Her catfishing knowledge and skill are off-the-chart good, but Shannon Sellers’
best attribute as first mate may be her people skills.
Shannon Sellers: The Catfishing Guide’s Ideal First Mate
By Terry Madewell
Being first mate on a catfishing guide boat requires a lot from any angler. First Mate Shannon Sellers excels with her fishing knowledge, skill and passion, coupled with her innate people-influencing abilities.
Shannon Sellers stood on the bow of the 30-foot pontoon, focused on the rod tips of eight catfish rigs deployed on Lake Marion, the upper of the Santee Cooper lakes in South Carolina.
Her head rotated as if coupled to a slow-moving swivel, her eagle-sharp eyes cutting back and forth, head twitching ever so slightly when a rod tip made any unusual dip as the rigs drifted across the structure-strewn lake bottom.
Capt. Eric Sellers, a veteran catfish guide and Shannon’s husband, nodded. His lips pursed a wry grin.
“She’s in the zone, so we can relax,” he said. “You’re not going to see a bite before she does. She’s highly competitive that way. She’s the best first mate in the catfishing guide business.”
As if on cue, a rod on the starboard side of the pontoon made a “thump,” and the tip arched toward the water. Stacey Weatherford, a mutual friend of mine and Sellers, was directed to that rod via an arm wave and pointed finger from Shannon.
“Get that one, Stacey,” she said. “Eric, I need you to get this other fish…now.”
Her attention was already focused on a second rod, bowed deep in a horseshoe shape off the bow. Capt. Sellers, already on his feet, manned that rod. I’d taken my turn earlier with a 35-pound blue Shannon had bird-dogged, and, afterwards, I had pleaded my case to the first mate to be allowed to take photos of the next few fish hooked.
She looked my way and grinned.
“You’re off the hook for now, but if another one bites, the camera goes down and you’re up,” she said. “Be ready. I’ve got fish to net.”
And net them she did. Expertly directing movement patterns of the two anglers, she kept them from crossing lines and prevented the big blues from reaching the abundant woody timber nearby.
She did all this while keeping a keen eye on the six remaining rigs. Fortunately for me, from a photo-op perspective, none of them loaded up, and I remained on camera duty.
Multitasking is a natural gift for 54-year-old First Mate Shannon Sellers, because life has brought her to this point. She and Eric live in Kings Mountain, North Carolina, and she originally began fishing to spend time with Eric. But it changed into yet another of her many life passions.
“Eric’s fished all his life. His father and uncle were catfish guides, and he’s followed in the family business,” she said. “I started fishing with him right after we married about 35 years ago. It’s been a great adventure we’ve shared. I love catching catfish.
“When I began joining him on guide trips, I developed a passion to help others catch fish,” she continued. “Just as importantly I found ways to help them enjoy the process of catfishing. The catfishing experience is so much more than reeling in fish. It’s the friendships found on a catfish boat that are unique from fishing for other species.”
Eric said it helped fuel her fishing fire that the first catfish she caught was a blue catfish weighing 34 pounds. Her current personal best is now a 54-pound flathead.
Shannon Sellers developed her competitive edge growing up in a family with six children, with all her siblings being brothers.
“I was number four, so I had three older and two younger brothers,” she said. “I grew up on a chicken farm competing with boys doing chores and even fighting for my own place at the table.”
She also earned her competitive spirit working with her father. In addition to chicken farm chores, they raised multiple gardens that included handling as many as 1,500 ears of corn annually, as well as scads of beans, tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables.
“We grew a lot of food, and Daddy wanted to have the earliest, the biggest and the last crop,” she said. “From that I developed the passion to excel and compete on multiple levels. It’s served me well.”
Sellers is a master of multitasking, proven by owning her own hairstyling salon business in addition to working with her husband. In addition to fishing, Capt. Sellers shares his life passion of fishing as Revered Sellers, and Shannon has the responsibilities inherent to a preacher’s wife.
“I love it all,” she said. “When I’m on the boat catfishing with Eric, I enjoy meeting people from all walks of life. I love helping kids catch their first, and often biggest, fish of their lives.”
Capt. Sellers (704-477-0846) said having Shannon as first mate is great for all aboard the boat. She doesn’t work on every guide trip because she has her own business, but she joins him when she can.
“She’s a natural fishing coach, and she helps clients understand what’s happening in terms of why we’re drifting a certain area with specific baits and the natural connection between catfish and forage,” he said. “That helps complete the big picture of the overall process and makes the trip much more than just reeling in fish. Our clients understand and become an active part of the catfishing process because of Shannon.”
He said she excels at instructing and illustrating the mechanics of how to fight big fish.
“Her skills are honed by years of fishing,” he said. “She can cast rigs as well as anyone, and she cuts bait and re-rigs tackle. She’s a complete catfish angler in every aspect.”
But her sense of humor is perhaps her greatest asset, Capt. Sellers said.
“As much as I love seeing people catch fish, my competitive nature kicks in when fish are lost or bites missed,” Shannon said. “So, I find ways to motivate folks to improve.”
One motivation tool helped a client correct a common issue for newcomers to catfishing.
“Circle hooks are great, but it’s a natural instinct for catfish rookies to set the hook,” she said. “One client missed three massive pulldowns in a row because he snatched the rig out of the holder without reeling down first, even after I explained the process every time. After baiting and casting the rig out again, I put my hand on the rod, calmly looked him in the eye and said if you miss one more bite because you jerk the rod without winding down on the reel, you’re going overboard. He grinned, but he didn’t miss a fish the rest of the day.”
Shannon Sellers sets the bar high for first mates on catfishing boats. And the cool thing is, it appears so easy because it’s simply a natural extension of who she is.
Eric and Shannon Sellers fish out of Blacks Camp on the Diversion Canal connecting the Santee Cooper lakes, Marion and Moultrie. Check “Big E Guide Service” on Facebook.
(Terry Madewell of Ridgeway, S.C. has been an outdoor communicator for more than 45 years. He holds a degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Management and has a long career as a professional wildlife biologist/natural resources manager. He’s passionate about sharing outdoor adventures with others.)