Thirty year-old Alabama pro Kyle Welcher, in just his third season on the Bassmaster Elite Series, turned in an exceptional campaign and earned the coveted Angler of the Year title by 24 points versus his closest competitor. Over the course of nine events he never missed the money cut, with two top 10 finishes and three more in the top 20 – and Rapala’s new CrushCity soft baits played a role in just about all of them.
After finishing 10th in AOY in his rookie season, and 22nd the following year, with a 2nd place Bassmaster Classic finish in between them, Welcher struggled in 2022, falling to 69th in the season standings.
“It was mental mistakes and efficiency problems,” he recalled. “What I learned from that is that I have to stay productive no matter what. There can’t be any wasted time. But it was also kind of a goofy schedule – one here, one there, and I usually do well in that case. I never felt spun out, it was just that everything I thought I had found wouldn’t work on tournament day.”
This year, however, he started strong. His mental processes seemed to be clicking and the former professional poker player parlayed that into continued excellence. He finished 13th in the season-opener at Okeechobee, then 15th at Seminole and 18th at South Carolina’s Lake Murray.
“That set the pace for the year,” he said. “It gave me a lot of confidence. I went against the grain and fished my strengths, I fished exactly the way I wanted to fish. That meant I didn’t have to go into any day thinking about saving points. I was always trying to win every tournament. That’s the way I do the best.”
CrushCity Aided Consistency
Welcher’s AOY effort coincided with the release of Rapala’s CrushCity plastics lineup, although he’d been working with them before the official introduction to the public. Indeed, the Rapala pros let the cat out of the bag early, with staff members including Jacob Wheeler winning tournaments on these very special tools before ICAST. Welcher used that limited distribution to his distinct advantage.
“I used them in some form at just about every tournament,” he said. “The Cleanup Craw was probably number one. I used it on the back of a swim jig at both Okeechobee and Seminole, and then bed fishing at Murray and Santee. The BLT produced every fish I weighed in at St. Clair and not as many but still some at the St. Lawrence. At Lay Lake I used the Mayor on a screw lock underspin around a shad spawn and the Bronco Bug in the grass.”
He was clear on why each of these lures was the best of its kind for his specific purposes:
Cleanup Craw: “It has an extra-consistent action that is critical in a craw-style bait. It’s small enough that you can use it as a standalone bait but it still holds a good-sized hook. I use it on a swim jig a ton because it’s compact enough but still provides a ton of vibration. For bed fish, you can hop it off the bottom and it falls back really slowly, with a ton of action.”
BLT: “Of course it was built as a small Ned Rig bait, but I also like it a lot for dropshotting. It’s especially good on lakes like St. Clair, where you’re dropshotting in and around grass because it floats better than other soft plastics. Even on a slack line, it has a slower sink so you don’t lose track of the bait. Also, because of the material that it’s made out of, you can be very efficient with it. You can catch 12 or 15 smallmouths on one lure before you have to change it.”
The Mayor: “The Mayor may look similar to a lot of other small swimbaits, but it has a unique body roll – not a super-wide roll, but a more natural one. You can put it on a 4/0 hook with a blade and still generate a lot of roll, that secondary action that you want.”
Future Goals for the Champ
Having outfished and outlasted the competition in 2023, you’d think that Welcher would be laser-focused on a repeat. On the contrary, he’s more concerned with continuing with the particular process that has gotten him here.
“I don’t give myself short-term accomplishment goals,” he explained. “Of course I want to win, and I work as hard as I can every event to make that happen, but ultimately I judge myself on if I make mental mistakes or bad decisions. I want to be fishing in the moment all of the time. I just love to compete as a bass fisherman and to get better at deciphering what is going on.”
Accordingly, his intent is to continue to improve the mental part of the game, a luxury that he has because he knows that he’s already crushing it with the best tools available today.
“My goals are to stay productive and make the best decisions that I can every day,” he said
Furthermore, he knows that his partnership with Rapala, just concluding its first season, is built for the long haul and provides him with a unique platform.
“I like to tinker with bait,” he explained. “That’s why I’m so excited about working with Rapala. They want more input and I want to provide more of it. I’m very lucky to be where I am today.”
That luck is the result of a lot of hard work – and likely a lot of additional titles.