With three tournament wins, including the all-time weight record, and close calls for Classic and AOY crowns, Steve Kennedy needs little introduction to the Bassmaster Elites. However, his background and path to fishing B.A.S.S. is unique, as is his approach to sponsorships and travel.
The engineer from Auburn, Ala., who turned 50 in April, is a product of parents who enjoyed fishing and traveling. His father, Van, won numerous B.A.S.S. Nation titles in Georgia and qualified for the 1982 Bassmaster Classic as a club angler. Karen, his mother, enjoyed seeing new places.
“Dad’s more about the fishing, but Mom’s the one that likes to travel,” Kennedy said, relating a story about the family of six loading up in a Suburban and heading out West when he was 13. “In six weeks, we spent a total of three nights in a hotel room. The rest of the time we were camping in a tent -- hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, all the way up the West Coast, back down through Yellowstone. It was incredible. It’s just what we like to do.”
Kennedy now combines both, fishing knowledge and great skill along with a sense of adventure that he wants to share with his wife, Julia, and their children, Sophia and SJ, who are growing up on the Elite trail.
“It’s all about the traveling, especially for my wife, but for me too,” said Kennedy, who admits he’s been jealous at times when the family hits the local features while he’s chasing bass. “I miss out on a few. We usually try to make side trips, a lot around fishing. It’s all about the experience.”
It began in earnest on their honeymoon to Yellowstone, eliciting Julia to remark she went from “wedding gown to waders” as they chased trout.
“I got her in a pair of waders for a day or two,” he said of his “Army brat” wife, who was used to moving every two years. “We just stepped it up a little bit to moving every week.”
Yellowstone seems to be a favorite. While other Elites ventured as far as the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore after last year’s event on Lake Oahe in South Dakota, the Kennedys continued out west to the northwest Wyoming’s famed national park. Kennedy said he looks at the Elite schedule and selects regional destinations, like before the Northwest trip to Washington state and the Columbia River was nixed.
“My wife showed me the schedule this year for B.A.S.S.,” he said. “The first word out of my mouth was Alaska. I was all excited that this is our chance -- that’s the only state I’ve never been to.”
Fishing always seems to be on among the activities. The happy wanderers enjoy casting for cutthroat trout at Yellowstone, and map targets like king salmon in Michigan and the saltwater smorgasbord in the Florida Keys, which they try to get to every year regardless of schedule.
Kennedy is among the more natural anglers, growing up around his father’s club, although he was never allowed to join.
“They had a rule you had to have a tournament quality bass boat to join,” he said, noting a 150 horse-power minimum. “I grew up around a club, practicing all the time, but I didn’t get to fish tournaments.”
Though Kennedy did fish some events with his father, and he competed in local derbies through high school and college at Auburn, where he eventually joined a club. At his first BFL after graduating, his father was second while he didn’t cash a check.
Things got better competing as a non-boater while working as an engineer. He won a BLF 1997 and really broke out in 2000. He missed the first event due to all the non-boaters who showed up, but he was told he could fish as a boater when he got to the second event at Lake Eufaula. He rushed the hour home to get his Bass Tracker with a 40 hp motor.
“I think I can get my live wells working tonight,” said Kennedy, who missed a check because of a dead fish.
But then he went on an incredible streak, winning four BLFs in a calendar year, earning around $30,000. “After that, I told my wife if I can get in, I’m going to fish pro,” he said.
Driving down the road, he answered a “for sale” sign on a $1,500 boat with no motor so he could sign up as Ranger owner. He quit his job as an engineer in 2001 to begin fishing FLW in 2002, and the next year he won $100,000 on Kentucky Lake.
All this time, he had been attempting to break into B.A.S.S. He first tried to sign up for Invitationals but “they basically laughed at me -- you have to have a sponsor to get in.” Getting into the Opens was just as frustrating.