By Todd Ceisner
When asked to assess his performances during the 2013 tournament season, Steve Kennedy offered his usual blunt and honest opinion.
"It was mediocre overall," he said, unable to hold back a sarcastic chuckle. "Money-wise, we didn't make any money. That's the one you look at more than anything, especially at this time of year. I had some real good (Elite Series) events. I didn't win, but I could've. The potential was there. My FLW season didn't go well at all."
The numbers certainly back up his statement. He averaged a 39th-place finish in eight Elite Series derbies with a pair of Top-10 showings that helped him finish 21st in the Angler of the Year points and secure his seventh Bassmaster Classic berth. His FLW Tour ledger was a near bust, as he didn't once crack the Top 40 in six Tour outings. An average finish of 93rd, which included three triple-digit results, saw him finish 97th in the points. Overall, he cashed seven checks in 14 events.
His year opened with two bombs on the FLW Tour – 101st at Lake Okeechobee followed by a 164th at Lewis Smith Lake – but he was able to shake off the effects and get some momentum going during the Elite Series campaign. It wasn't easy, though.
"It's hard, especially with as many events as I'm fishing," he said. "If everything's going well and you're fishing all the time, it can work to your advantage, but if anything ever goes wrong, then it can really snowball in the other direction. I held it together pretty well in the Elite Series, up until the last tournament anyway."
Can We Start Over?
The Okeechobee FLW Tour season opener served as a harbinger of things to come as Kennedy said he overlooked the minimum horsepower rating in the rules that requires all boats to have at least a 150-horsepower engine. Since his normal tournament boat that has a 200-hp engine was in need of some transom work, he opted to bring a smaller boat with a smaller motor.
"I took my aluminum boat down there with a 90-horse on it and practiced out of it and on the off day somebody told me about (the rule)," he said. "Thank goodness because I would've gone through boat check the next morning and then been scrambling to find a boat."
He wound up renting a different boat to compete out of for the tournament, but he couldn't get much going and logged his second triple-digit finish at the Big O in 3 years.
Prior to the Smith Lake tournament, he opted to fish the rest of the year out of a Nitro that he'd won through the PAA. Still, he couldn't catch a break.
"I had to go get it wrapped and I missed a day of practice at Smith Lake because it wasn't wrapped on time," he said. "I put it in the water for the first time on the second day of practice and I didn't make it a mile before the engine shut down. The service crews didn't arrive until later that afternoon so I wound up with 1 day of practice there."
He weighed in two keepers on day 1 and took a zero on day 2 after throwing back his only keeper once he realized he was going to be late for check-in.
"It didn't go well," he said.
After the debacle at Smith, Kennedy rattled off four money finishes in his next six outings. The spurt culminated with a 3rd-place showing at the Alabama River Elite Series, an event that will be remembered for its raging floodwaters and daring navigation by many competitors, Kennedy included.
He said it was the tournament in which he had the most fun this season.
"I put the boat in the water the first day and went running to see how far I could go," he said. "I ran all the way up to the Jordan Dam and didn't even make a cast. I called my wife and said, 'I have found it! I have made it here! I'm in heaven!' I went out on day 2 and practiced below the other dam. I don't even think I went out on the water on day 3 there. I knew where I was going and what I was doing."
As the water began to recede during the tournament, his runs became more treacherous, but he has plenty of experience in similar situations.
"We went up there in a fiberglass boat, which is usually not what I'd fish out of up there," he said. "I was concerned about damaging the bottom of the boat, but it's gel-coated fiberglass and it's easy to fix. We used to fish the Flint River over in Georgia for shoal bass out of a 13-foot (Boston) Whaler, so a bunch a holes in the bottom of a boat is not that big a deal. I've done it a bunch of times."
On day 3, the water had come down significantly and on his way to the area he'd fished the first 2 days, his lower unit clipped a rock and he pulled off into a jetty to give it a closer look. Opting to stay put, he boxed 23 pounds that day to move into the Top 5.
"I had to bail out and run across the river," he said. "When you're running upstream you can see the boils and read the current and know where the rocks are. It's pretty easy. To me, it's safer to run around in those rivers than it is to run around in all of the lakes down here with standing timber because you can't see that stuff. When you have current, you have see where the rocks are. It's no big deal. It's hard to judge how far above the boil the rock is. Running across, I hit one."
Had he not, he likely would've kept chugging toward the Jordan Dam where Jared Miller braved the turbulent waters in a large eddy just below the dam.
"I caught one 4 1/2-pounder before I got up in the shoals and then I caught three out from behind one rock that were all 4-pound class or better," Kennedy added. "I got up there about 10:30 with Jared, but he was already over there in it. That big eddy, for the first 2 days, nobody was willing to go over there. Nobody had even considered it. They had anywhere from 11 to 15 floodgates open and you're sitting there saying, 'I know there's a 20-pound bag over there, but no, I'm not going.' The day Jared went, there was one floodgate open. It's just a huge eddy over there with rocks everywhere, obviously. Had I not already had 20 pounds, I would've been right up there with him."
Double Duty Again
Kennedy says he's planning to compete in both series again next year – he was one of six anglers to do it this year – and is especially excited for the early part of the year because the schedules will take him to some familiar waters.
"I'm signing up for both," he said. "There's a six-in-a-row spell that's doable. I'm looking forward to it. It starts out pretty good. I'm most excited about Seminole (Elite Series). B.A.S.S. used to go there all of the time.
"Seminole is one of those places I used to go to with my dad growing up in Georgia. It was about 3 hours from the house so if we went it was an overnight trip. You have Spring Creek down there so we'd launch the boat and I'd get up on the front deck and just looking around, it was incredible the bass you'd see back then.
"Going back to when I was a kid, it's one of my favorite places. I get excited just thinking about it. I know all of the offshore stuff as well as anybody can know that lake."
Guntersville must Wait
> As far as Classic prep, Kennedy's unsure how much time he'll be able to devote to pre-fishing Lake Guntersville before it goes off limits. He has a family vacation planned for early November, so it wouldn't be until after Thanksgiving that he'd be able to put in any meaningful time there.
"We were talking about going up there and spending some time, but I've been working on my saltwater boat and trying to go snapper fishing," he said. "In early November, we're going down to the (Florida) Keys for 10 days so I'm hoping to be there a bunch in December. I'm not sure of anything I'm running so I'm concerned I won't get to spend as much (time) as I'd like to. They'll be pre-spawn and they live there so all of the records are in jeopardy. I'm excited about going there.
"It's big fish and it's a lake I've been to a lot, but I haven't been there much that time of year. That's the big unknown. I can't say I've been there in February. It's not one of the places I grew up at, but I'm looking forward to it. I know the lake and the layout of the lake and I know what lives there. It fits me very well. I've done well on the Tennessee River in the past."