Alabamian Kyle Welcher believes that competing in a bass tournament is a bigger gamble than playing poker. Considering that this 25-year-old bass addict supports himself solely by tournament fishing and playing Texas hold ’em, his opinion is based on personal experience.
“Poker is a lot more math based because I know exactly how many cards are in the deck,” Welcher said. “Going into a tournament, I don’t know for certain where the bass are or what they are about to do.”
Welcher is passionate about both of his professions, but bass fishing is his first love.
Fishing the Eastern Opens in 2019 ended up being a safe bet for Welcher. A third-place finish the Harris Chain and an 11th-place finish on Oneida Lake pushed him into the top eight in the final Angler of the Year standings. Double qualifications by the anglers above him secured his spot for 2020. The resulting invite to the Elite Series may just surpass any pile of chips he’s raked in playing poker.
The Harris Chain Open was only the second Bassmaster tournament Welcher competed in. His first event was a Southern Open in 2013 at Alabama’s Logan Martin Lake. He nabbed 40th place, just enough to claim a check.
Unlike many young anglers who compete in the Bassmaster Opens and the Elite Series, Welcher did not grow up in a tournament fishing family. His father, Darrin, had an aluminum boat, but he used it mainly to access unpressured deer hunting lands on large Alabama reservoirs.
“My dad wasn’t really into bass fishing, but he would take me from time to time and that sparked my interest,” Welcher said. “I remember once when I was about 10 years old when we saw a Tuesday night pot tournament blast off. I was immediately addicted to the tournament scene.”
At age 12 Welcher had two good friends, twin boys Jacob and Justin Adams, who were also all in for bass fishing. They lived on the bank of Lake Harding. The three boys would camp there on many weekends over the next two years and fish all day from a 17-foot aluminum boat.
During those years Welcher would walk the aisles in local tackle stores, gawk at the bass lures on display and try to determine which ones might work for him.
“By the time I was 16 bass fishing became so prominent on YouTube and TV shows, it was a lot easier to learn about new lures and techniques.”
While attending Beulah High School near Opelika, Ala., Welcher started a bass fishing team. He competed in the Alabama Student Angler Bass Fishing Association from his sophomore through senior years. Welcher became “gung ho” for tournament fishing when he got his driver’s license and could get to local open tournaments by himself.
After high school Welcher attended the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) where he enrolled in pre-nursing. As a freshman, he competed in a college bass trail and won the UAB points title. After two years of college, he was offered a nursing internship but decided to embark on his current gypsy lifestyle.
“I started playing poker on the internet when I was around 18,” Welcher said. “It was slow to start, but after probably six months of playing seriously I was able to profit consistently.”
Confident in his ability to succeed at Texas hold’em, Welcher ventured to Florida where it is legal to play face-to-face poker at 18. He soon learned that live poker is more profitable for him than playing on the internet. Over the next three years, he spent months at a time playing poker in Florida.
“The night I turned 21, literally at midnight, I walked into my first real casino in Biloxi, Miss.,” Welcher said. “I was so underestimated because the other players thought I was a fish. The sharks didn’t realize I had been playing in Florida for three years.”
The poker games that Welcher partakes in are not big-money, winner-take-all televised Texas hold’em tournaments. He opts for cash poker games in which there are nine or 10 players around the table. The players may come and go as they please. The most he has won in a single day is $4,000. His biggest pot thus far is $3,600.
“If you can stay disciplined, you can make a lot of money doing it,” Welcher said. “I don’t recommend it. Forty-nine out of 50 people who try it go broke or get addicted.”
For the past five years Welcher has had an apartment, but he has lived in hotels and motels five to eight months of the year while traveling to bass tournaments and gambling venues. He does most of his gambling now in Las Vegas and California during July and August and from October through December. The other months are dedicated to bass tournaments.
With the exception of his “disastrous” 2015 bass tournament season, Welcher has profited by playing poker and competing in tournaments every year. Both occupations demand that he be on his game for several hours at a time. A typical poker day for Welcher lasts seven to 12 hours.
“When you’re playing poker, you have time to reflect, calm your emotions and plan your next move,” Welcher said. “In a bass tournament your adrenaline is pumping for eight hours straight and you’re going, going, going. It takes a day or two after the tournament before you can look back with a clear head and realize where you made mistakes.”
You can learn more about Welcher and his fishing adventures by checking out his YouTube videos.