There has never been a “fluke” Bassmaster Angler of Year winner, and Kyle Welcher – the 2023 champ – is no exception.
In fact, he very well may become one of the most formidable AOY winners and someone you’re going to see a lot of on the “Big Stage.”
To win such a difficult and prestigious title that requires an exceptional level of consistency is quite an accomplishment for a guy who just finished his fourth year as an Elite pro.
Bassmaster Emcee Dave Mercer recognized Welcher’s talent his first year on tour and told all of us with the TV staff that he was going to be successful on tour.
This dude is just different and has some of those attributes we saw in Kevin VanDam. He’s extremely confident and maintains a focus like few others.
Some anglers may tell you they are confident on the water, but the fact is, deep down inside you either feel it or you don’t. Welcher feels it every time he puts his boat in the water.
When I won AOY, I knew every fish I hooked was going into the livewell. I had that momentum-building confidence. Other years when I was struggling, if I hooked a fish, that confidence waned and I might lose it.
Welcher is different. He oozes with confidence. I remember a conversation I had with him after he just missed winning the Bassmaster Classic at Lake Hartwell.
I always make a point of pulling the second-place finishers aside and offering encouragement. I remind them how good they are and that their time will come.
I told Kyle, the year I finished second in the Classic, I came back the next year and won AOY. That second place at the Classic was disappointing, but it gave me confidence the next year.
He looked at me with a smile, agreed and said it will happen someday. And it did.
Kyle has many of the traits you see in an Angler of Year winner. You can tell when a guy has that special “it” factor – their demeanor, the way they carry themselves and never complain. They just go out and do their jobs.
And like most, Welcher has a lot of versatility. He’s a guy who looks at the fishery, does his research and does what is necessary to put him in a position to do well. That’s not as simple as it sounds.
He’s also a risk taker, in a good way. When some anglers go for broke – they go for broke. When you “swing for the fence” you often strike out. But Welcher’s mind works differently. As a former professional poker player, he knows when to play the odds and take chances.
In the last event of the season he knew what was at stake. The wind blew 15 to 20 mph creating an angry Lake Ontario, but he knew if he took his time and got out there, he’d catch ‘em when most of the other anglers fished in or close to the river.
It paid off.
Who knows what lies ahead for the Alabama pro? But you can tell by his focus he isn’t going to be a flash in the pan.
I’m not going to say he will win four titles – there are too many things out of his control that can happen. But I do think he will win another AOY and a Bassmaster Classic. He has the grit and skills to do that – and perhaps much more.