JT Kenney goes wire-to-wire for a season-opening win at Lake Toho.
March 9, 2015 by Rob Newell
JT Kenney has caught a lot of memorable five-bass limits in his life. As a resident of Florida and a touring pro, he has caught plenty of limits greater than 25 and even 30 pounds. But it just might be the five-bass limit weighing 9 pounds, 4 ounces that he checked in on the final day of the Walmart FLW Tour event on Lake Toho presented by Mercury that he will never forget.
Those five little scrappy buck bass were enough to hold off not one, but two valiant final-day charges from two of the FLW Tour’s best sticks: Wesley Strader and Quaker State pro Scott Canterbury.
Kenney entered the final day with a 12-8 lead and a seemingly bulletproof plan of combing through Kissimmee’s pad fields for big spawning females. As the day wore on, Strader and Canterbury, who were both fishing with no scripted plans and nothing-to-lose attitudes, began chopping big chunks out of Kenney’s lead. Strader and Canterbury were blowing up the FLW On The Water live feed and Twitter with bombs while Kenney’s little keepers seemed like sporadic gunfire in comparison.
By the time weigh-in started, fingernails from all three camps had been chewed to the quick. Human “scales” who stole a peek at each pro’s fish had recalculated the weights 100 times with no idea as to who might take home the hardware.
At first all eyes were on Strader as the show stealer. He weighed 21-5 on day three and started the final day with a huge bass on literally his second cast. Strader was all over the OTW feed after that fish, which he thought was a 9-pounder. Alas, it weighed less than 8. Strader took a swing at Kenney with 20-5 on the last day but came up 1-5 short.
As it turned out, Canterbury was actually a much truer threat to rain on Kenney’s parade, laying down his best effort of the week with 21-10 on the final day.
When Kenney laid the paltry 9-4 on the scale, he needed nearly every ounce of it to hang on to victory, giving him just 11 ounces to spare with a four-day total of 76 pounds even.
“That was the longest hour of my life,” said an elated Kenney when the weigh-in drama ended. “It’s been a long time since I’ve won a Tour event, and I put a lot of work into this one so this makes it all worth it.”
Preparing the Program
In all, Kenney spent 26 days on Toho and Kissimmee in the off-season, prior to cut-off. He was looking for precise areas where big female bass would feel comfortable spawning. Those precise areas mostly included the corners of smaller, broken pad fields where bass could easily access the stems and roots as nesting sites. He identified nine key areas of pad fields, clusters and clumps that had the right symmetry.
During the official three-day practice round, Kenney combed the corners of the clumps with meticulous, precise casts. When he felt a hefty bass move off with his lure (with no hook) he immediately marked the exact corner with a red waypoint on his GPS. By the end of practice, Kenney had marked some 50 red dots of tournament-winning potential.
On days one and two, Kenney’s game of connect the dots worked flawlessly to the tune of 29-14 and 22-9, respectively. To activate the red-dot plan, Kenney eased up to the pad corner, cast a black-and-blue Gambler Fat Ace stick worm rigged with a 3/8-ounce Reins tungsten sinker and a TroKar TK130 5/0 hook. He slowly shook the Fat Ace into the key corner clump and waited for the bite. Kenney used 20-pound-test Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon on a Halo Daylight 7-foot, 6-inch heavy-action flipping stick teamed with a Bass Pro Shops Pro Qualifier reel.
“Those are all the right tools for that kind of work in Florida,” Kenney says. “The Reins tungsten has an insert, which is critical to protecting your line. The TroKar TK130 keeps the Ace in place and keeps the fish pinned, even when they wrap up in the pads. And then the Halo Daylight and Trilene fluoro do the heavy lifting.
“But above all, I can assure you this win would have never happened without my Power-Poles,” Kenney adds. “Nearly every one of my red-dot fish came with my Power-Poles in the ground, holding me at a perfect distance and angle needed to make repetitive casts to the pads.”
On day three, Kenney ran into a little red-dot resistance in the form of a frontal passage that brought dark skies, chilly wind and falling temperatures. From years of experience, Kenney knew that such weather was not going to make Kissimmee’s big females very cooperative, so he wisely called in his contingency plan of spinnerbaiting on Toho.
“Everything I weighed in on day three came from Toho on a 1/2-ounce Nichols Pulsator spinnerbait,” he says. “I did try some of my red dots on Toho that day, and they did not want to play, so the spinnerbait really bailed me out.”
The Final Act
Kenney started day four on Lake Toho, trying to cinch down a few insurance fish. When the clouds scattered and the sun shined brightly by 9:30 a.m., he felt the time was right to deliver the knockout punch. Kenney locked into Kissimmee to run his remaining red dots, but to his dismay, his program began to fizzle right before his eyes.
“I caught a couple of little bucks as soon as I pulled into the area that held the most remaining potential,” Kenney says. “That really fired me up because you usually catch a couple of those little dinkers before a big one. In a way those bucks kind of point the way. But this time after I’d catch the bucks there was nothing – just nothing – from their bigger bedmates.
“I’m still stunned that I did not get one or two of those big ones to bite,” he reflects, proving that even $125,000 does not quench the desire of a champion to know more about his quarry. “But I can assure you of this, even if I did not end up holding this big cardboard check, I still would have no regrets about how I fished today. And big check or not, that’s what counts in this sport.”
Top 10 Pros
1. JT Kenney – 76-00
2. Scott Canterbury – 75-05
3. Wesley Strader – 74-11
4. Stacey King – 67-09
5. Luke Clausen – 65-06
6. Stetson Blaylock – 60-10
7. Randy Blaukat – 59-09
8. Troy Morrow – 56-08
9. Mark Daniels Jr. – 53-12
10. Ramie Colson Jr. – 50-09