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A Morning with the Leader

A Morning with the Leader
JT eases into a small pocket with mix of vegetation.

Sullen gray skies and a gusting northeast wind contrast with the weather on opening day of the Walmart FLW Tour event presented by Mercury here on Lake Toho. JT Kenney jumped out to the lead with a solid stringer of almost 30 pounds on Thursday, but Saturday is altogether different, and expectations match the weather.

No pattern is weatherproof, including Kenney’s, but at least he knows that neither is anyone else’s. The brisk northeast wind is scooting his boat along at a fairly fast clip, and he’s fishing a spinnerbait that helicopters with every cast. To this point, the spinnerbait hasn’t attracted more than a small pickerel and two small bass in the first hour of the semi-final round. Still, the veteran pro has been here before, and knows what a change of weather will do to Florida bass. Gradually, the wind will lay and the day will grow warmer. Kenney is saving his better spots for then.

Just after 8 a.m., Kenney boats his first good keeper. It’s a 4 1/2-pound fish, but seems smaller in Kenney’s gloved hand. Most fish do; he’s a solid 6 feet, 5 inches tall and looks like a man who you wouldn’t want to make angry. That probably would be hard to do, however, as the Florida pro is as easygoing as they come. The only person he gets down on is himself, though not in this tournament.

Kenney says he prepared more for this event than any other in a long time, mainly because he was more motivated than usual due to its timing. He visited Toho a dozen times since the first of the year, fishing and exploring the lake system to the southern end of Lake Kissimmee. Along the way, he developed various game plans that would accommodate the vagaries of early spring in central Florida, and he came into the tournament with more confidence than he has felt in a long while.

“I knew when I saw this one on the schedule, lining up with the full moon in March, that it was going to be my kind of tournament,” he says. “I felt like if I worked hard and prepared for every contingency that a fishermen is likely to encounter in early March, I could do well.”

Such contingencies include the blustery wind and dropping air temperatures that went from the mid-80s to the mid-60s since earlier in the week. That, too, was foreseen by Kenney, which is why we’re going around in big circles and figure-8s as he fishes a fairly large pocket on the south end of Big Grassy in Lake Toho instead of running south to Lake Kissimmee on the backs of white-capping waves. That’s where Kenney spent his time on day one, and has no qualms about forsaking it.

“One thing about these Florida fish is that when you catch them in an area, they’re caught. They don’t replenish like they do on ledges,” advises Kenney. “You can’t go back to a place where you caught them yesterday and think that there will be more to catch. It doesn’t work, and knowing that can give you an advantage and save you from wasting time.”

JT spots a mat of stems that have been pushed up against standing “buggy whip” reeds and digs into the bottom of his rod locker for a flipping outfit. He flips and pitches the mat for a few minutes, then turns back into open water. Kenney is considered to be one of the best at flipping baits to shallow water, but this tournament has proved that he is not one-dimensional in his fishing approach.

“This is the first time in this tournament that I’ve picked up a flipping rod,” he says. “People think I’m a shallow-water guy, but actually I feel a lot more at home fishing offshore.”

Kenney makes one more pass with the spinnerbait and vibrating jig in the open bow and catches another small keeper. Then he runs to the north end of the lake to fish a prime bedding area he found during one of his pre-practice visits to the lake weeks ago. Kenney doesn’t fish beds in the traditional way, by spotting a big female on a bed, then setting up on her and casting various baits to her until she decides to inhale one.

Instead, once he spots a bed with a big bass on it, he marks the spot, fishes the area around it for several minutes and then returns to blind-cast to the fish.

“I’ve had better luck fishing beds where I couldn’t actually see the fish I’m going for,” volunteers Kenney. “I figure that if you see a big female, she’s already seen you and most of the time isn’t going to bite for a while anyway. That’s not set in stone, but I’ve just had better luck moving off and casting to it.”

If there’s a spawner in the small cove he’s exploring now, it’s not taking what Kenney is trying to feed it. Still, this isn’t his best place. He’s saving that until later, for the big finish that he hopes will all but seal his victory and vindicate all his preparation.

Tags: jt-kenney  lake-toho  flw-tour  colin-moore  headline-story  2015-03-05-lake-toho 

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