Hendersonville, TN – Entering the final day of competition at the Bass Pro Shops PAA Tournament Series presented by Carrot Stix on Tennessee’s Old Hickory Lake with a sizable lead of 7.09 pounds, Steve Kennedy knew that if he could catch a limit of any size on Saturday, he would have a good shot at notching his second PAA Tournament Series victory in as many years.
Kennedy did just that, bringing five bass to the scales weighing 9.86 pounds. It wasn’t much, but it was enough. With a three day total weight of 44.27 pounds, the Alabama pro edged out a hard charging Gary Yamamoto by 2.46 pounds.
Along with the trophy, Kennedy took home a 2012 Nitro Z8, equipped with a Mercury 225 OptiMax engine with a retail value of over $40,000. He also pocketed an additional $1,250 in cash.
“I was very concerned,” said a relieved Steve Kennedy after the conclusion of the weigh-in which was held at the Bass Pro Shops in Nashville. “When we started this morning, I knew that we had a check-in time that was over an hour earlier than it had been on the first two days. On Thursday and Friday, I caught the majority of my bigger fish really late in the day.”
Compounding his concerns was the fact that the weather on Saturday, which featured calm winds and heavy overcast skies, was a complete change from the sunny skies and moderate winds that greeted the competitors on each of the first two days.
Kennedy struggled early, suffering through a barrage of lost fish that he hooked on an intentionally unnamed swimbait that he has relied on for several top finishes over the past two years. “I had four or five bass that were over three pounds just choke my bait today, and I couldn’t hook any of them for some reason. I know that it sounds crazy, but I bet that I had over 50 fish bump that bait today.”
Had it not been for a key bite that he was able to capitalize on, the weigh-in would have been a nail biter. “I had just lost a four pounder that was sitting up under a tree,” explained Kennedy. “When I skipped my bait under the very next tree, I landed one that was close to four pounds.”
Each day of the event, Kennedy made a 30 mile run upriver. He stayed on the main river channel and keyed on bluff walls that had a variety of cover. His best areas were bluffs that featured trees leaning off of the bank and barely touching the water.
On Thursday, Kennedy tried a plethora of baits in an attempt to locate the quality fish that he knew were holding in his areas. He threw a deep swimbait, crankbait, football jig, and swimming jig, and finally figured out the winning formula midday. “I caught three fish over three pounds on the first stretch of bank that I went down with my swimbait,” he explained. “The bite was as good as I’ve ever seen it.” For the rest of the tournament, the swimbait was his main weapon, although one of his keepers on Saturday came on a jig.
“Nobody was fishing the main river up there,” he said. “The shad were coming up and spawning in the mornings, and I think that pulled the fish up higher in the water column. When all the shad were up there, I just couldn’t get bit. I think that the fish stayed there all day, because I could go back through those same areas and catch them in the afternoon.”
While Kennedy was struggling to put five keepers in the livewell, Gary Yamamoto, who entered the day in 8th place and was over 10 pound behind Kennedy, was piecing together a potentially historic comeback.
“Today, I fished the same general areas that I’d been fishing for the past two days,” explained the veteran Texas pro. “Everywhere I went the fish were one size bigger than they had been. “
Starting the day off with a surface bait, Yamamoto said that he thought the cloudy conditions would be perfect for a strong topwater bite. “I was catching keepers, but when I moved to the docks I immediately started catching bigger fish. It was a really strange day, because fish on boat docks usually bite better when it’s sunny.”
Upgrading throughout the day, Yamamoto’s 17.73 pound limit on Saturday boosted his total weight to 41.81 pounds and was anchored by a 6.19 pound largemouth. In addition to the $300 Big Bass Of the Day award, he walked away with a Humminbird 898c SI, valued at $1,500 for Big Bass Of the Tournament.
Yamamoto threw a Sugoi Splash on top, but his primary bait throughout the week was a green pumpkin Senko with a nail weight in the tail that he fished around docks. “I’m proud and happy that I was able to make it this far,” he said. “I guess I had a really good tournament.”
Dean Rojas also made a surge on Saturday, bringing in the second heaviest limit of the day weighing 16.57. Although he moved up from 4th place to finish in 3rd place with a total weight of 41.27, the Arizona pro was left wondering what might have been had he not stumbled on Friday by falling one bass short of a limit.
“I made a bad decision yesterday morning and started in the wrong area. I went for the gusto and tried to catch another big sack and it didn’t work out,” he explained.
On Saturday, Rojas said that the overcast conditions played to his advantage. “I went back to the same areas and just caught them. I usually don’t regret anything in a tournament, but after catching them today, I regret the decisions that I made yesterday morning.” Rojas relied primarily on a Spro Bronzeye frog in Killer Gill color and also flipped a Big Bite Baits Fighting Frog.
Hendersonville, Tennessee local, Tim Messer, fell from 2nd place to 4th place on Saturday with a total weight of 38.67, and Mark Menendez rounded out the top five with 35.29.