LAGRANGE, Ga. — Steve Kennedy had been counting down the months ever since the 2011 Pride of Georgia location was announced as West Point Lake more than a year ago.
“I was very confident I had a chance to win this tournament. I knew exactly what I was going to do, and it worked,” he said after coming from behind Sunday to win the fifth stop of the 2011 Bassmaster Elite Series.
He collected $100,000 and an instant entry into the 2012 Bassmaster Classic for the win, his second Bassmaster title.
Kennedy squashed Edwin Evers’ hopes for a second Elite win this season. Leading after two days, Evers ended up in second place — 2 pounds, 1 ounce behind the winner. Kennedy had 64-14 to Evers’ 62-13 over four days.
Day Three leader Ish Monroe dropped to third, finishing up with 61-3. A late surge by Jared Lintner didn’t carry him home: 22nd on the first day, then up to 10th, to 7th, and stopping at 4th. His total was 60-5.
Nate Wellman, in his second Top 12 showing of his rookie season, claimed fifth place with 56-9.
Kennedy started the tournament in a strong position, coming in second to Evers on the first day. Then Kennedy took a backward step for two days. He went into the final round Sunday in fourth place, but only 1 pound, 8 ounces behind leader Monroe.
Kennedy, 42, tapped into a long West Point history. Raised in Georgia and now living in Auburn, Ala., he fished West Point Lake since the age of 2 or 3 with his brother and father, traveling to the lake to fish about twice a year.
More recently, he narrowly missed winning on the Alabama-Georgia border impoundment in 2005 in a non-Bassmaster event. Back then, he said, he blew a 4-pound lead on the final day.
“That’s what’s been going through my mind all morning: ‘Don’t blow it!’” Kennedy said Sunday.
He said he fished the same patterns and locations as he did in that 2005 tournament.
“I didn’t own a swimbait back then, so a swimbait was a new addition,” he explained. “And the weights were up significantly because of it.”
He said he threw two swimbait models — one a “no-name” model out of production, the other a Basstrix.
“I’d get them to swim out and show themselves. On a clear lake like this, I can see what’s there, what size of fish is on the structure,” he said.
If he liked whate he saw, he skipped a watermelon-seed Kinami Flash to get the strike.
“It almost looked like a little baitfish skipping on top of the water,” he said of his technique. “Then I just let it settle and let the line lay there — I call it flylining. I used mono so it lays on top of the water, and I watched for it to start swimming (moving).”
He allowed a bass to pick up the Flash and swim out of heavy cover before setting the hook.
Other lures of the week included a white D&L jig with a white chunk trailer.
Kennedy debunked the dock talk during Pride of Georgia practice days that pegged the bass as scarce, finicky and tough to catch. Kennedy said he found plenty of big bass during practice.
“I was just chompin’ at the bit to get at them,” he said. “I tried to show out, I knew where some big ones were.”
After leading two days in a row, Evers was disappointed he could not close on the win.
“I feel dejected, horrible,” he said. “You can’t win one of these things by weighing in only four fish.”
Evers was one bass shy of a limit Saturday. He lost by just over 2 pounds, and he could not help but replay every lost fish of the event, including four on Saturday that would have been solid additions to his weight.
“I had my hand on one, then it ran under a log and I never could get it. It just came off,” he said. “But hey, it’s part of the game.”
Monroe was not displeased with his third-place finish. It was his second top-12 in a row for the season, and a big boost to his bid for a 2012 Bassmaster Classic seat. He credited his recently acquired ability to relax and remember to have fun.
“I was putting too much emphasis on how serious it is and forgot what it was all about,” Monroe said. “I took some kids out fishing during the offseason and got back to enjoying it.”
The Berkley Big Bass of the Tournament bonus of $500 was won by Dustin Wilks of Rocky Mount, N.C., for his 7-pound, 8-ounce largemouth on Day One.
The next stop for the Elite Series will be this week on Lake Murray out of Columbia, S.C. The dates of the competition, the Evan Williams Bourbon Carolina Clash, are May 12-15.