Sympathy for the swimbaiter | Bassmaster

GREENVILLE, S.C. – Steve Kennedy will be fishing on Sunday because he followed his wife’s advice.

The Auburn, Ala., pro was tied for third place after Day 1 of the 2022 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk with 18 pounds 9 ounces of Lake Hartwell bass, including a day’s best 6-07, but Day 2 was not quite as productive. That’s where his wife Julia’s words enter into the equation. Like many spouses, she is somewhere between tolerant and supportive of his eccentricities, including his swimbait addiction. She’s seen the eBay invoices, the PayPal bills and the packages from across the globe. She knows that he loves to hoard as well as fish them.

All of that lies within the acceptable bounds of their unstated marriage compact, but knowing his tendencies, there’s one thing she warns against: “Don’t get stuck on stupid.”

That means that no matter how much he wants to chuck a tennis shoe sized lure all day, no matter how well he thinks they should work, under no circumstances is he to die on that hill. The Kennedys writ large may not have a problem with swimbaits, but Mr. Kennedy occasionally has a problem with putting them down. To his credit, he used them prudently and effectively on Day One, but Day 2 provided neither the sunshine he needed to position the bass around docks nor the wind he wanted to get them to commit to his lures.

Fortunately, he quickly realized that, and based on a hunch on the way to the ramp he tied on a smaller finesse-style soft plastic swimbait to complement the larger one that he wanted to work. He knew that he might not be able to get them to bite what he wanted, but he might still be able to catch what he needed. His first swimbait fish, caught before 8am, was over 4 pounds. 

Then the window of opportunity more or less closed. He squeezed out two more bare keepers by mid-morning, one on the downsized swimbait, another on a Senko, and then the bite went from tough to nonexistent. On docks where he’d seen schools of fish, there were none, and when he did spot a semi-interested bass, the fish might follow his lure, or perhaps even bump it, but nothing more. When they’re biting the swimbait, it’s a gas, but when they’re not, it’s enough to make a grown man cry. Keeping it on the deck is often referred to as “keeping ‘em honest” but when things go awry it might as well be called “keeping ‘em disinterested.”

The sun that Kennedy wanted kept threatening to appear, but just as quickly it would be blotted out by clouds or replaced by a light mist. Finally, the clouds all disappeared, and that’s when he struck – thanks to his wife’s advice. The swimbaits large and small never left the deck, but when Kennedy returned at about 1:30pm to the cove where he’d started the day, it was a Senko that enabled him to do some damage. Were they the 4-pounders that he wanted and thought he needed? Definitely not, and he didn’t know it at the time, but they were enough to push him permanently back into the Sunday cut, and at least temporarily inside the Top 10. He even culled once.

There’s no doubt that the swimbaits are sexy. They were the starmakers when Kennedy rose to prominence at Clear Lake in 2007, winning the Golden State Shootout with 122 pounds 14 ounces of bass. A swim jig has also been a major tool in his career successes, including during an Elite Series win at Lake Dardanelle and near-wins at two Texas Classics. But the Senko has been the steadying influence – other of course than his wife and kids – that has prevented him from leaving money on the table time and time again.

Rather than fading away to the Expo, he survived to fish another day. He can’t quit the swimbait life. In fact, before checking in today he asked aloud whether the weatherman predicted wind for tomorrow. With the belief that only first place matters, he might be inclined to stick with it a bit longer on Day Three, even without wind, but today he showed that he won’t get stuck on stupid.

He’s one big swimbait bite, or possibly one really good Senko bite, away from a win.

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