Bassmaster Memorial: Day One leader

Steve Kennedy
Steve Kennedy

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Steve Kennedy admitted luck played a role in his 17-pound, 12-ounce limit that put him atop the Bassmaster Memorial leaderboard Thursday. Kennedy pulled his five largemouth bass from various masses of entanglements — all on 10-pound-test line.

"I was living right to get those big ones in," Kennedy said. "They wrapped me up in all kinds of stuff."

This past week Kennedy has been living right. But he's been wrapped up in all kinds of stuff, too. Emotional, heartbreaking stuff. It seemed fitting that the sunshine finally broke through for him Thursday on Oneida Lake.

Kennedy and his wife, Julia, found out last Friday that Steve's 94-year-old grandmother, Gladys Kennedy, had passed away, two weeks into a hospitalization due to massive injuries suffered in an automobile accident.

"Grandmothers' don't have favorites," Julia said. "They just have some (grandchildren) they like a little bit more."

As the oldest of four siblings and one who shared her love of fishing, you can understand why Steve might have stood a notch above the others in his grandmother's eyes. Julia described how the minister at Gladys Kennedy's funeral Monday addressed Steve directly and told how he knew about every fish Steve had caught and about every newspaper article, magazine story and TV show done about him, "because Grandma called me."

Grandma Gladys was a "young" 94 years old. A fierce bridge player and twice weekly water aerobics participant, she was driving to get a pedicure when the traffic accident occurred.

"She was a remarkable woman," Julia said.

When Kennedy got the phone call last Friday about his grandmother's death, he was in Buffalo, N.Y., where the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament competition on Lake Erie had been canceled for the day due to high winds. Steve fished in the tournament Saturday, like his grandmother would have wanted, then the Kennedys, including 10-year-old Jack Russell terrier, Louie, caught a 7:45 a.m. Sunday flight from Buffalo to Atlanta.

From Atlanta, they drove two hours to their Auburn, Ala., home, dropped Louie off and picked up a suit, then drove another 45 minutes to Alexander City, Ala., for the visitation Sunday and funeral Monday. Steve, Julia and Louie made the return flight to Buffalo on Monday evening and went back to their travel trailer at the KOA campground on Lake Erie.

"It was 1 a.m. (Tuesday) when I looked at the clock as we were going to bed," Julia said.

Steve had already missed one full practice day on Oneida Lake, but he wasn't about to get in a hurry after the physical and emotional whirlwind of the previous few days.

"Steve's whole strategy was, 'I'm not going to hurt myself. I'd rather sleep. That's the best item in my tackle box,'" Julia said. "He says he can keep his head straight and make better decisions when he gets enough sleep."

If there was any doubt about Kennedy's personal philosophy, it vanished on the weigh-in stand Thursday. It was 3 p.m. Tuesday before Kennedy launched his boat for practice on Oneida Lake. He worked in five hours of lake time that day and another three hours of practice Wednesday morning.

And Thursday started like you might predict for someone with so little time to find fish.

"I had two (small smallmouth bass) in an hour," Kennedy said about a spot on Oneida that had proven productive at last year's tournament here.

Then Kennedy went looking for largemouth bass. He landed a four-pounder, another keeper and then his big bass of the day, weighing 5-1. He landed another four-pounder later and with a fifth bass in the three-pound range he was on top of the world, the Bassmaster Elite Series world, anyway.

Kennedy almost always wears a smile on his face — good fishing days or bad. But on Thursday afternoon, understandably so, Kennedy's smile appeared brighter than usual.

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