FORT WORTH, Texas — This marks Steve Kennedy’s 10th Bassmaster Classic. Through repetition alone, he ought to feel comfortable this week at the 51st Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk.
“I’m relaxed. I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but I’m relaxed,” said Kennedy, 52, from Auburn, Ala. “I’ve done this enough to be relaxed.”
There are two less obvious, but equally important, reasons for Kennedy’s calm mindset.
“I’ve got an early boat number,” he said, of reason No. 1. “A late boat number is bad, bad on the first day of the Classic.”
The logic in that opinion isn’t apparent. It has nothing to do with getting to a spot first or an early morning fish bite. And no matter what your launch order, flighted check-in times give every angler an equal amount of time on the water. The launch order is reversed on Day 2. Kennedy drew boat No. 7 in Friday’s takeoff order. What’s important to him is the amount of time he’ll have after he weighs-in to get prepared for Day 2.
“I was the last boat out on Day 1 (at the Classic) in Greenville (S.C.) one year,” Kennedy explained. “The weigh-ins just run longer at the Classic. But when you’ve got an early boat number, everything happens faster.
“After I weighed in (last on Day 1 at Greenville), I went to the media room, grabbed a bite to eat and when I walked outside, the parking lot was empty. The shuttle bus driver said he was done, that I’d have to get a ride to the boat yard. I couldn’t even get back in the arena. The doors were locked. By the time I got back to the boat yard it was 8 o’clock in the freaking night.”
Here’s reason No. 2 for Kennedy’s calmness. Rather than a normal March, early-season date, this Classic comes when the Elite Series season has only two tournaments remaining. The early season rush to get new boats wrapped and ready to go and tackle in order is long past. At least for Elite Series anglers, like Kennedy, the kinks have been worked out of the equipment and a tournament rhythm has been established.
“All that early-season stuff – boat wraps, jerseys, all that – eats up time when you’re not thinking about fishing,” Kennedy said.
The last time a Bassmaster Classic was held in Texas, at Lake Conroe near Houston in 2017, Kennedy finished second to Jordan Lee by 1 pound, 9 ounces.
“I’m not putting a lot of pressure on myself,” Kennedy said. “Lake Ray Roberts is interesting. I don’t feel like there’s a lot of fish here. It’s more a matter of hunting them, and fishing the way I like to fish. I don’t have to think about whether I should be somewhere else, catching 1 1/2- and 2-pounders to fill a limit.”
Kennedy said he found an afternoon pattern on the last day of pre-practice Sunday. That’s another comfort factor for him.
“I may not catch ‘em,” he said. “But I’m comfortable with what I’m doing.”