Alabama pro Kyle Welcher takes the early lead at the NOCO Bassmaster Elite at Lake Guntersville with a limit weighing 19-5.
Kyle Welcher is technically an “in-state angler” during this week’s 2020 NOCO Bassmaster Elite at Lake Guntersville.
But since the rookie from Opelika, Ala., lives four hours away from the famed Tennessee River fishery, he had very little experience on Lake Guntersville before the official practice period began Sunday — and he thinks that might have been a good thing.
With no preconceived notions, Welcher took a fresh approach to the 69,000-acre lake and put together a five-bass limit that weighed 19 pounds, 5 ounces to take the opening-round lead.
“I’ve fished here almost none, and the times I had been here I was fishing from the back of the boat,” Welcher said. “It’s probably good I’m not from here, because if I had all the history of catching 25 pounds a day on roadbeds down south, I would have probably been doing that.”
Welcher’s experience lies mostly on Chattahoochee River fisheries like West Point Lake, Lake Eufaula and Bartlett’s Ferry. But for what he did Wednesday, he said a river is river, no matter the location.
He didn’t give specific details of the pattern he’s fishing. But he said it’s basically the same one that worked for him earlier this year on Florida’s St. Johns River — and one that will work most places across the country when conditions are right.
“I’m really just running a certain unique deal that the river does,” he said. “So, every time I see it on the map, I’ll just stop and fish whatever cover is there — whether it’s a dock or grass or whatever.”
The type of cover that’s present is helping him decide which bait to use.
“Of the five I weighed in, I caught them on three different baits,” he said. “I’ve got probably 11 or 12 rods on the deck, and I threw every single one of them today. If I need to skip under something, I’ll pick up a jig. If I need to flip into something, I’ll punch.
“It really is not about baits or the cover. It’s about what the current is doing, or at least it is for me.”
Welcher’s bag was anchored by one of Guntersville’s trademark big largemouth that weighed almost 7 pounds. He said he can’t count on catching a bass like that every day, but he has confidence in the pattern he’s running.
“This worked for me in practice, but that’s about all I had working,” he said. “This is something I feel is a pretty high-percentage technique.”
Welcher’s catch gave him a slim lead over Texas pro Randy Sullivan who placed second with 18-8.
Unlike Welcher, who seemed to have a good plan dialed in from the start of practice, Sullivan said he didn’t figure anything out until Tuesday afternoon. But he milked his one pattern for all it was worth Wednesday and was actually able to spend some time looking around during the latter part of the day after catching a good limit early.
“I was panicking on the last day of practice because I didn’t know exactly what I needed to do,” Sullivan said. “But I figured out something a little bit special, and it worked today.”
Sullivan said the cooler weather that moved into the region Monday night — with lows in the high 40s — worked in his favor. With that weather expected to endure, he said he could be in a good position for the remainder of the week.
“I think the cooler weather is the ticket to everything I’m doing,” he said. “I think my stuff is just gonna reload and get better. I laid off of them pretty early today and actually found some more areas that I think could be really good.”
Missouri pro Chad Morgenthaler placed third with 17-10, and he wasn’t the least bit shy about discussing the type of cover he’s throwing.
“Sunshine, bass and grass make Chad a happy boy,” he said, laughing.
The type of grass and what makes each patch good was a little more complicated, however.
“It’s a whole mix, and that’s the key,” he said. “There’s everything here right now. You’ve got a lot of hydrilla, coontail, eelgrass and some other stuff that I don’t even know what the heck it is.
“About the time I think they’re only in one or a mix of two, they throw me a curveball. But it’s all good.”
On a day when keepers were hard to come by for much of the field, Morgenthaler said he caught probably 15 bass and lost three or four more. He believed the bright sunshine was key.
“If it gets cloudy on me, I might be in trouble,” he said. “But for right now, I’m fishing like I would in Florida and feeling right at home.”
Several big bass were brought to the scales, but Texas pro Chris Zaldain took the lead in the race for Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the week with an 8-6 largemouth.
The tournament resumes Thursday with takeoff at 6:30 a.m. CT from Goose Pond Colony Resort Marina and weigh-in back at Goose Pond at 2:30 p.m. After Thursday’s round, only the Top 40 remaining anglers will advance to Friday’s semifinals.
Live coverage of the event will be available starting at 7 a.m. on Bassmaster LIVE at Bassmaster.com and ESPN3.