Witnessing Kennedy’s Comeback

Steve Kennedy muscles a giant bass into the net on day four of the Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Murray.

Editor’s Note: The writer's opinions and observations expressed here are his own, and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views, policies or positions of FLW. Watch this iON Highlight Reel from Steve Kennedy's magical day.

Many miles up the Saluda River arm of Lake Murray, where the channel narrows and the shorelines are lined with thickets of shady willow trees, Steve Kennedy nearly made history on the final day of the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup. I was one of the fortunate souls who witnessed the flurry of heart-stopping topwater explosions that had Kennedy and his spectator gallery believing he had just won a half-million dollars. Here’s how it all went down:

As a photographer and on-the-water reporter for FLW, I was assigned to keep tabs on Michael Wooley for the first half of the day. At around 11 a.m., Wooley pulled the plug on an offshore spot that had produced only one 3-pounder. Before we parted company, I took care of another of my morning chores, which was to collect the iON camera mounted on his boat’s console and return it to the FLW production staff’s trailer back at Dreher Island State Park.

While I cooled off in the production trailer for a few short minutes, FLW Managing Editor Curt Niedermier informed me that Steve Kennedy’s observer, JR Wright, had reported that Kennedy already had four fish in the box, and that two of them were in the 5-pound class. I called JR to get the skinny, then hopped into my boat with camera in hand.

Through three days of competition at the Forrest Wood Cup, nobody had paid much attention to Steve Kennedy. He had slipped into the final-day cut in 10th position by a mere ounce, and was nearly 9 pounds behind day-three leader Brent Ehrler when he launched Sunday. By all accounts, his chances of winning the tournament were slim to none.

But in practice, Kennedy had discovered a developing scenario up the Saluda. Recent heavy rains had pushed muddy water into the river, and it was mixing with the clear water as it tumbled toward the main lake. The mud had driven big largemouths into the many cuts and pockets along the riverbank where the water remained clear.

Simultaneously, a massive mayfly hatch had gotten underway, and Kennedy observed bass up to 5 pounds in size slurping flies from beneath the overhanging willow bushes that created shady nooks in the pockets. He figured out he could trigger those fish to strike a frog if he skipped it under the willows and was positive the winning fish were there. The question was whether or not he could entice five quality bites each day. He got his answer on day four.

As we made our way up the Saluda to find the Alabama pro, the landscape began to transform. Overhanging willows and logjams replaced the shoreline docks and cypress trees that were common on the main lake. There were only two spectator boats with Kennedy when we arrived. As I adjusted the focus on my camera lens, he waved us closer and gave us the rundown of his morning. By the sound of his voice, it was obvious that he was on something special. I confirmed the reports that he had two 5-pound-class bass in the box, both of which crushed a watermelon Zoom Horny Toad. He also had one close to 2 pounds and another around 1 1/2.

Kennedy knew he had put himself back in the hunt for the Cup, but he also realized he would have to upgrade at least three more times, and one of them had to be a giant.

Two things struck me as I observed him fishing. First, there was the accuracy of his casts. He was skipping his bait through a jumbled mess of trunks and branches, rarely missing his target. After the toad hit its mark, Kennedy would shake it like a jig to draw attention, and then burn it back on top at a rapid pace.

My second observation was the speed with which he fished. He ran his trolling motor at full bore, only taking his foot off the pedal to work out of a snag or to take a bite of his sandwich. Our 80-pound-thrust trolling motor struggled to keep pace.

Shortly after our arrival, Kennedy flicked the toad under a willow and a 2-pound fish inhaled it, rounding out the limit. Within 10 minutes of that catch, an FLW video crew had found us and dropped a cameraman off in Kennedy’s boat. It’s amazing how quickly information travels this day and age.

That’s about the time the magic started. Kennedy told us he was going to fish his way back to the spot where he had caught his first 5-pounder in hopes that it had reloaded. He approached the entrance to a shallow-water slough just off the main river. Willow trees draped both sides of the the slough’s mouth, and the upriver side was completely shaded. Kennedy flung the toad far beneath the willows, and the water suddenly erupted. He’d hooked a dandy, and the battle was on.      

If you’ve ever met Steve Kennedy, you know that he’s a really laid back kind of guy. He fought this bass in the same relaxed fashion, carrying on a conversation with the spectator gallery and at one point even turning his head away from battle to momentarily give us a fist-pump.

The moment the 3-pounder was in the net, however, his demeanor changed, and Kennedy became outwardly emotional.

