Kennedy brought new attitude, old lure to St. Johns

PALATKA, Fla. — No one was more disappointed than Steve Kennedy when Day 1 of the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at the St. Johns River was postponed due to high winds. Kennedy has vowed to break a two-year slump on the Elite Series with some extra effort. He put in the work by pre-fishing the river, where’s he’s fished since he was a kid, and practicing from daylight until dark this week.

It was Tuesday’s final hours of practice that had Kennedy excited about today.

“I had a feeling it was going to be epic,” the 50-year-old Auburn, Ala., angler said. “I really felt like they were moving up (to spawn) Tuesday afternoon. They should have been coming hard with this south wind. I heard a lot of guys crying in practice, but I really thought it was going to be good today.

“I was stoked about going. This was going to be the day that decided the tournament to me. I figured there were going to be two or three 30-pound bags today. Then it’s going to be a grind.”

After the cancellation announcement, Kennedy was putting sleeves back on his rods and stowing them away. The last one on the deck had an old classic lure tied on – a Hildebrandt Snagless Sally in-line spinnerbait featuring a big Colorado blade. Kennedy’s father, Van, a 1982 Bassmaster Classic qualifier, was fishing this bait before Steve was born.

“I haven’t used it a lot since I’ve been on the Elite Series, but if you know the right places to do it, it’s won me a lot of money over the years,” Kennedy said. “A had a top 10 in an FLW Tournament at Sam Rayburn on it one time. It’s just an in-line spinner that’s been forgotten basically. They still make them. They’re used for redfish more than anything.”

Hildebrandt still makes the lure, but what aren’t made anymore are the Uncle Josh Pork Frogs, which were typically paired with the Snagless Sally. However, Kennedy still has a few jars of the green-and-white pork frogs that he was planning to crack open Thursday, after catching a five-pounder in practice while using a soft-plastic trailer on the lure.

So now it’s on to Plan B for this tournament. Plan A for the season is still in place: Take advantage of every possible hour on the water in order to break a slump that has seen him fail to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic the last two years. It’s been an uncharacteristic dry spell for Kennedy, who has won over $1.7 million in B.A.S.S. earnings, three tournament titles and 29 top 10 finishes.

Kennedy finished second to Jordan Lee – by 1 pound, 9 ounces – at the 2017 Classic on Texas’ Lake Conroe. In 2018, he finished 60th in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race and he was 55th last year.

“It was a horrible, horrible year – execution-wise,” Kennedy said of his 2019 season. “I haven’t made the Classic for two years in a row, so I’m feeling the pressure. It hurts. I’ve actually been pre-fishing for the first time in 10 or 15 years. I came here for four or five days (before the off-limits cutoff), and I went up to Chickamauga for four or five days.

“I’ve been working at it in practice this week from daylight until dark, which is unusual for me.”

Kennedy doesn’t think the Snagless Sally will be a player Friday. “Maybe for an hour or two,” he said. But he’s still banking on a payoff from all the extra work he’s put in this season.