Posted by Z3 MEDIA STAFF on 10/24/2018

Story by Matt Pangrac - Photos courtesy of Steve Kennedy

Auburn, AL – Over the course of his professional career, Elite Series pro Steve Kennedy has competed in over 300 professional tournaments.   With his 2018 season seemingly in the books, an opportunity arose for Kennedy to add one more title to his already impressive resume’ before the end of the year.

Fishing the WON Bass U.S. Open on Lake Mead had been on Kennedy’s bucket list for some time, but he had no intention of checking the Open off his list in 2018. Carl Jocumsen, who fished the U.S. Open in 2017 and had planned on fishing it again this year, qualified for the Bassmaster Open Championship on Table Rock Lake and was unable to compete in the U.S. Open.  

“Kevin Short (from Bass Cat) called me two weeks before the U.S. Open and said that there was a spot for me if I wanted to take it and that they had a place for me to stay out there,” explained Kennedy.   “All I had to do was get out there to Lake Mead.”  

Kennedy took advantage of the opportunity and accepted the invitation, but Hurricane Michael threw a wrench into his travel plans.  “I was afraid that we were going to be right in the path of it, so I stuck around home a few extra days to make sure that my family, my parents, and my sister in Georgia were going to be OK.”  

Official practice for the U.S. Open started on Wednesday, October 10th and Kennedy pulled out of his driveway in Auburn, Alabama to head to Lake Mead on the morning of Thursday, October 11th.  

“My wife said something about how long the drive was, but it really didn’t register with me until I got in the truck and plugged the route into my GPS.   As I was pulling out of the driveway, my GPS said that I had 28 hours remaining and I was like, ‘What the heck am I thinking?’”
Two-and-a-half days later he arrived in Nevada with just a half-day of practice remaining on a 110 mile long desert fishery that he had never fished in his life.   “I got into Boulder City at around 10:00 AM, but by the time that I got a license, gassed up, and headed to the lake it was around one 1:00 PM.”    

Kennedy rode around the lake for an afternoon and liked what he saw.  “Everyone is making a big deal about the fact that I only had three hours of practice time heading into the tournament, but before I drove out there I talked with Derek (Yamamoto) a little bit about what was happening on the lake, so I had some general areas to look at,” he explained.  “I knew that the water was going to be clear and that I would have to cover some ground because you can’t just sit and catch a bunch of fish off of one spot.”

He spent the majority of his time looking for schooling fish and striped bass that were chasing bait on top.  “I pulled into a couple pockets and saw some fish break the surface so I made some casts and ended up catching some smallmouth.  I knew right away that it was going to be a fun place to fish.”  

After Day One was canceled due to severe winds, Kennedy said that he was able to relocate the school of smallmouth that he found during practice on the first morning of competition. “One of my first casts with a swimbait was a 2 ½-pound smallmouth and the next cast was another 2-pounder,” he said.  “We had a limit before 8:00 AM, so the pressure was off.”  

He would end up weighing in a two-day total of 19.63 pounds and finished in 14th place out of 224 boats, cashing a check for $5,600.  

Overall, Kennedy said that his U.S. Open experience surpassed his expectations.  With thousands of days on the water, he found himself in awe of the scenery during the competition.  “We had clear skies on the final morning of the tournament and I just remember running through the narrows and seeing the sunrise.  I stopped in the middle of blast-off just to take pictures.  Seeing that was worth making the 2,000 one-way trip,” he said with a laugh. 

“Being in the narrows with the canyon walls is like being in a dark hole and then the sunlight was just bursting on all that rock above me.  It was impressive.  I saw coyotes, wild burros, and all kinds of wildlife.”  

As he explored the lake more during the tournament, Kennedy was also surprised to see how diverse the fishing was.  “I know that I talked about how deep and clear the lake is, but when you get up in some of those pockets, it was like I was at Okeechobee with all the coots and grass.  I wasn’t expecting that part of it.”  

On Sunday, an official day off, Kennedy did a little exploring in the area.  “We went to the visitor’s center and I guess the whole place was volcanic,” he explained.  “There’s black rock on top of red rock and it’s just such a cool place.”  

While he made the trek alone this year, Kennedy said that he hopes to bring his family back in the future.  “I wish that they’d come with me this time because it was so cool staying on a houseboat right there on Lake Mead.

“It’s the U.S. Open,” he exclaimed.  “They always used to make a big deal because it was in July and considered to be a test for the ‘best of the best’ in 120 degree heat.  I’m happy that I didn’t experience that portion of it because outside of the wind, the weather was absolutely perfect.  It was just one of those tournaments that I always wanted to fish because of the setting and who it has attracted over the years.

"For a stand-alone event with no point, no pressure, and a shared weight format, it was so much fun.  That’s all I can tell you,” he concluded.