“I can’t believe that spot reloaded already,” he shouted. “There’s something special about it that keeps bringing them back. One more and I think I can win this thing.”

By now Kennedy had picked up a throng of spectator boats – many of them heard about the action by following FLW’s on-the-water Twitter feed – and the crowd was going nuts. With roughly an hour remaining before he was due back for check-in, he approached another willow point at the mouth of a pocket. Almost like an instant replay, he skipped the toad to a shade pocket on the upriver side, and – BOOM – a giant head busted through the surface and demolished the toad.

Kennedy played the fish out to exhaustion, praying out loud that it would stay hooked. As he worked the fish into the net he let out a deafening “YES,” grabbed the 5-pounder by the bottom lip and held it at arm’s length for the camera and gallery to see.

“That might be a $500,000 fish, y’all,” he hollered.

It was 97 degrees that afternoon, but I had chills.

Over the next 15 minutes, Kennedy caught several fish in the 2-pound range, none of which culled. At around 2:50 p.m. he made a long skip-cast to a shade pocket, with the toad disappearing from sight beneath the foliage. I remember thinking to myself at the time that there had to be a fish in that spot – it just looked so perfect.

As the toad gurgled its way to the edge of the shade line, a sudden flash appeared and a 3-pounder slurped it down. The fish culled the remaining 2-pounder from his bag, and by all accounts, Kennedy had at least 20 pounds – nearly 3 pounds heavier than any other bag to be weighed in during the Cup. Had he just accomplished the impossible?

“If I get beat today … it’s been a miracle day. A miracle day. I haven’t put a fish in the boat all week the size of what I’m catching today,” he said to me as he turned to the bank for another cast.

With only 30 minutes left before check-in time, the crowd of spectators assumed he would play it safe and head back to the ramp. After all, no one in his right mind would risk a late penalty with 20 pounds in the livewell on the final day of the Cup. But Kennedy knew he needed exactly 23 minutes to get from the river to the ramp, and there was still time to fish.

“I smell blood in the water,” he shouted as he put his boat on pad and made one last run upriver to a particular willow tree where he had seen a 5-pounder earlier in the morning. After several presentations with the toad it was clear that his magic, as well as his fishing time, had been exhausted.

He made the long and winding run down the river toward check-in at 65 mph, arriving to check-in with two minutes to spare.

The buzz in the pressroom at Colonial Life Arena, and in the hallway where the anglers awaited to be called on stage, was that Kennedy had it won. His own estimation was that he had 24 pounds, but others who were with him all day said 22.

Finally it was time for the scale to settle the question. As Kennedy removed each bass and placed it into the weigh tub, the entire arena went silent with anticipation. The fish splashed around in the tub, and some of the water was lost, requiring the tournament director to re-zero the scale. As his weight was called – 20 pounds, 2 ounces – a collective gasp, followed by a roar of cheers ensued. It was an incredible bag, heavy enough to momentarily take the lead and hold off the next four anglers.

Steve Kennedy was fired up on stage as he weighed in 20-2, the biggest bag of the event. Unfortunately for him, it wasn't quite enough, as he was only able to move from 10th to fifth place.

Unfortunately, Kennedy’s four-day weight of 50 pounds, 7 ounces couldn’t hold up. South Carolinian Casey Ashley was the first to overtake the lead. He actually tied Kennedy but surpassed him by tiebreaker because Ashley was higher in the standings the previous day. Kennedy was shocked. The arena crowd was shocked. I shared in his disappointment.

Of course, everyone knows the rest of the story by now. Scott Canterbury beat Ashley’s mark, then Anthony Gagliardi snatched it away by an ounce. Neither Bryan Thrift nor Brent Ehrler could beat Gagliardi, and the hometown kid wound up Forrest Wood Cup champion. Kennedy finished fifth.

Later that night, after the confetti had stopped falling and the last autographs had been signed on stage, I ran into Kennedy in a back hallway. He was standing around, telling his story to some reporters. We looked at each other, speechless, and I gave him a hug. Then I thanked him for allowing me to bear witness to one of the greatest near-comebacks of all time in tournament fishing.

Tags: blog  mike-reeves 


Expect Change and Adapt to It

Ish Monroe explains how to adapt to changing conditions and recommends to always fish your strengths in this weeks blog. READ MORE »


So You Want to be a Co-Angler?

