who says 9:00 is late?
When I made arrangements with Julia, Steve’s wife and acting road manager, for our day on the water (Steve was still on the water on the first practice day), she mentioned that “Steve likes to take his time getting on the water in the mornings, so I wouldn’t worry about getting here until at least 8:30.” I met Kennedy at the ramp, and by 9:00 he slid the Kinami Baits wrapped Ranger boat into the waters of a backwater area marked by numerous braided channels. He took a minute to arrange several Kistler rods paired with Shimano reels on the deck. I figure I’d get the obvious question out of the way immediately, so I ask him his opin- ion on practice hours and the theory that you should spend every waking minute before a tourna- ment on the water. His response was both interesting and understandable, especially if you have a family. “I know everybody always likes to give me a hard time about how much I practice, but I have other priorities in my life and being a good father to my kids is every bit as important as catching a big stringer of fish during a tournament. I like having the opportunity to play with the kids in the mornings and I’m not going to give that up for anyone.” With that awkward question out of the way, Kennedy began his practice. His initial “run” wasn’t far, idling only about 40 yards across the channel to a long grassy undercut bank where he picked up a white flipping jig and began to pitch it to the flooded grasses on the bank, letting it soak for half a second and then swimming it back to the boat with a series of twitches. I asked him how his practice had been up to that point, and he explained that the previous day had been decent, continuing, “I found one pretty good spot with some big ones in it where I can catch them on a frog, and then I got a couple of bites in the evening flipping these types of cut-banks, so I plan on working to expand that pattern today.” Steve was rewarded quickly as he set the hook on a good fish after flipping only about 25 yards. After a quick fight, he flipped the chunky 3lb largemouth into the boat, saying, “I got this fish to bite last night. It felt good then and I probably shouldn’t have set on it, but it’s just so fun to catch fish!” Steve’s goal was to determine where on the grassy cut banks the fish were setting up. The river is about 2 feet higher than normal for this time of year and the current is ripping. Steve spent the next hour or so bouncing around hundreds of little cut bank channels, flipping the white jig to flooded grasses. He averaged about a bite or two on each section of bank and alternated between setting the hook and shaking the fish off. I asked him if there was any rhyme or reason to when he jerks and when he doesn’t and his reply was somewhat surprising. “I’m actually setting the hook a lot more here than I would in a lot of other places. Partially that’s because there are so many fish here that getting a limit won’t be a problem, but it’s also because I haven’t seen any real big ones yet. If I stick a couple of legitimate four pounders, you can bet I won’t be setting much more.” Through this process, Kennedy landed about five or six more fish, ranging from just barely keepers to solid 2 ½ lb specimens, but had yet to get another quality bite like he got right away.
located on the individual banks. “I would expect them to be on the points of these little islands or where there are blowdowns on them, but I think the current might be too strong for that right now. Almost every bite I’m getting is coming within the first 20 feet of the points, but behind or under a bigger clump of grass, which is providing a current break. I bet I can almost call my shots from here on out,” Kennedy said about the developing pattern. His words were prophetic because about 20 yards from the point of the next cut-bank up, Kennedy pointed to a clump of over- hanging grass and said, “I bet there’s one there,” as he flipped to the clump. Sure enough, as soon as he lifted up his jig, the line started swimming out into the current. He decided not to jerk on that one though, and eventually the fish spit it out. I asked Steve about the Jig he was flipping. He said that D&L Tackle makes it and he likes to use nothing lighter than about 5/8 oz. most of the time. “A lot of guys are using ¼ and 3/8 ounce jigs these days, and I just don’t know how. I can’t even get a 3/8 ounce jig to pull my line down on the other side of a log. I like to use a big, heavy one because I’m trying to trigger a reaction bite and want that faster fall. Right now I’m using 5/8, but I’ll probably have a bigger one tied on as well once Thursday rolls around.” Though Kennedy was focusing on the grass-lined cut-banks, there were also little patches of emergent vegetation in between the stretches of bank and along some of the shallower areas. He was also throwing a frog around those grasses and sometimes swimming a jig, but didn’t get any bites in those areas. “I don’t know why they’re not in these little shallow grass patches, but I haven’t gotten a bite out of any of these all week,” Kennedy men- tioned as he worked his white frog over some shallow grass be- tween stretches of cut-bank. “They must really be relating to the current and deeper water located on the cut-banks.
After fishing cut-banks and isolated patches of submergent grass for the first several hours, it was about 1:00 PM and Kenne- dy had had approximately 15 or 20 bites, almost entirely on the 5/8oz white jig. I asked him for his assessment of the morning so
dialing it in
After fishing his fourth or fifth stretch of cut-bank and flooded grass, it became a little clearer to Kennedy where the fish were