Opens profile: Austin catfishing to Opens success

Kyle Austin

After the St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Lake of the Ozarks, Kyle Austin holds eighth place in the Bassmaster Opens Elite Qualifier standings. If he stays among the top nine in points after the final EQ event of 2023 on the Harris Chain, he will be a newly crowned Bassmaster Elite Series angler at age 25.

Many anglers in his situation would be stressing over the final event. Some would relentlessly study the results of past tournaments on the Harris Chain and incessantly fiddle with tackle and other gear.

Others would head to Florida and fish waters close to the Harris Chain to help them tune in to Florida’s notoriously finicky largemouth bass.

Austin didn’t have time to do any of those things. He immediately returned home to Ridgeville, S.C., where he is a full-time catfish guide on the Santee Cooper Lakes. There were five consecutive catfish trips on his immediate schedule, and he always aims to keep his clients happy. He also has 15 trips slated for October after the Harris Chain EQ.

Austin’s KA Guide Service takes his focus off the EQs, which he regards as a good thing.

“I enjoy guiding for catfish,” Austin said. “It’s a different pace than tournament fishing, and it’s not as stressful. I’m a 10 times better bass angler due to all the time I spend on the water guiding.”

Channel and flathead catfish thrive in Santee Cooper, but the big prize, and the one Austin targets, is the Arkansas blue catfish. It takes one over 50 pounds to impress catfish aficionados. The biggest one to come over Austin’s gunnel weighed 62 pounds.

“Bass guys know Santee Cooper for its bass fishing, but it is 100% more popular for catfishing,” Austin said. “It’s one of the top five catfish in lakes in the country. I personally love fishing it in the dead of winter and in the heat of summer.”

As a youngster growing up in Ridgeville, Austin passionately cast a Beetle Spin from the banks of his family’s two large ponds. Shellcrackers and bass eagerly attacked the mini spinnerbait.

“It was nothing to catch a bass over 5 pounds every week,” Austin said.  

His father, Jimmy, owned a bass boat but wasn’t into tournament fishing. As a teen, Austin often joined his father and some of his father’s friends when they launched the boat at Santee and fished for bass. They typically targeted cypress trees in shallow water.

“I always beat them,” Austin said. “My favorite bait was a Texas-rigged lizard.”

He began competing in bass tournaments as a junior in high school with his pal Chase Byers. Because his school did not have a bass team, they fished a tournament for young anglers put on once a month by a private individual. They won the first five of these events they fished.

While still in high school, they entered a Spring Thing tournament on Santee Cooper, which is a major annual event. They were please to get an early draw. But as they headed for their fishing spot in a 16-foot johnboat, more than 100 bass boats passed them. The experience prompted Austin to invest in a bass boat as soon as possible.

After graduating from high school, Austin attended South Carolina’s Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College where he earned an associate’s degree in business and marketing. He also started his guide business and began fishing BFL tournaments.

“I didn’t know a lot and got my butt kicked the first year in the BFLs,” Austin said. “I learned from as many people as I could. In 2020, I was the Angler of the Year.”

From there he stepped up to the Toyota Series. He learned more hard lessons by “getting my teeth kicked in.”

“It took me forever to get a check in New York tournaments,” Austin said. “I had to ignore largemouth up there and focus on finding smallmouth that weigh over 4 pounds.”

Over the past three years, he has competed in all nine Opens. As with his previous tournament experiences, it has been a work in progress. This season he looks to picking up speed on the downward side of the learning curve. He credits fellow EQ angler Sam George, who is currently 12th in the EQ standings, for helping him progress.

“The last two years I’ve been traveling to the Opens with Sam,” Austin said. “He’s taught me a lot and has helped me overcome my weaknesses. I had to learn how to be better offshore. Now I fish offshore more often than not.”

Austin’s goal is to become a Bassmaster Elite Series angler. Should he make that happen at the Harris Chain, he would like to also continue putting clients in touch with heavyweight Arkansas blue catfish via his KA Guide Service. A more substantial event in his life takes place this November when he weds his fiancé, Taylor Clark.

Austin’s sponsors include Banks Construction, Sanders Brother’s Construction, Trans-Tel Inc., Carolina Contracting Solutions, Falcon Boats, X2 Power Batteries, Lew’s, Strike King, Jet-Vac LLC, Blacks Camp, Power-Pole, Sonar Pros Electronics and RedFin Polarized.