By BassFan Staff

A lot has happened in Steve Kennedy's life since he won the West Point Lake Bassmaster Elite Series 5 years ago. He made a good run at capturing the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup and he almost won this year's Classic, only to be edged out by Jordan Lee.

He also endured a battle with a thyroid tumor that he didn't allow to become public knowledge until Monday. That's a fight that may not be completely over, as he's feeling a twinge in his neck when he turns his head and has a doctor's visit upcoming.

What is over is the sixth event of the 2017 Elite season, and Kennedy possesses the blue victor's trophy. He claimed it by catching a 16-09 bag on the final day that gave him a 4-day total of 63-12.

A 5-10 kicker that he caught from a small, featureless point in the latter portion of the day provided his winning margin over Mark Davis, who'd led after each of the previous 2 days. Davis sacked 13-10 and finished with 62-02.

"I caught a miracle fish, that's for sure," said Kennedy, who notched his fifth career tour-level win (three on the Elite Series and two on the FLW Tour). "It wasn't anywhere near where any of the other ones had been. I have no idea why it was there."

Kevin VanDam recorded the day's biggest stringer (17-00) and ended up 3rd with 60-11. Mark Menendez, the 2009 winner at Dardanelle, was 4th with 57-09 after boxing 14-13 and Dean Rojas rounded out the Top 5 with 56-07 (10-10 on day 4).

Here are the totals for the remainder of the Top 12:

6. Jamie Hartman: 55-04
7. Cliff Pace: 54-00
8. Matt Lee: 53-12
9. David Mullins: 53-03
10. Mike Iaconelli: 52-11
11. Cliff Prince: 51-04
12. Brandon Palaniuk: 49-09

Half of the final-day field failed to catch a limit as the Arkansas River continued to rise following yet another overnight deluge of rain. The offshore bite, which several of the finalists (including Davis and Hartman, who started the day in 2nd) were relying upon, was all but nonexistent with the additional water and complete lack of sun.



B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

Kennedy pulled most of his winning fish from the tops of submerged willow trees.

The circuit takes a six-week break before resuming with back-to-back events in New York (the St. Lawrence River and Lake Champlain) in late July. The regular season concludes a month after that at Michigan's Lake St. Clair.

Ott DeFoe, who finished 15th at Dardanelle, will go into the final third of the schedule with a 9-point lead over Jacob Wheeler in the Angler of the Year (AOY) race. Palaniuk, Casey Ashley, Davis and Jason Christie are all within 25 points of DeFoe's total.

Kennedy Back on Top

> Day 4: 5, 16-09 (20, 63-12)

Kennedy was thrilled to be back in the winner's circle after a lot of near-misses in recent years and the thyroid ordeal.

"It's awesome," he said. "I won't say it was ever easy before, but I'd kind of gotten used to winning one every other year or so with FLW, B.A.S.S. or whatever. I'd had some incredible final days, but I wasn't able to get the win.

"There was some frustration involved with not being able to get it done. To get it done here feels good."

He lagged behind Davis for much of the day until catching his big fish in the early afternoon. That bruiser took his weight from 10 pounds to about 14, and he made another small cull on his way back to the launch in the day's closing minutes that turned out to be inconsequential.

He planned to remain at Dardanelle on Tuesday and fish the gravel pit that surrendered the vast majority of his weight for the week with wife Julia and their two children. Then he'll return to Alabama and visit his doctor, hoping to learn that the twinge he's feeling is just a nerve or something else of a minor nature.

He had half of his thyroid removed in an operation in 2015 and will take medication for the rest of his life.

"I'd gotten a reputation as somebody who didn't practice as much as a lot of guys, but I had to try to keep from wearing myself out. Now I take a pill every day and I've gotten to the point where I don't have to take a nap every afternoon. It's basically artificial energy."

B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

Mark Davis knew he hadn't caught enough on day 4 to retain his position at the top of the standings.

He swam a jig and also flipped for fish that were sitting in the tops of willow trees. He was remarkably consistent considering the continually changing water situation, as he weighed three bags in the 16s and one slightly over 14.

Full details of his winning pattern, as well as those of the other top finishers, will be published in the coming days.

2nd: Davis Lacked a Big One

> Day 4: 5, 13-10 (20, 62-02)

Davis would've preferred sunny skies and falling water on day 4. What he got was just the opposite, and his offshore program suffered.

"I knew what kind of weight I was going to need when I left the ramp this morning and I couldn't come up with it," he said. "The conditions took a lot of my water away from me.

"I caught one good fish upriver where I've been starting, a 4-plus, but I knew I needed two of those. When I came back down, my offshore stuff had fallen apart, and the same thing happened to Jamie Hartman and some others. That water got so high, and when they leave out of there it's not like you can go hunt them up."

He was certain on his way back to the launch that he hadn't done enough to clinch his first victory since 2005.

He did his shallow work with topwater plugs and threw a crankbait on the ledges.

"I knew I needed at least 15 or maybe 15 1/2 today. Steve did a great job and I couldn't quite get it done. I needed another 4-pound bite."

