SCOTTSBORO, Ala. — An Elite angler’s “walk-up” music has no bearing on tournament performance, but Caleb Kuphall’s could not have been more fitting for his dominant wire-to-wire victory in the Berkley Bassmaster Elite at Lake Guntersville, where he tallied a four-day total weight of 85 pounds, 14 ounces.
The second-year pro from Mukwonago, Wis., enters the weigh-in stage each day to the Beach Boys’ Catch a Wave. The opening verse perfectly mirrors the eye-popping Day 1 performance that gave Kuphall nearly a 6 1/2-pound lead and positioned him to ride out the slower periods and end up surging across the finish line by a huge margin.
“Catch a wave and you’re sitting on top of the world.”
“Having as much of a lead as I did, it was very nerve wracking, because you don’t want to blow it,” Kuphall said. “You’re like ‘I’ve got this lead and if I blow it, it’s a catastrophic train wreck.’ I kinda just rode that wave.”
Earning his first Elite trophy and becoming the first Wisconsin angler to do so, Kuphall set the bar high with a Day 1 catch of 27-10. With a windy Day 2 creating position and presentation challenges, his productivity dipped to 15-10, but Kuphall retained the top spot by a 4-9 margin.
Day 3 saw him getting back on track with a 23-9 limit that pushed his lead to 11 1/2 pounds. On Championship Sunday, Kuphall started slow, picked up steady momentum and sacked up the biggest bag of the final round — 19-1 — to collect a $100,000 top prize.
Notably, Kuphall’s 17-14 margin of victory is the second largest in Bassmaster Elite Series history (behind South Carolina pro Patrick Walter’s 29-10 margin last year at Lake Fork). Kuphall is only the 11th Elite angler to win by a double-digit margin.
Kuphall caught all of his bass flipping and punching shallow vegetation. In a tournament that saw competitors trying a wide range of spring tactics, he kept it simple and stuck to a fundamentally sound game plan that helped steady his nerves.
“I don’t generally get really nervous when I’m out fishing,” he said. “Throughout today, I felt totally calm because I just had two areas, so I didn’t really have a lot of decisions to make. I wasn’t going to do anything crazy and luckily it worked out.”
Kuphall fished two main areas. The first was a vast milfoil field just outside the take-off site at Goose Pond. Here, he mostly flipped a Texas-rigged Zoom Z Hog in the green pumpkin and California 420 colors on a 4/0 extra-wide gap hook with a 3/4-ounce tungsten weight. Saturday and Sunday, he also flipped a 1-ounce Dirty Jigs No Jack Punchin’ Jig with a forktail trailer.
When his first area slowed, Kuphall ran uplake to the east side of an island just below the B.B. Comer Bridge (State Route 35). That second spot comprised two large sections of matted grass, with scattered patches of floating weeds.
Targeting isolated clumps of the thicker mats proved most productive, but Kuphall said the uplake spot was likely bolstered by a fresh supply of hefty forage.
“Area is everything and on that secondary spot, I had a lot of fish moving to me,” he said. “I didn’t go up really shallow in that area during practice, but (second-place finisher) Wes Logan did and he told me there was a ton of bream beds.
“I think what happened was when all of those bluegill got done spawning, they moved out to the mats. Every day I’d hear bluegill going nuts (eating insects) in the mats and I’d see bass blowing up on them. Those bass just stayed under those mats and ate bluegill all day.”
Reflecting on his first career Elite Series victory, Kuphall said winning against a field peppered with anglers he’s admired for years made the victory especially rewarding.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” he said. “To beat this caliber of anglers is unreal. I’ve looked up to a lot of those guys like Jason Christie and Greg Hackney (also Top 10 finishers) over the years and to fish against those guys is crazy to begin with. To hold a blue trophy — I never thought it would happen this early in my career.”
Hailing from Springville, Ala., Logan made a big comeback after placing 43rd on Day 1 with 14-1. The next two days saw him add 20-12 and 20-8 to climb into sixth, then second place. His final-round limit of 12-11 gave him a second-place total of 68-0.
Logan spent his tournament between the Goose Pond area and just above the B.B. Comer Bridge and targeted a mix of shallow scenarios. He caught fish on a ChatterBait with a Zoom Super Fluke trailer and flipped a Zoom Z Craw on 3/4- and 1-ounce tungsten weights. He also tricked a 6 1/2-pounder on Day 2 with a wacky-rigged worm.
“I caught all of my fish today flipping,” Logan said. “I was targeting little stretches of grass where it was topped out a little bit, but not completely matted out.”
Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La., finished third with 67-3. His daily weights were 16-2, 17-13, 16-8 and 16-12.
Hackney caught most of his bass by punching a Strike King Rage Rodent around shallow vegetation. He also caught fish on a Strike King KVD Sexy Frog and a Strike King Hack Attack swim jig with a Rage Craw trailer.
“I used the swim jig early when it was still (low light) and the frog would be during the day while I was punching,” Hackney said. “I would either get around a bream bed or I would see one move in the mat.”
Caleb Sumrall of New Iberia, La., won the $1,000 Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with his 7-6 largemouth.
Seth Feider of New Market, Minn., came into the event with a big lead in the Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings, and he did nothing to hurt his strong run at professional fishing’s biggest season-long accomplishment.
After finishing 24th this week, Feider leads the AOY race with 602 points, followed by Jason Christie of Park Hill, Okla., with 554, Patrick Walters of Summerville, S.C., with 550, Chris Johnston of Otonabee, Ontario, Canada, with 541 and Brandon Palaniuk of Rathdrum, Idaho, with 541.
Bryan New of Belmont, N.C., leads the Rookie of the Year standings with 457 points.
Fourth-place finisher Christie took home an additional $3,000 for being the highest-placing entrant in the Toyota Bonus Bucks program, and Chris Zaldain of Fort Worth, Texas, earned $2,000 for being the second-highest placing entrant.
As part of the Yamaha Power Pay program, Logan earned $2,500 for being the highest-placing entrant, while Christie claimed an additional $1,500 for being the second-highest placing entrant.
The tournament was hosted by the City of Scottsboro.