Daily Limit: Kuphall all about fishing

Caleb Kuphall fishes. He also fishes, eats and sleeps, plays a little softball, and fishes.

“It’s all been fishing for me. I haven’t really known much else,” said Kuphall, who scored a wire-to-wire win in the Berkley Bassmaster Elite at Lake Guntersville, May 20-23.

Just days after turning 38, the second-year Elite angler had a dream week in solving the legendary fishery in transition. Behind the event’s big bag of 27 pounds, 10 ounces on Day 1, Kuphall went on to total 85-14 and win by the second-largest margin in Elite history.

“I did not see that coming,” he said. “You might as well win big. I’d rather be in second or third and come from behind, but if you’re going to lead, you want a cushion. You don’t want to blow it on that last day.”

That was his worry after weighing the event’s second biggest bag of 23-9 on Day 3 and sleeping, or not, on an 11-8 lead. Kuphall sure didn’t want to be known for failing on Championship Sunday. He won’t be.

Kuphall started slow on the final day but culled to 19-1 — the third time he had the day’s top bag in the event — and finished with a 17-14 margin over Wes Logan, the only other angler to top 20 pounds on two days. Kuphall now has two titles in 21 B.A.S.S. entries.

“It’s just incredible. It gives me just a ton of recognition,” Kuphall said. “All the texts and emails, people contacting me on social media, all the followers I’ve gained. It just totally inflates what I’m doing.”

That would be fishing.

Caleb Kuphall shows his two biggest in a Day 1 bag of 27-10.

The bachelor lives with his parents, Greg and Karen, in a nice subdivision in Mukwonago, Wis., just southwest of Milwaukee. They share a beautiful house on a hill overlooking a pair of small lakes “chuck full of bass.” Kuphall said he often walks down and catches a few from shore.

His living arrangement is similar to Austin Felix, the 2020 Elite Rookie of the Year who lives with his parents a state over in Minnesota. Staying with family is simply convenient for anglers out on the road so much, and there’s also monetary considerations while working to establish an Elite career.

Felix said his situation was nothing like Will Ferrell’s character in Wedding Crashers, a freeloading adult still living at home who famously yelled “Mom, the meatloaf.” When told that scenario was used in an article on Felix’s ROY, Kuphall chuckled.

“It’s funny,” he said moments after being welcomed home at the end of a 12-hour drive from Guntersville to a family celebration, “because we’re having meatloaf. I’m about to sit down to a meatloaf dinner.”

His brothers, uncles and aunts came to congratulate him and see the first blue trophy brought home to Wisconsin. Kuphall said he had a few fishing buddies travel to Scottsboro to witness his victory in person, but otherwise he’s a solo fishing act. It’s what he’s wanted to do since getting the bug at his grandfather Fred’s small lake at 5 years old.

Bass fishing became his life when at around 10 the family moved in proximity to two 15-acre farm ponds loaded with bass. He soaked up bass fishing knowledge through Bassmaster Magazine, TV shows and working in tackle stores. Kuphall saved enough to purchase his first bass boat as a teen, fishing local lakes and small tournaments. He signed up for his first BFL on his 17th birthday, where he caught one fish.

“But I’ve gotten a little better since then,” he added.

Kuphall brings in a fish from the flats on Championship Sunday.

With no one else in his family competing, Kuphall continued his education by guiding for six years, something he still does 20 or so times a year with select clients. “I don’t advertise anymore,” he said.

In 2019, he entered the Basspro.com Central Opens, and in his second event won on Smith Lake to qualify for the 2020 Classic. After Top 30 finishes on Toledo Bend and the Mississippi River out of La Crosse, Wis., Kuphall took second on Grand Lake to qualify for the Elites.

“Tournaments have always been my deal,” he said. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do for such a long time. To get the opportunity to fish the Elites has been awesome.

“I’ve always been a super, super competitive person. Going through school, I played a lot of sports — hockey, baseball. I still play softball. You always want to beat the next guy.”

Although he put men’s league hockey behind him almost eight years ago, Kuphall keeps competitive on the diamond, playing shortstop or the outfield for his softball team, the River Monsters.

It was lake monsters that set him apart at Guntersville. Kuphall landed them early and more often than any other competitor. With others near his small starting patch near takeoff at Goose Pond, Kuphall got off to a fast start in a wire-to-wire victory.

“I got on one spot early and caught two giants back to back — one was 6-2 and the other 5-11,” he said. “It was just an incredible start. I hadn’t caught but one 6-pounder in practice. I came out of that area with like 22 pounds.”

The move to his secondary spot, the massive grass flats near the BB Comer Bridge, was fruitful. He culled with a 4-15 and 5-11 to complete his crazy first day that had him lead by 6-9.

Kuphall celebrates his wire-to-wire victory.

“Heading in, I really didn’t think I’d be leading,” he said. “I thought I had a good weight, but I thought guys would catch a little bit better off shore than they did. I thought you’d see at least a couple bigs coming from the ledges, but it just never really happened out there.”

A slower second day cut Kuphall’s advantage to 4-9, and he thought he was in trouble because the first spot wasn’t reloading. He knew he could catch a couple keepers there but not much weight. The calm, slick conditions on the last two days played into his hands, loosening the mats near the bridge.

“The weather, honestly, was so critical to my fishing and being able to exploit that spot,” he said. “It being flat those last two days was just a crazy advantage.”

On Day 3, with his lead dwindled to around 2 pounds on BassTrakk, Kuphall went on a three-fish flurry. His 14 pounds in 15 minutes was the bulk of his 23-9 bag that led the day and was second largest of the event. With his huge lead, he went into Championship Sunday shooting for a limit, but again he culled to the biggest bag of the day.

“I thought I had it when I caught that first big one,” he said of the 4-14 that put him near 15 pounds. “I put that in the livewell, and I thought, ‘I think I just won this thing.’

“You got to keep the gas on. I think I made two more critical culls, maybe three even, that brought me up to 19 pounds and that pretty much just ended it.”

The 100 points for first place jumped Kuphall 12 spots to inside the Classic cut at 33rd in the Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. Last year he finished 46th, 14 points from qualifying to consecutive Classics. He doesn’t want to miss another and said he feels good with the schedule heading north to Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence River.

“I had a pretty good run up there last year, made the cut at St. Lawrence. Champlain, missed the cut by one spot. Two fairly decent finishes,” he said. “Having that experience from last year, hopefully we can get a little bit better this year. I like those northern fisheries; they’re fun. Plenty of fish to catch.”

The victory altered Kuphall’s plans to attend this month’s Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk. With the hectic aftermath from his victory, he would have liked a bit of rest but still had several more interviews and appearances. Now he’ll go shake some hands in Fort Worth before getting a couple weeks off, where he’ll relax, play some softball, and of course, go fishing. It’s what he does.