“I have one rod I’m using,” Kenney said. “I’m living and dying by the flipping stick.”
For now, it seems like Kenney is living pretty well, finishing second and 14th, respectively, at the EverStart Series and FLW Tour season openers on Lake Okeechobee last month. In fact, Kenney has been quietly making a name for himself in Florida in recent years by earning five top 10 finishes in the state, including a victory in his very first FLW Tour event three years ago. At the 2005 EverStart Series season opener, he even set a new one-day weight record of 32 pounds, 12 ounces and a new two-day weight record of 48 pounds, 14 ounces.
“I’m fishing fewer tournaments this year, so I don’t feel rushed,” Kenney said. “I guess I’m thinking clearer and everything is just coming together. The only thing that could hurt my fish is if they go to spawn, and with the cold front coming through, they are not going to do that. They may be harder to catch, but they are not going anywhere.”
Kenney says that he has as many as seven spots picked out in lakes Toho and Kissimmee for a “milk run” Friday, but no one area is loaded with fish. His bait of choice this week has been a black and blue Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver creature bait that he is flipping to grass and matted vegetation.
While anglers launched on Lake Toho, the vast majority of the field – 157 boats on day one and more than 100 boats on day two – locked through to Lake Kissimmee, 16 boats at a time.
Tom Mann Jr. of Buford, Ga., added five bass weighing 19 pounds, 3 ounces to his day one catch to finish the opening round in second with 10 bass weighing 37 pounds, 5 ounces.
Chevy pro and former Forrest L. Wood Championship winner Dion Hibdon of Stover, Mo., caught five bass weighing 14 pounds, 11 ounces to claim the No. 3 qualifying spot with a two-day total of 10 bass weighing 34 pounds, 12 ounces.
Toby Hartsell of Livingston, Texas (10 bass, 33 pounds, 13 ounces) and Pedigree pro Greg Pugh of Cullman, Ala. (10 bass, 30 pounds, 1 ounce) rounded out the top five pros.
EverStart Series Western Division standout Art Berry of Hemet, Calif., earned the Energizer Keeps on Going Award for the biggest comeback in the Pro Division by jumping from 39th place to ninth with a two-day total of 10 bass weighing 27 pounds, 5 ounces. And former Wal-Mart Open champion Dan Morehead of Paducah, Ky., grabbed the final qualifying spot with 10 bass weighing 27 pounds, 1 ounce.
Lewis Denney of Indian Mound, Tenn., earned the day’s Snickers Big Bass award of $750 in the Pro Division with a 10-pound largemouth, but the day’s biggest bass belonged to co-angler Richard Lowitzki of St. Charles, Ill.
Lowitzki earned the Snickers Big Bass award of $375 in the Co-angler Division, plus another $1,000 for catching the heaviest bass in either division during the opening round, with a huge 11-pound, 3-ounce largemouth that ranks as the second heaviest bass in FLW Tour history. The behemoth bass surpasses the 11-pounder caught by Bobby Curtis on Lake Okeechobee last month and the 11-pounder caught by Ray Beck on Sam Rayburn Reservoir in 1998. Only the 11-pound, 14-ounce bass caught by Jim Nolan on the Santee Cooper Lakes in 1996 is heavier.
Lowitzki caught the fish on a 1/2-ounce Hildebrandt spinnerbait with gold No. 6 willow leaf blades. He also caught a 7-pounder on a topwater frog while fishing south of Bird Island in Lake Kissimmee with pro Bobby Lanham of Scottsdale, Ariz.
“After catching the 7-pounder and two smaller fish, I figured I needed another 2 pounds to make the cut. Then the big one hit,” said Lowitzki, who zeroed on day one then grabbed the lead on day two with a four-bass catch weighing 22 pounds, 6 ounces. “I thought I was hung up then it blew up on the surface and jumped about 2 feet out of the water.”
Lowitzki’s catch was the heaviest in either division Thursday.
Rounding out the top five co-anglers are Ken Chapman of Woodlawn, Tenn. (10 bass, 22 pounds, 4 ounces); Rob Newell of Tallahassee, Fla. (10 bass, 22 pounds); Land O’Lakes angler Judy Israel of Clewiston, Fla. (10 bass, 21 pounds, 10 ounces); and Bill Rogers of Jasper, Texas (10 bass, 20 pounds, 12 ounces).
Israel, a former teacher from the Bronx, N.Y., made fishing history last year by winning the FLW Tour stop on the Atchafalaya Basin. She is the first woman to win an FLW Tour event, and this is her 11th top 10 finish in FLW Outdoors competition.
“I’m ecstatic,” Israel said. “No matter what happens, I’m just so proud to make the top 10.”
So far Lake Toho is fishing better than during the tour’s 1998 visit when anglers caught 1,433 bass weighing 3,186 pounds, 5 ounces in the opening round. Five-bass limits were caught by 164 of the 400 anglers competing Thursday, and the overall total catch climbed to 2,433 bass weighing 5,004 pounds, 4 ounces.
Anglers will take off from Kissimmee Lakefront Park at 7 each morning. Friday and Saturday’s weigh-ins will be held at the Wal-Mart store located at 1471 E. Osceola Pkwy. in Kissimmee beginning at 5 p.m. and 3 p.m., respectively.
The community is invited to join the worlds’ top bass anglers as they celebrate the FLW Tour’s 10th anniversary in the Family Fun Zone Friday and Saturday outside the weigh-in tent in the Wal-Mart parking lot. The free Family Fun Zone, which opens at 3 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday, features interactive displays, product samples and games for the entire family to enjoy.
Following Thursday’s competition, the field was narrowed from 200 competitors per division to 10, and weights were cleared. The pro with the heaviest two-day cumulative weight will earn $100,000 Saturday while the co-angler title, and a $20,000 cash, will be awarded at the conclusion of Friday’s competition.
In addition to a top award of $100,000 and cash awards of at least $10,000 through 50th place in the Pro Division, anglers are also competing for valuable points that determine Land O’ Lakes Angler of the Year standings and the field for the 2005 Forrest L. Wood Championship, set for July 13-16 in Hot Springs, Ark., on Lake Hamilton. The $1.5 million championship presented by Castrol awards the winning pro $500,000 cash, the sport’s largest payout, and features a world-class outdoor show.
Complete coverage of the FLW Tour’s stop on Lake Toho will be broadcast on Fox Sports Net (FSN) March 6 and March 13 as part of the “FLW Outdoors” television program. “FLW Outdoors” airs every Sunday at 11 a.m. Eastern time on FSN.
Named after the legendary founder of Ranger Boats, Forrest L. Wood, FLW Outdoors administers the Wal-Mart FLW Tour and seven other national tournament circuits offering a combined $30 million in awards through 214 events in 2005. The 27-year-old organization is the purveyor of America’s largest and most prestigious fishing tournaments, including the Wal-Mart FLW Tour, EverStart Series, Wal-Mart Bass Fishing League, Wal-Mart Texas Tournament Trail, Wal-Mart FLW Walleye Tour, Wal-Mart FLW Walleye League, Wal-Mart FLW Kingfish Tour and Wal-Mart FLW Redfish Series.
Wal-Mart and many of America’s largest and most respected companies support FLW Outdoors and its tournament trails. Wal-Mart signed on as title sponsor of the FLW Tour in 1997 and today is the title sponsor of all FLW Outdoors events.
For more information on Wal-Mart, visit Wal-Mart.com. For more information on FLW Outdoors and its tournament programs, visit FLWOutdoors.com or call (270) 252-1000. For more information on FSN, visit FoxSports.com.