FLORENCE, Ala. – Pedigree pro Steve Kennedy of Auburn, Ala., caught a five-bass limit weighing 12 pounds, 2 ounces Friday to lead 10 finalists in the $1 million EverStart Series Championship on Pickwick Lake. He now holds a slim 4-ounce lead over Gabe Bolivar of Ramona, Calif., who caught a five-bass limit weighing 11 pounds, 14 ounces.
If he can maintain his lead Saturday, Kennedy will earn $140,000.
“I lost two 3-pound smallies on back to back casts,” said Kennedy, who has earned 23 top-10s in FLW Outdoors competition since 1995. “I don’t’ feel good at all right now. I’ve led twice this year and lost it on the final day. I’d like to change that here.”
Kennedy opened the tournament Wednesday in first place with four bass weighing 16 pounds, 7 ounces using a buzzbait then added another two bass weighing 5 pounds, 10 ounces Thursday to advance to the final round as the No. 4 seed. On Friday, Kennedy again caught fish using a buzzbait, but things got off to a shaky start.
“I started out below the dam, and in four hours, I only had one fish boil up,” Kennedy said. “After that, I had to make a change.” The change was a run approximately 15 miles down Pickwick Lake and a switch to a football head jig worked along ledges in 12 to 18 feet of water. Kennedy immediate caught his first two fish, both largemouth, but after an hour he could not resist the temptation to try his trusty buzzbait again. After running to another spot still further down the lake, he rounded out his limit with three smallmouths caught on the buzzbait.
Kellogg’s pro Sam Newby of Pocola, Okla., claimed the No. 3 spot heading into the final day of competition with five bass weighing 10 pounds, 10 ounces while Jack Gadlage of Benton, Ky., (four bass, 9 pounds) and Roy Hawk of Salt Lake City, Utah, (four bass, 8 pounds, 11 ounces) rounded out the top five pros.
Jerry Goble of Sherrills Ford, N.C., took top honors and $62,500 in the Co-angler Division Friday with four bass weighing 4 pounds, 8 ounces. He caught the fish on a mustard-colored handmade wooden crankbait called a Little Pig tied to 8-pound-test line. He was casting the lure to riprap banks in Bay Springs Lake, approximately 90 miles from the launch site at McFarland Park on Pickwick Lake, while fishing with Bolivar. He estimates that he caught at least 100 small Kentucky bass throughout the day.
“I’ve fished so many tournaments and always been a little short,” said Goble, who finished third on Lake Eufaula earlier this year. “This is the most wonderful feeling any person could have. It’s like winning the Super Bowl.”
Goble squeaked into the final round by 1 ounce thanks to a last minute 2 1/2-pound largemouth that he caught on a pink buzzbait Thursday. “I really kind of pulled a rabbit out of a hat,” he said. “I caught that fish with less than five minutes to spare.”
Rounding out the top three co-anglers were James Chapman of Cedartown, Ga. (two bass, 3 pounds, 6 ounces, $16,500) and Mark Guin of Crossett, Ark. (one bass, 12 ounces, $10,500). The rest of the co-angler field blanked Friday.
Overall, 39 bass weighing 81 pounds were caught Friday. There were three five-bass limits, and 100 percent of the bass were released alive.
Of the states represented in Florence this week, California had the largest contingent of anglers with 53 followed by Alabama and Michigan with 24 anglers and North Carolina with 23.
Anglers take off from McFarland Park at 7 a.m. Saturday for the final day of competition. Saturday’s weigh-in will be held at the Wal-Mart store located at 3100 Hough Road in Florence beginning at 3 p.m.
The community is invited to join all the tournament festivities in the Family Fun Zone outside the weigh-in tent in the Wal-Mart parking lot. The Family Fun Zone, which opens at 11 a.m., features interactive displays, product samples and games for the entire family to enjoy. Everything in the Fun Zone is absolutely free.
The top 40 pros and top 40 co-anglers from each of the EverStart Series’ five divisions qualified for the championship. Weights were cleared for the final round and the co-angler champion was determined by the day’s heaviest catch. The winning pro will be determined based on the heaviest accumulated weight from Friday and Saturday.