DEL RIO, Texas — Steve Kennedy entered the practice period for the "Battle on the Border presented by Longhorn" on Texas' Lake Amistad never having caught a bass with a swimbait. The 2006 Toyota Rookie of the Year showed Thursday that he is a quick learner, effectively working the swimbait on his way to 36 pounds, 10 ounces and the lead at the season-opening Bassmaster Elite Series event.
"This is just absolutely awesome," the Auburn, Ala., pro said. "My hands have been shaking all day. This is a tremendous fishery."
The Elite Series competition for $673,150 in cash on famed Amistad will be aired on The Bassmasters on Saturday March 17 at 9 a.m. ET on ESPN2.
Though Kennedy had a banner day, he finished with only a 10-ounce lead over Bassmaster Elite Series rookie Scott Campbell, whose 36 pounds, 0 ounces, put him in second.
Kennedy got off to a quick start, boating 30 pounds by 9 a.m., primarily by working the swimbait, taking advantage of overcast skies, and focusing on staging fish in 5 to 8 feet of water. He used a variety of different lures in isolated areas the remainder of the day to upgrade his weight.
Kennedy said he has several areas he feels will be productive throughout the competition. Many are spots he fished in 2006 during his fifth-place finish at the season-opening Elite Series on Amistad.
The 37-year-old pro has been on a tear since joining the Elite ranks in 2006. He narrowly missed out on the 2006 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Award, which was won by New Jersey's Mike Iaconelli. Less than two weeks ago, Kennedy scored an eighth-place finish at the 2007 Bassmaster Classic on Lay Lake in Alabama.
"One of my goals this year is to contend for the Angler of the Year," Kennedy said. "I feel very good about my fishing right now and I think I can duplicate my success of last year."
Campbell of Springfield, Mo., is looking to establish himself in his rookie season. He said he came to Amistad looking to make the top-50 cut and compete through Saturday, but after what he called a "fantastic" day, he felt he was in position go for the top-12 cut for Sunday's finale.
"This is pretty surreal to accomplish this in my first Elite Series tournament," Campbell said. "I am freaking out right now."
Campbell's limit was anchored by a 12-7 lunker that took Purolator Big Bass Honors and the $1,000 premium. Like Kennedy, he targeted pre-spawn fish with a swimbait, catching 20 pounds within 45 minutes after launching his boat.
Rounding out the top five were Arkansas' Kevin Short (33-6), Florida's Terry Scroggins (30-12) and Oklahoma's Edwin Evers (29-11). Although Scroggins sits about six pounds out of the lead, the 38-year-old has momentum: Last weekend he won the Bassmaster Southern Open on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, and the week before scored a seventh-place finish in the Classic.
"When things are going well, it just feels like you can't do anything wrong," Scroggins said.
Anglers out to catch the top five included 2006 Toyota Angler of the Year Mike Iaconelli with 27-9 for ninth place; three-time Angler of the Year Kevin VanDam with 26-8 for 14th place; and 2006 "Battle on the Border" winner Ish Monroe who tied for 21st with 25-2.
Minnesota's Joe Barnett led the co-angler division with 24 pounds, 12 ounces. over Alabama's Jimmy Sparks (23-7) and Texan David Stewart (23-2).