304-point performance at St. Clair to end the year.

Winters credited her victory to “luck,” but clearly she’s developed a system, and has twice won substantial prize packages from Tackle Warehouse for her angler-picking acumen. “They hooked us up with all sorts of rods and reels and hoodies,” she said, the latter of which will come in handy as she zooms around local waters including Lake Fork, which was the venue for this year’s Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest.

“I look at some historical data and I look at the pundits’ picks when I’m making my selections,” she explained. “Then I just kind of coast along. I used Chris Zaldain a lot, and Keith Combs, too. It’s just kind of hit and miss.”

Indeed, Combs was the most frequent of the numerous anglers she picked multiple times apiece. Winters selected him five times, but didn’t start until relatively late in the season at Fork. That enabled her to avoid his struggles at the St. Johns, Hartwell and Winyah Bay, while capitalizing on three of his four top-seven finishes.

Winters seemed to have a knack for picking anglers and riding their success as it trended upward, or picking out their best finishes altogether. She stuck with Jeff Gustafson until he pulled home a second-place finish at Cayuga. She picked Patrick Walters twice, both times in his home state of South Carolina, and was rewarded with two of his best three finishes of the year for her devotion. While she didn’t grab Paul Mueller for his Lanier win, she almost made up for it by picking him in the E Bucket at St. Clair, where he finished fifth. The one time she picked Jay Yelas all season was at the St. Lawrence, and that produced fifth-place points, his only final-day appearance.

Winters did not get off to a particularly fast start, nor did she have any extraordinary single-event finishes, but she peaked at the right time. After a poor performance at Guntersville, which saw only one of her anglers make the cut to Day 3, she rebounded with three solid performances heading into the finale, despite not having picked a tournament winner to that point.

That all changed at St. Clair, where she rode her gut to picking AOY Championship victor Seth Feider.

“I really need to send him a thank you card,” she said. “He saved me. It wasn’t just that he won the tournament. I also got the 95 bonus points for big bass, for big bag, and for leading the tournament. That’s what helped me win.”

She and her husband Ronnie used to own a place on property a Lake Fork , but they sold it a few years ago and reinvested in a lake house on a smaller lake that doesn’t allow motorized boats. They’ll hold onto that, but they’ll also branch out further.

“I don’t fish as much as I used to, but I will now,” she said.

She’ll bring Ronnie along, even though she claims to have beaten him by over a thousand points on the Fantasy Fishing field of play.

“I guess I’ll let him ride in the boat,” she joked. They’ll almost certainly be joined by their grandson, who may be the most avid angler in the family. He competes on his high school fishing team.

Until the boat is wet, it won’t feel real to her.

“I just keep saying to myself, ‘I won a boat! I really did!”