First and foremost, I know I’m fishing the tournament as a co-angler and I make sure that I not only stay out of my pro’s way, but I do what I can to assist him throughout the day. This starts at the ramp with assisting him with the launch where possible. READ MORE »


A 30-Piece Puzzle with Four Pieces Missing

The whole time I was down in Florida during the FLW Tour opener on Lake Toho I felt like I was trying to put together a 30-piece puzzle with four pieces missing. The weather was right, the water temperature was right, the thousands of acres of vegetation looked right, but one thing was wrong: the fish! READ MORE »


A Clean Slate

The 2015 season opener of the Walmart FLW Tour wasn’t at Okeechobee, as in recent years, but at Lake Toho in central Florida. I was excited about the change, and even more pumped to start a fresh new season after blowing my motor on day one of the first event last year. READ MORE »


Toho Bound

You have to understand that having home field advantage in fishing is the absolute worst. There are so many demons; you have too much information, you start fishing the lake’s history – it goes on and on and it’s very hard for a professional angler to mentally break that barrier. READ MORE »


3 Thoughts on Toho

I was without power for three days after the first storm, but it snowed again this weekend and there is supposed to be more weather on the way. Suffice to say, I can’t get to Florida and Lake Toho fast enough. READ MORE »


East to West

As a tournament angler, I realize that a primary aspect of my job is to be able to catch fish anywhere, in all types of fisheries, under a variety of conditions. READ MORE »


From Swamp Pro to Bass Pro

When most people hear the name “T-Roy Broussard,” they think of me as the Texan in the big green airboat on the reality television show Swamp People. Three years ago I was introduced to households across the world as a burly alligator hunter that made a living off of the land. READ MORE »


Here We Go

The 2015 bass tournament season is officially underway and I am super-excited about the changing dynamics. There is no doubt that the economy is improving and the 250-boat field that fished the first Rayovac FLW Series event on Lake Okeechobee is testament to that. READ MORE »


Are You Taking Care of Business?

My dad started taking me fishing when I was two. My very first job was at Hi’s Tackle Box and after that I spent a few years working for Fisherman’s Choice. I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve been able to spend my life doing what I love and enjoy doing. READ MORE »


The Ebb and Flow of Sponsorships

Many of the readers who follow FLW know me as one of the pros who fishes the Walmart FLW Tour. What many of you don’t know is that I also work in the industry. I get to see what happens behind the scenes more than the average fisherman or fellow fan does. I get to see the sponsor contracts, and the ins and outs of how business works. READ MORE »


Ish Monroe Travels to China

Among the benefits of having sponsors are the unique opportunities that they provide to you. For instance, during this offseason I got to travel to China for the first time in my life to work with one of my main sponsors, River2Sea, designing and perfecting the Ish Monroe Series. I stopped in Hong Kong on my way there and back. It’s so high-tech and advanced; it’s amazing. READ MORE »


5 Must-Have Knots

Most anglers, pros included, look for any little edge to increase their catch, and that includes even the knots they tie to attach lures to their lines. With that in mind, picking the best knot to use with all of today’s lines can be a challenge. READ MORE »


Offseason with the Blaylocks



How to Approach a Potential Sponsor

For a lot of FLW anglers, it’s crunch time in regards to sewing up sponsorships for 2015. Whether you’re fishing at the high school or college level, in BFLs, the Rayovac FLW Series or on the Walmart FLW Tour, gaining some form of sponsorship is critical to enabling you to make a profit from competitive fishing. READ MORE »


The Future of Bass Fishing is in Good Hands

It’s been a couple months since I fished my last FLW event, the Forrest Wood Cup in Columbia, S.C., where I got to watch history in the making. The championship weigh-in was very exciting as it featured the local favorite Anthony Gagliardi taking home the top prize with a 1-ounce margin of victory. READ MORE »


Changes in the Air

Another year gone, and another off-season flying by. I’m still trying to catch up on all the stuff around the house that I let go during the season. Chores like painting the garage or little fix-it-up jobs around the house and yard seem to never end. By the way, I am currently fighting it out with fire ants, and even though they seem to have won most of the battles so far, I guarantee they will not win the war. READ MORE »


When More is Better

Today’s Lowrance sonar/GPS combos are so powerful, even the entry-level units are waaaay more advanced than what was available just a few years ago before we had GPS, SideScan or DownScan. READ MORE »


Relaxed, But Reloading



The Realities of Sponsorships

Right now a lot of tournament fishermen are trying to land sponsor deals for 2015. Consequently, I guess it’s pretty accurate to say that the No. 1 question any long-term pro angler gets asked this time of year is, “How do I get sponsors?” READ MORE »