While pre-practicing for the final Elite, Steve Kennedy and family were sent scrambling for shelter by a tornado warning. After the storm passed, they emerged from cover OK but witnessed significant damage.
No one was hurt at the Goose Island Campground on the Mississippi River, but the Kennedys’ rig suffered several minor issues. Others there were not so fortunate. The storm front blowing through La Crosse, Wis., that will host the final Elite event of 2022 in late August, knocked down some large tree branches that destroyed several campers.
“One guy had a brand new truck and a camper, and I think trees totaled it,” said Kennedy, who believes it wasn’t an actual tornado. “If it was, it was EF zero. But it was still some of the more significant damage we’ve been in.”
Of three Kennedy phones set for weather alerts, only daughter Sophia’s sounded off. Serious weather watchers, the Kennedys saw obvious rotation coming their way on the radar.
“It was enough to convince me to go to the bathhouse right away,” Kennedy said.
Several families took shelter in the cinder block facilities, and the storm passed within a half hour. During the deluge, the Kennedys were with a woman whose son was trying to drive into the campsite and kept reporting downed trees. The Kennedys, experienced in travel and bad weather, helped ease her worries.
“We’ve been through this a few times,” Kennedy said. “We live in Alabama. I think they set a record up here this year with 23 tornado warnings — that’s just one outbreak for us.”
After record heat through much of the country, strong storms have inundated some regions, and some storms have included tornadic activity. The Kennedys plan to keep a close eye on the weather as they’re less than midway through a 6,000-mile summer trek.
The journey started with the St. Lawrence River Elite, where Kennedy finished 53rd. He was hoping to climb more in the Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings — he is 67th and needs to get to 43rd currently — in hopes of qualifying for his 12th Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic.
“Basically I got to win the next two,” he said. “I have to win out to have any chance.”
Kennedy said he’s had some opportunities. A winner of three Elites, Kennedy is closing in on $2 million in B.A.S.S. earnings. He’s short $45,000 and might have eclipsed that mark already if not for a rough season. He’s only made two cuts, at Santee Cooper Lakes and Lake Fork.
“I can’t put them in the boat,” he said. “Been playing with those stupid big baits. They’ve burned me a couple times. I went one for seven at Fork. I could have had a huge bag there.”
There’s no telling exactly how huge coming from Kennedy, who held the all-time weight record for a year after weighing in 122 pounds, 14 ounces in his Clear Lake victory in 2007.
The Kennedys won’t head that far west but do have a lot of miles before the Elites return to action for the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Lake Oahe, Aug. 18-21. Kennedy will drop his boat off in Mobridge, S.D., site of the tournament this year, and take the family on another adventure.
“We’re having a blast,” Kennedy said after a rare indoor side trip to Minneapolis’ Mall of America. “We’re heading west. Going all the way to Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks.”
The family will visit the Badlands and Devils Tower before spending four days or so at Yellowstone, where the Kennedys honeymooned on their first of several visits.
“We love Yellowstone,” Kennedy said. “I’m all into the trout fishing. With the floods, I’m not sure I can get up to fish my favorite spot.
“I think Yosemite, Yellowstone and Glacier are the top three national parks to me. Some like Glacier as their absolute favorite.”
Glacier National Park is in the northwest corner of Montana along the border with Canada. Kennedy visited as a teen on the family’s famed western excursion in 1982. That was the year his father, Van, qualified for the Classic and couldn’t fly to meet the family and drive back as planned.
At Glacier, the Kennedys will spend a week, and the plan is to really rough it. Kennedy said they’ll leave the camper and hit the trail on a backpack trip, which he said some might think is crazy but he said should be epic.
“We’re a long way from home and just meandering,” he said, adding they’ll complete the 6,000-mile expedition right after the Mississippi River finale, Aug. 26-29. “Then we gotta hightail it home. My tags expire at the end of August.”