By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Kyle Welcher says there wasn't much – if anything – that was different between his Angler of the Year-winning 2023 season on the Bassmaster Elite Series and his 2022 campaign, when he finished 69th on the final points list. Tournament game plans just worked out this year, whereas they didn't the previous season.
"I've been asked the question a lot about what the difference was and I really don't have an answer for it," he said last week. "The results just were not there last year. I put in a ton of work and I found a lot of really good stuff in practice, but then it wouldn't come together and I'd have to scramble and try to find (other fish).
"My routine was the same, but this year it just worked."
The 30-year-old from Opelika, Ala. topped the points list in his fourth year as an Elite Series competitor. He finished no lower than 44th in any of the nine events – meaning he advanced to at least the third day of each derby – and had two Top-10 showings along with five other finishes among the Top 25.
He ended up 5th in the season finale at Lake St. Clair to prevail in a duel with Brandon Cobb. Those two had been pretty much neck-and-neck at the top of the AOY standings throughout the second half of the season.
The St. Clair finish was his best of the year, but he said the 13th he posted at Lake Okeechobee to begin the season was just as significant, as it set to the tone for the campaign. He followed it up with two more in the teens to establish himself as a title contender.
The Big O event was a microcosm of his season, as the area he'd chosen to begin the tournament produced more weight than he'd anticipated.
"I was going to fish one area where I thought I could catch a limit for 12 or 13 pounds, then leave and try to catch some bigger fish," he said. "But I ended up catching 16 or 17 pounds and I caught another big one later on that brought me up to 18 1/2.
"I caught an even bigger bag there on Day 2 (20-06) and had a decent bag on Day 3 (15-06). That was something that happened throughout the season – after I really leaned on them, places ended up being better than I thought they'd be."
He said he basically just junk-fished in shallow water during the first six tournaments with the same handful of rods on his deck the entire time. For the last three events, held in the northern portion of the country, he relied on one reaction bait and a dropshot rig.
"It was never really about any specific baits," he said. "The biggest thing was that I was usually able to catch fish all day and eventually cull up to at least a decent bag. The times when you have bad tournaments, you usually have these big lulls – like you'll go 3 hours without catching one. That's not good when it comes to the standings and that's what I was pretty much able to avoid.
"My goals stay the same all the time; give 100-percent effort and make good decisions and stay productive all year. There's only so much you can control because there's a lot of variables in this sport."
He won't be the least bit rusty when he begins defense of his AOY title in the 2024 season opener at Toledo Bend Reservoir in late February. He fishes nearly every day during the off-season at one of the several lakes near his home and gets into every local tournament that he can – sometimes as many as five per week.
He'll also play a considerable amount of poker – a game at which he made his living before turning his focus to bass. Having earned a $100,000 bonus for his points title, he can play out a higher percentage of questionable hands if he chooses to.
"When the evening (bass) tournaments die out and it starts getting dark early, that's when I'll make the transition to playing poker," he said. "I do a little bit online, but most of it's in-person at card rooms and maybe three or four times a year I'll travel to a casino.
"I still like it because it's such a decision-making game. I can sit down and play for 8 hours and not think about fishing. It's the only task I can do that with."