UPCOMING EVENT: Bass Fishing League - 2016 - Lake Okeechobee

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: mike-reeves  blog 


FLW Podcast 128 - Mark Rose



1000 Islands Day 3 Midday Update



1000 Islands Midday Update Day 2

Day two of the Costa FLW Series Northern Division event presented by Mercury at 1000 Islands got started on a slightly different note this morning when FLW’s tournament directors declared Lake Ontario off limits due to hazardous conditions. The change threw a few of the top pros off their primary plans, but regardless the 137-boat field will be cut down to the top 10 after today, so adjustments need to be made in order to qualify to fish the weekend. READ MORE »


FLW Podcast 126 - ICAST



2017 Walmart FLW Tour Schedule

In what has become an annual tradition at FLW, the 2017 Walmart FLW Tour schedule was announced at a press conference and industry gathering held Thursday on the show floor at ICAST in Orlando, Fla. READ MORE »


Si Se Puede ... Yes We Can

Mexico’s Lake Zimapan is different in many ways from the lakes to the north such as Florida’s Lake Okeechobee and California’s Clear Lake, but one element it has in common with those famous fisheries is big bass. READ MORE »


5 Rookie Lessons Learned

People have asked me what my first year on the Walmart FLW Tour was like. Well, it was like running headfirst into a hurricane for a few months. I came out the other side a little battered, bruised and smelling like fish. READ MORE »


FLW Podcast 125 - Scott Martin



Review: Lew’s Custom Speed Stick Lite

Recently I had the opportunity to try one model in particular – the 7-foot, 4-inch Magnum Pitchin’ rod. After fishing with it several times, I’ve concluded that it performs as advertised, is sensitive and lightweight, and is well worth the money. READ MORE »


Reunited, and it Feels so Good

This year I really had a reunion with finesse fishing. Most of my better tournaments came from fishing some type of finesse presentation. Finesse tactics seemed to always give me a certain confidence about the day. While finesse tactics are nothing new to the game of bass fishing, this year I regained the confidence and joy of catching bass on smaller offerings. READ MORE »


2016 ICAST Preview

The doors to ICAST don’t open until next week, when everyone gets out on the showroom floor in Orlando, Fla., but there are already plenty of snippets of information available. FLW’s media crew will be there in full force to bring you coverage of the hottest new products, as well as the annual New Product Showcase awards. For now, take a gander at some of the early birds. READ MORE »


FLW Canada Kicks Off at Tri-Lakes

Among these Canadian all-stars was the eventual winning team of Chris Vandermeer of Peterborough and Jeff Slute of Millbrook. Capitalizing on a strong day one shallow-water smallmouth pattern, the duo took advantage of the slick-calm conditions using a silver-hued topwater popping plug to agitate the lake’s bronzebacks into attack. READ MORE »


FLW Tour Pro Cooksey Recovering After Accident

Walmart FLW Tour sophomore Dalton Cooksey of New Concord, Ky., is recovering at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee following a single-car accident that took place Wednesday afternoon. READ MORE »


FLW Podcast 124 - Jeremy Lawyer



Stetson Blaylock’s Recipe for a Wacky Rig

From March until the end of the fishing season I’m going to have a wacky rig on deck. It’s a really effective way to fish anytime the fishing is tough, or if the fish are up cruising banks. Anytime fish are about 5 feet deep or less, I can catch them on the wacky rig. READ MORE »


Morgan Claims third FLW Tour Angler of the Year Title

MINNEAPOLIS – Livingston Lures pro Andy Morgan of Dayton, Tennessee, added to his incredible fishing resume by winning his third Walmart FLW Tour Angler of the Year title Saturday at the FLW Tour's final 2016 regular-season event on Lake Champlain.... READ MORE »


Three Things by DD: Kentucky Lake

Kentucky Lake did not go the way I intended. I was pumped and ready to rock out a top-20 finish. I had great expectations of myself, but nothing seemed to come together. Practice was dicey, but I thought for sure I could put something together to make the cut. That was until day one came, and the whole vibe of my day instantly went from eager to agitated. READ MORE »


How to Catch Smallmouths with Hair Jigs

The “right” hair jig for smallmouths is a small 1/16- to 1/8-ounce marabou jig with a round or mushroom-shaped head. The jig is similar to marabou jigs used by crappie fishermen, but bass models will often have a larger, stronger hook and possibly a longer or thicker skirt. Naturally, anglers have their favorites, and there are subtle differences in jigs that make some better than others. READ MORE »


Two Exciting Events to Look Forward To

We are in the last stretch of the 2016 Walmart FLW Tour. Awaiting us is the Lake Champlain tournament in just a few days. A couple of things will be settled there: the pro field for the Forrest Wood Cup and the Angler of the Year. READ MORE »


Tagging Along with Sprague in Kentucky

Through the first four events of the 2016 Walmart FLW Tour season, Jeff Sprague finished inside the top 20 every time and challenged for the win at Beaver Lake. After stop No. 4 on Pickwick, Sprague took over the lead in the Angler of the Year race. This is the story of his first tournament as the AOY leader – stop No. 5 on Kentucky Lake. Currently, Sprague is preparing for the finale on Lake Champlain. He’s in second place in the AOY standings. READ MORE »