Bobby Woodard: Coach and Captain
By Merlisa Lawrence Corbett
When Bobby Woodard decided to start a fishing charter business, he considered advice he received from friends who had worked in the industry for years.
“They said the easiest way to make a small fortune in fishing is to start out with a large one,” Woodard says.
He ignored them and launched his business anyway.
Like a captain who navigates his boat in open waters, Woodard sails through life while a unique career course.
Woodard, an Auburndale resident, is the tennis pro for the City of Winter Haven Tennis Facility. When he’s not helping people perfect their backhands, Woodard operates Fly ’Em High Charters, a saltwater fishing guide business.
Woodard is ‘Captain Bobby’ on his boat and ‘Coach Bobby’ on the courts. Whether coach or captain, Woodard enjoys the thrill of instructing people in the art of competitive fun.
“One of them happens to be on land, the other happens to be on water,” says Woodard. “At times, when I feel a little burnt out with tennis, I can go fishing and refresh. Then come back to work here and I’m ready. It’s a nice balance.”
Athletically gifted, Woodard began building a remarkable résumé earlier than most. At age 5 he became the youngest person to hold a black belt in tae kwon do. This achievement got him listed in the 1989-1990 Guinness Book of World Records.
By age 10, Woodard was also playing T-ball, soccer and tennis. His father, Bobby Woodard Sr., played chauffeur.
“I had a station wagon and we kept the change of clothes in the car. We drove from one sport to another, to another,” says Woodard Sr. “I told him, ‘Bobby, this is wearing me out. We need to pick something.’”
He chose tennis. Woodard traveled throughout the South region, competing in tournaments. He even trained at Grenelefe, under famed tennis coach Rick Macci. Future stars Venus and Serena Williams, as well as Andy Roddick, also trained under Macci.
After countless tournaments, at age 16, Woodard made a life-changing decision.
“He said, ‘Dad, I really don’t want to train four or five hours a day, five days a week,’” recalls Woodard Sr. “I asked him, so what do you like to do? He said he enjoyed teaching. So I told him, that’s what you need to do. It’s always best to do something you enjoy.”
Woodard began as a teen assistant and worked his way up to teaching pro. As pro he oversees youth camps, adult leagues and individual instruction.
He launched his fishing business earlier this year.
“It sort of evolved. Once you buy a boat and you learn how to fish, then everyone comes out of the woodwork. Friends, family, whoever, want to go fishing,” Woodard says. “It started with friends and family. Then it was friends of friends, business acquaintances, and then it evolved to where I had people on the boat that I didn’t even know prior to that morning. And I wasn’t getting paid.”
After a few years of playing unpaid guide, Woodard decided to get his captain’s license. The transition from tennis instructor to fishing guide was easy, he says.
“Whether it’s tennis or fishing, my first priority is to keep them safe. The second, is about having fun,” he says.
Woodard offers scallop, grouper and flat charters. But fishing for Tarpon is his bread and butter. He takes his charters out to Boca Grande, near Fort Myers, an area brimming with Tarpon and Hammerhead sharks who feast on them.
Often along for the ride is Anna Ford, the tennis-playing, Tarpon-hunting lady in his life.
They met on a tennis court. Their first real date: a saltwater fishing trip.
Woodard had taken Ford out in the Tampa Bay area where they encountered a massive storm. Concerned about the rough waters, Woodward suggested they head back to shore and come back later.
He was pleasantly surprised when Ford opted to ride out the weather. “I’m thinking, she’s a keeper,” he says.
Four years later, Ford goes with Woodard on nearly every trip. “I just like being out on the water,” she says.
Exhilarating, is how Woodard describes chasing the mammoth fish that can grow to 200 pounds.
Woodard Sr., who caught his first Tarpon 50 years ago, says he’s grown too old to fight those fish. Instead, he enjoys watching Bobby Jr. take chase. “It’s a sight,” says Woodard Sr. “What’s exciting is just the nature of the fight. You can fight one of those things for 45 minutes.”
Some of Woodard’s happiest clients are referrals from his father. Woodard Sr. owns Big Fish Bait and Tackle shop in Lakeland. His customers are mostly freshwater fishermen. But for those who express interest in taking on Tarpon, “I can’t think of a better captain than Bobby.”
Although a lifelong fisherman, Woodard Sr. takes no credit for his son’s Tarpon fishing skills.
For more info about Coach Bobby and tennis opportunities visit the city’s tennis page.
For more info about Captain Bobby’s fishing charters visit Fly ‘Em High Charters’ Facebook page.