3rd: VanDam Gave It a Run

> Day 4: 5, 17-00 (20, 60-11)

VanDam caught his 19-pound bag on day 1 from relatively deep water, but ended up pounding the shallows over the ensuing 2 days. When he saw how much the water had risen on the morning of day 4, he knew that continuing in the skinny-water mode was his best option.

"I knew it was going to be pretty hard (to win)," he said. "I caught a bunch of fish, but none of them were real big they were all 3s and 3 1/2s and I had one 2 1/2. If I'd have caught a 5 and gotten rid of that little one, maybe I could've scared some people a bit."

B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

Kevin VanDam's 17-pound stringer was the biggest of day 4.

He changed his presentations throughout the event to suit the scenarios he encountered. A square-bill crankbait and a swimjig were his top producers on day 4.

"I caught fish on more different baits in this tournament than I had in a long time."

4th: Menendez Pleased

> Day 4: 5, 14-13 (20, 57-09)

Menendez's finish was his best since his Dardanelle victory 8 years ago. He was 5th at Ross Barnett Reservoir earlier this season, but has three placements of 83rd or lower on his ledger.

He climbed from 72nd to 53 in the points race.

"I'm very pleased with the way I fished," he said. "I wouldn't take anything back and I wouldn't change anything. I didn't lose anything that would've made any difference in the standings."

He caught about a dozen keepers on day 4, the best of which was a 3 3/4-pounder. He lost one that would've boosted his bag a bit, but wouldn't have come close to making up the 3-plus pounds between him and VanDam.

His approach consisted of flipping and throwing a shallow-running crankbait.

"The water made a dramatic rise today and I was able to figure things out pretty quick. I just ran with it after that."

5th: Rojas Content

> Day 4: 5, 10-10 (20, 56-07)

Rojas dropped one position in the final standings with what was by far his lightest bag of the week, but was nonetheless happy with his overall performance.

"I'll take it," he said. "Hanging around the Top 10 all week, I'll take the points. I needed them."

He caught a limit of 2-pounders in the first hour of the day, but could never improve on it.

"It was tougher for me today they didn't bite the frog as good as I thought they would. I lost one big one that I know was over 4 pounds because I saw it, but that was all I lost.

"Everything else I caught were all clones."

Notable

> Day 4 stats 12 anglers, 6 limits, 3 fours, 3 threes.

Day 4 (Final) Standings

1. Steve Kennedy -- Auburn, AL -- 20, 63-12 -- 110 -- $100,000
Day 1: 5, 16-10 -- Day 2: 5, 14-03 -- Day 3: 5, 16-06 -- Day 4: 5, 16-09

2. Mark Davis -- Mount Ida, AR -- 20, 62-02 -- 109 -- $25,500
Day 1: 5, 14-05 -- Day 2: 5, 19-04 -- Day 3: 5, 14-15 -- Day 4: 5, 13-10

3. Kevin VanDam -- Kalamazoo, MI -- 20, 60-11 -- 108 -- $21,000
Day 1: 5, 19-03 -- Day 2: 5, 12-08 -- Day 3: 5, 12-00 -- Day 4: 5, 17-00

4. Mark Menendez -- Paducah, KY -- 20, 57-09 -- 107 -- $15,000
Day 1: 5, 12-05 -- Day 2: 5, 15-02 -- Day 3: 5, 15-05 -- Day 4: 5, 14-13

5. Dean Rojas -- Lake Havasu City, AZ -- 20, 56-07 -- 106 -- $14,000
Day 1: 5, 16-12 -- Day 2: 5, 14-01 -- Day 3: 5, 15-00 -- Day 4: 5, 10-10

6. Jamie Hartman -- Newport, NY -- 19, 55-04 -- 105 -- $13,500
Day 1: 5, 17-05 -- Day 2: 5, 14-04 -- Day 3: 5, 16-06 -- Day 4: 4, 07-05

7. Cliff Pace -- Petal, MS -- 20, 54-00 -- 104 -- $13,000
Day 1: 5, 16-03 -- Day 2: 5, 12-09 -- Day 3: 5, 13-12 -- Day 4: 5, 11-08

8. Matt Lee -- Guntersville, AL -- 19, 53-12 -- 103 -- $12,500
Day 1: 5, 13-09 -- Day 2: 5, 16-08 -- Day 3: 5, 12-05 -- Day 4: 4, 11-06

9. David Mullins -- Mt Carmel, TN -- 18, 53-03 -- 102 -- $13,500
Day 1: 5, 17-02 -- Day 2: 5, 11-15 -- Day 3: 5, 15-13 -- Day 4: 3, 08-05

10. Michael Iaconelli -- Pitts Grove, NJ -- 19, 52-11 -- 101 -- $11,500
Day 1: 5, 12-05 -- Day 2: 5, 14-10 -- Day 3: 5, 18-14 -- Day 4: 4, 06-14

11. Cliff Prince -- Palatka, FL -- 18, 51-04 -- 100 -- $11,000
Day 1: 5, 15-02 -- Day 2: 5, 14-07 -- Day 3: 5, 12-15 -- Day 4: 3, 08-12

12. Brandon Palaniuk -- Hayden, ID -- 18, 49-09 -- 99 -- $10,500
Day 1: 5, 13-14 -- Day 2: 5, 15-01 -- Day 3: 5, 14-03 -- Day 4: 3, 06-07