LUFKIN, Texas – The bite was tough on Sam Rayburn Reservoir, but Straight Talk pro J.T. Kenney wasn't flipping out – literally or figuratively. In fact, the angler from Palm Bay, Fla. kept his cool and sacked up 19 pounds, 6 ounces to set the day-one lead by a margin of 2-4.
With hot, still conditions prevailing for most of the day, anglers largely struggled to establish consistency. Kenney, however, found himself enjoying a productive day marked with several good bites. An accomplished shallow-water fisherman, he got the job done offshore today.
That's no accident, said the top pro. The attraction of deep water fishing has taken root in his mind and now Kenney can't get enough of this fresh new realm.
"This is my 11th year on Tour and, I don't want to say it gets mundane doing the same stuff all the time, but this new little window has opened up for me," he said.
Kenney held his cards low on bait specifics, but he noted that he caught his fish on moving baits and plastics. The action was steady and each cast, he said, held homerun potential.
"The thing I like about offshore fishing is you can win out there," he said. "You can find a spot and win a tournament on a spot, or two or three spots. Whereas, a lot of bank fishing is just randomly hoping you catch one here and there.
"Now, I might go out tomorrow and they might not be there. But offshore fish do tend to stay and they do tend to replenish. I think you can put yourself in position to win on offshore fish."
Kenney said he devoted about three hours of practice time to bank fishing and figured out a pattern that allowed him to dependably catch keepers. Dialing in the offshore game, though, was his primary focus and locating a few productive spots gave him to confidence to devote his day to the deep patterns.
Although he didn't divulge much about his specific tactics, Kenney did say that it was more than just chunking and winding. His fish were actually rather picky and determining just how they wanted to see the baits was essential to his success.
"You can fish these spots and unless you figure out how to trigger them to eat, you won't catch them," he said. "I luckily figured it out. It's about boat positioning and how you present the baits on the structure, whether it's brush or the drop-off, how they want it coming through is the key.
"One of those big ones I caught on my third cast, but it was good early. I had a good limit by probably 9 a.m. and I didn't cull anything after 11 – but I didn't fish any of my spots after 11 either. I figured I was in pretty good shape."
Durham takes second by an ounce
In the slimmest of margins thus far in the contest, Texas pro Tommy Durham took the No. 2 spot with 17-2 – just an ounce over third-place pro Phil Marks. Durham said that despite a strong showing, his was no easy path. Day one started hazy, cleared by mid morning and grew cloudy and windy late in the day. Durham said the
"It was a little harder than what I expected because the bite had been decent (in practice)," Durham said. "It was one of those days, with the weather changing, that I thought could either be 9 or 10-pound day or a 20-plus day, so I kind of hit it in the middle."
Durham said he caught approximately 25 fish today, about half of which were keepers. The afternoon bite was most productive, as was the offshore habitat.
"I spent a lot of time shallow and caught a limit shallow, but the bigger fish came deeper," Durham said. "This time of year you don't know. There are a lot of fish shallow and you'll catch some 3- and 4-pounders. But some of the 5- to 8-pounders are still deep."
Durham threw a crankbait for part of his day, but he caught most of his weight on plastics. Slow presentations, he said, were most effective.
Marks cranks to third
Marks started his day committed to hunting big fish offshore. He stuck with that plan and connected with three bass that fit the bill and two that were a little lighter than preferred. His third-place limit went 17-1.
"I had probably 16 pounds by 9 o'clock," he said. "I had two 2-pounders and I said, 'Well, I'm just going to fish for big ones and cull those in the process.' But the bite died about 11 and I never culled up."
Marks, who fished over rock and shell in 16-22 feet, caught three of his fish on a Strike King 6XD and two on a new Strike King prototype bait. He said the cyclical pattern of fall weather held back Rayburn's stellar potential.
"We had a front come through Saturday and fishing was great Sunday and Monday," he said. "You could catch 40-50 2- to 3-pounders. But I knew that with this weather getting slick and sunny, the bite would start tapering off. And that's what happened."
Lunker leads Combs to fourth
Local pro Keith Combs sacked up the fourth-place bag of 16-12. Anchoring that sack was a 7-pound, 5-ounce largemouth that earned Big Bass honors. Cranking produced that toad, and his other fish, but Combs said he should have weighed a bigger limit.
"I probably messed up today," he said. "I went fishing offshore this morning and didn't anything for a while, but then I had a little flurry for about two hours from about 9 to 11 and I caught those five.
"The last day of practice, I had big fish still going shallow. I thought, 'Now that I have (my limit), I'll go hang with (the shallow bite) the rest of the day and that's what I did but never got another bite. I don't know what happened to those shallow fish. It was really good the last day of practice. I was shocked today to not get at least one or two."
Combs caught his fish between 12 and 22 feet. Pickings were slim, as he caught no more than one fish per spot.
McDonald stays shallow, earns fifth
He caught 10 keepers today, with most of his bites coming between 10 a.m. and noon. After that, he left his spot to preserve the remaining potential for day two. The key to his success was careful selection of his flipping targets.
"There are certain little areas that you're looking for," he said. "Those areas are the key. You can flip a lot of stuff and not get bit, but when you find the right little spot, you pretty well know that there's a fish there."
Best of the rest
Rounding out the top-10 pro leaders at the FLW Tour Open event on Sam Rayburn Reservoir:
6th: Matt Herren, of Trussville, Ala., 14-13
7th: Art Ferguson III, of St. Clair Shores, Mich., 14-11
8th: Dion Hibdon, of Sunrise Beach, Mo., 14-7
9th: John Cox, of Debary, Fla., 14-0
9th: Kevin Walker, of Buna, Texas, 14-0
Keith Combs, of Huntington, Texas earned Big Bass honors for his 7-5.
Biggest bass of the day buoys Farris' co-angler lead
Clint Farris, of Joshua, Texas caught the day's biggest bass – an 8-pound, 11-ouncer that accounted for the lion's share of a 16-2 limit and gave him the co-angler lead by a margin of 2-9. Paired with Marks, Farris said that keeping his bait busy was important.
"I was just throwing worms and hitting a lot of holes," he said. "It was a great day and I hope I can do it again tomorrow."
Farris didn't want to get too deeply into his tactics, but he said that he caught his fish on large Texas-rigged worms, which he worked slowly on each drop. His big fish bit around 12:30.
Tommy Mendoza, of Lake Charles, La. took second place with 13-9, while Scott Darragh, of Midlothian, Texas was third with 12-9. In fourth place, Darrel Denton, of Georgetown, Texas had 12-5 and fifth-place co-angler Ryan Edwards, of Stuart, Fla. had 10-15.
Best of the rest
6th: Jeff Sprague, of Edgewood, Texas, 10-7
7th: Matthew McClellan, of Tyler, Texas, 9-9
8th: Ben Todd, of Pierson, Fla., 9-8
9th: Clayton Batts, of Macon, Ga., 9-6
9th: Justin Caudle, of Shreveport, La., 9-6
Day two of the FLW Tour Open event on Sam Rayburn Reservoir continues at Friday’s takeoff, scheduled to take place at 7:30 a.m. (Central) at Cassels-Boykin County Park located at FM Road 3123 (Off State Hwy 147) in Zavalla, Texas.