BENTON, Ky. – You would think a 4 ½-pound lead would be enough, but you’re never safe at a standout bass fishery like Kentucky Lake.
Auburn, Ala., pro Steve Kennedy came in with a hefty, 21-pound, 6-ounce limit Saturday and won his second Wal-Mart FLW Tour tournament at Kentucky Lake, quashing the title hopes of hometown favorite Terry Bolton of Paducah, Ky.
Bolton entered the day with a 4-pound, 9-ounce lead over second-place Kennedy and the rest of the pro finalists. Bolton seemed poised – finally, after many top finishes and even victories in lesser tournaments here – to win his first big-money event on his home lake. But when all the fish had been caught and counted Saturday, Bolton’s 16-pound, 8-ounce limit couldn’t stand up to Kennedy’s 21-6. The final weight tally: Kennedy 37-5, Bolton 37-1 – a narrow 4-ounce difference.
“It’s absolutely awesome. I had so many opportunities in the last year. I sort of had a pattern going. I had a bad tournament, and then I finished fourth. Another bad tournament, then third. I had a bad tournament before this one, so I just assumed I’d be second,” Kennedy said. “It just feels great to have a good final day while the cameras were on and to get over that hump.”
Counting this one, Kennedy has collected two $100,000 winner’s checks on the FLW Tour, both of them at Kentucky Lake. In 2003 the lake was extremely high, and Kennedy won here by throwing crankbaits and fishing Carolina rigs over flooded gravel flats. He used a completely different approach to win this year.
“I was just fishing ledges out there on the main lake, throwing a football jig out there and dragging it on the bottom,” said Kennedy, not exactly pinpointing his fishing area as “north of the (Hwy. 68) bridge” on Kentucky Lake. “It had no relation at all to three years ago. I actually found most of these places two years ago when Anthony (Gagliardi) won. I didn’t have but about four or five places with fish on them.”
“I was throwing to about 12 feet (of water) and dragging it out to about 22 feet,” he said. “But I caught most of them pretty shallow. It was just an awesome day. I probably caught 20 keepers today.”
While most of his fish were largemouths, Kennedy’s effort was aided greatly when he caught one of his kicker bass – a 4-pound, 13-ounce smallmouth – not far from Kentucky Dam Marina shortly before check-in.
“I caught this fish with about five minutes left,” he said. “It was awesome because that fish jumped over the net the first time.”
Like Friday, all 10 of the pro finalists caught five-bass limits Saturday. In total, the pros caught 50 bass the last two days, and 49 of them were released alive.
The one that didn’t make it, however, belonged to Bolton. An audible gasp arose from the knowledgeable Kentucky Lake crowd when they realized that their hometown hope would incur an 8-ounce penalty when it counted most. Bolton’s limit actually weighed 17-0 and would have given him the victory, but his official weight went down as 16-8 thanks to the penalty.
“That’s just the risk you take when you fish deep this time of year. I did everything I could to take care of that bass,” said Bolton, who fished Kentucky Lake ledges with a 5/8-ounce homemade jig and green-pumpkin Zoom trailer, a ¾-ounce spinnerbait and a 10 ½-inch Zoom worm. “I caught it on a worm in the top of the head, and it was stressed from the spawn. Sometimes they die, and that’s just part of it. Of course I was worried, but there was nothing I could do about it.”
While he lost an agonizingly close one at home due to unfortunate circumstances, just missing his first tour-level win, Bolton seemed to take the disappointment much better than the crowd.
“It’s a tough way to lose, but rules are rules, and and that’s the way it goes,” said Bolton, who admitted that he was more concerned about a big fish that he lost on a spinnerbait than he was about the penalty. “If it was meant to be my time, it would have happened. If I would have caught that fish, who knows what would have happened?”
“I hate to win because of a dead fish, but I’ll take it,” Kennedy said.
Bolton earned $36,000 for second place.
Third place and $25,000 went to Gary Yamamoto of Mineola, Texas, for a final-round total weight of 30 pounds even. He caught 14-14 Saturday, including a 7-4 kicker largemouth.
“That was the most exciting time of my day,” Yamamoto said about the big bass. “I was bored stiff just trying to catch only eight fish.”
Yamamoto said he started the day trying to fish deep, but caught nothing and moved back to the shallows, where he filled out his limit on a prototype cut-tail worm that he called a “swimming Senko.”
“I guess it’s not going to be a prototype for long,” he laughed.
David Fritts of Lexington, N.C., caught the second-heaviest limit of the day – 18 pounds, 15 ounces – and came back from a 10th-place performance Friday to finish the tournament in fourth place with a weight of 29-4. He earned $20,000.
“This lake’s been good to me,” said Fritts, who threw crankbaits this week. “I really had a good chance to win, but I got really frustrated yesterday because I couldn’t cast in that wind. But I had a lot of fun today. I probably caught 50 or 60 keepers.”
“It was going good. The current was flowing, I caught four fish in 45 minutes, and I thought, ‘This is going to be the day,’” said Lytle, who stuck to flipping and pitching the shallows on the lower end of Barkley Lake. “Then somebody at the Army Crops of Engineers turned off the water, and that was it. It was like the Dead Sea. But that’s the way it goes.”
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top 10 pro finishers in FLW Tour competition at Kentucky Lake:
6th: David Dudley of Lynchburg, Va., 26-5, $17,000
7th: David Walker of Sevierville, Tenn., 24-13, $16,000
8th: Jim Moynagh of Carver, Minn., 24-10, $15,000
9th: Matt Herren of Trussville, Ala., 22-13, $14,000
10th: Toshinari Namiki of Mineola, Texas, 22-10, $13,000
With just one tournament remaining, Anthony Gagliardi retook the lead in the pro standings after posting a big comeback weight on day two and finishing 27th at Kentucky Lake. He has 868 points.
Bunched up behind him are Jim Moynagh (833 points), Matt Herren (832) and Gabe Bolivar (828), plus Ray Scheide (800).
The next Wal-Mart FLW Tour event, the sixth and final regular-season tournament, is scheduled for Lake Champlain at Plattsburgh, N.Y., June 21-24.