Open profile: Kuphall’s long road to overnight success

Wisconsin’s Caleb Kuphall is one of those competitors who strives for years before becoming an overnight success. He hasn’t quite earned overnight success status yet, but he will if he fares as well in the final two Bassmaster Central Opens of 2019 as he did in the first two.

Bear in mind that Kuphall has competed in only two Bassmaster Open tournaments. He claimed 25th at the first Central Open on Toledo Bend and won the next one at Lewis Smith. He is currently fourth in the Central Opens Angler of the Year point standings.

Kuphall is a self-inspired and self-taught bass angler. His first fishing experiences took place when he was 4 or 5 years old. They consisted of casting for bluegills with a Zebco 202 off grandfather Fred Kuphall’s dock into a small natural lake. His love for fishing grew stronger every year.

Although Kuphall’s grandfather did not fish for bass, Kuphall discovered it, along with the sport of tournament fishing, from magazines and television shows. At age 12 he began working to become the best bass angler he could be. His practice venue was a pond near home that was “chuck full of bass.”

For the next six years Kuphall would fish the pond from the bank at every opportunity. Whenever he learned about a new lure or technique from magazines or fishing shows on television, he would experiment with it at the pond.

“I learned a lot from reading Bassmaster Magazine, television and computer programs,” Kuphall said. “I was a sponge for bass fishing information. “The pond was my fishing laboratory. I taught myself how to fish everything from jigs and crankbaits to wacky worms and drop shotting.”

On May 18 of 2003, Kuphall’s 20th birthday, he competed in his first bass tournament. He fished a BFL event on the Upper Mississippi River as a co-angler. He caught only one bass, but left excited to fish the next event. After competing in all five tournaments in the Great Lakes Division, Kuphall finished third in the co-angler AOY standings.

That same year Kuphall used the $9,500 he had saved from working at Gander Mountain to buy his first bass boat, a 17-foot Nitro 700LX. Despite being a boat owner, Kuphall competed for the next several years as a co-angler. He fished BFL and Costa events, and the FLW Tour from 2007 through 2011, qualifying twice for the FLW championship.

“I learned a lot about making decisions on the water by fishing from the back of the boat with the pros,” Kuphall said. “Nothing can replace that.”

In 2012 Kuphall began fishing BFL tournaments as a pro and put what he learned as a co-angler to good use. He won the first event in the Great Lakes Division on the Upper Mississippi River out of La Crosse, Wis., which is where the next Bassmaster Central Open of 2019 will take place. Kuphall claimed the AOY title that year and the next.

For seven consecutive years, Kuphall fished the BFL’s Great Lakes division, finishing in the top 10 of the AOY standings five times. He also competed as a pro for two years in the Costa Series, finishing once in the AOY top 10.

This season Kuphall is competing only in the Bassmaster Central Opens, with the exception of some close-to-home tournaments. Should he pull off qualifying for the Elite Series, this 35-year-old, single angler will be well positioned to take advantage of the opportunity.

For the past six years, Kuphall has worked part-time at Dick Smith’s Tackle in Delafield, Wis., and as a bass fishing guide on Wisconsin lakes.

“There are some 30 lakes I guide on that are within 45 minutes of my house,” Kuphall said. “Most are 1,000 to 2,500 acres. There’s a lot of variety, from shallow and weedy to deep and clear, so you can fish everything from frogs to a drop shot.

When fishing a tournament, Kuphall targets shallow water whenever possible. He regards himself as a power fisherman and especially likes to fish jigs. It was a jig that carried him to victory at the Central Open on Lewis Smith Lake.

His only current sponsor is Piscifun, a reel manufacturer. However, since winning the Lewis Smith tournament he is in negotiation with other potential sponsors.

“If I’m fortunate enough to finish in the top five and make the Elite Series, I will definitely give it a shot,” Kuphall said. “Who wouldn’t want to be a fulltime pro angler?”

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