OKEECHOBEE, Oct. 17, 2003 It has been nearly four years since J.T. Kenney guided on Lake Okeecobee and January since he last fished it but you can't tell that by the way the Maryland pro has run roughshod over the field in the first two rounds of the $300,000 Florida CITGO Bassmaster Southern Open presented by Busch Beer.
All Kenney has done is bring in a pair of five-bass limits weighing 22 pounds, 10 ounces, and 23-14, as well as win the big-bass award on Thursday (8-9) and Friday (9-11). His two-day total of 46 ½ pounds has staked him to a lead of nearly 5 pounds entering Saturday's final round in the race for the $50,000 top prize.
Florida's Mark Shepard is second with 41-12, followed by Chris Baumgardner of North Carolina and all-time BASS money winner Denny Brauer, who are tied for third with 41-2. Kentucky's David Walker fell from second to fifth with a 12-15 catch Friday (39 pounds). Opening-round leader Chad Brauer managed just 10-14 and dropped to sixth place (37-12).
The day belonged to Kenney, who brought in the largest of Friday's six 20-pound-plus stringers.
"I'm really on some good fish," said Kenney, 29, who admitted he has been flipping a 3-inch Gambler Crickett plastic crawfish in thick mats of floating hyacinths. "I lost nine big ones today. I'd get them pegged up against the hyacinths, but it's so thick that you can't get to them before they get off.
"I feel pretty confident that I will get more bites in my area tomorrow. How big they are or whether or not I get them in the boat, that might be another story."
Shepard, a 38-year-old occasional guide on Lake Okeechobee, finds himself in a position to win a national tournament in just the second BASS event of his career after performances of 20 pounds and 21-12.
"I got a little choked up coming across the lake (to the weigh-in area)," said Shepard, who has been out of action for several weeks while recovering from double-hernia surgery. "I can't believe how fortunate I am.
"I'm nervous. I've got just a couple of areas, and I hope I can do it again tomorrow."
Baumgardner, a former CITGO Bassmaster Classic qualifier, brought in 19-9 Friday to get into contention. His catch came on a Zoom Speed Worm. "I'm catching a lot of fish," he said. "I've probably had 100 bites on that worm."
Denny Brauer's limit weighing 22-15 jumped him from sixth to third Friday. "It was a good day," the 54-year-old Missouri pro said "I didn't get a lot of bites, but they were good ones.
"I might catch them big time tomorrow or I might not be able to catch them. This is Okeechobee (where) I've had too many zeroes to count on anything."
In the amateur division, a pair of Florida anglers hold the top spots: Nathan Bloom (25-2) and Clint Sterling (20-10). Billy Schach of South Carolina is third with 18-15. On Saturday, the top amateur will take home a fully rigged boat valued at $24,000.
BASS is the world's largest fishing organization, sanctioning more than 20,000 tournaments worldwide through its Federation. In 2004, BASS will introduce the all-new Bassmaster Elite 50 Series, a four-event, no-entry-fee circuit featuring a $1.6 million prize purse for the world's best anglers. The CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer is the oldest and most prestigious pro bass-fishing tournament circuit and continues to set the standard for credibility, professionalism and sportsmanship as it has since 1968.