BULL SHOALS, Ark. — Brandon Palaniuk may have $100,000 in the bank after his win Sunday at the Bassmaster Elite Series TroKar Quest at Bull Shoals Lake, but that’s not going to change his lifestyle. He planned to spend the night sleeping in his pickup truck, just as he has every night this week and during most other tournaments.
"It’s just easy,” said Palaniuk, who beds down in his covered pick-up bed near launch sites. “I’ve got power and a shower, and it’s close to the water. That’s all I need. And it’s free. A $100,000 doesn’t go as far as it used to.”
The 24-year-old angler from Rathdrum, Idaho, began the final round with a lead of 12 pounds, 13 ounces, after weighing in the heaviest five-bass limits each of the first three days. He had already caught his largest bag of 24-4 on Friday, when his final keeper, a 5-13, thrashed at the boat and sent a hook through his left pinky finger.
Palaniuk worked on pushing it through for 20 minutes, cut off the hook and fished another hour before deciding to come in early and have it taken out so he’d be fine to compete for the title. He got to the dock at 11:20 and went to the ER at Baxter Regional Medical Center, where Dr. Allen Jackson pulled it out. Palaniuk made it back to fish an hour in the afternoon.
“I’d gladly take another hook tomorrow if it meant another 24 pounds,” the second-year pro said on stage.
Third-place Matt Herren was then asked if he’d take a hook for a big bag. “Why don’t we just put two in Brandon and see if that slows him down.”
Kidding aside, the minor injury didn’t affect Palaniuk’s run to a wire-to-wire victory, although his final stringer was much lighter than usual. Palaniuk’s four-day total of 78 pounds, 6 ounces gave him a double-digit margin over Britt Myers of Lake Wylie, S.C., who had 66 pounds, 8 ounces.
The rest of the field was much closer. Myers outranked Trussville, Ala., pro Matt Herren’s four-day total of 66-7 by just 1 ounce. Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla., took fourth place with the day’s biggest bag of 17-11 for a tournament total of 66 pounds, and Brent Chapman of Quivira, Kan., was fifth with 64-7.
With his third high finish, Chapman took over the lead for Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year.
Palaniuk found his winning area in the west Sugar Loaf part of Bull Shoals Lake. The area held ideal spawning habitat — flat gravel banks and brush, as well as offshore structure with a roadbed across the back of the spawning pocket.
“The fish were only a couple of hundred yards away from where they wanted to spawn,” Palaniuk said. “It was a quick two- to three-minute swim from where they wanted to hang and where they wanted to spawn. I honestly had the best area in the lake.”
It’s a textbook structure spot, and one that other competitors in the Trokar Quest tried during practice. None had the confidence in it that Palaniuk did. The young angler found it on a lake map, and on his first cast to the spot in practice, he caught a 3 ½-pound bass. That validated his game plan and gave him confidence he could win, even before competition began.
Palaniuk fished deep-diving crankbaits – a Rapala DT16 in a blueback herring color and a Strike King 6XD in brown ghost craw. He fished them on an Abu Garcia Veritas rod with a Revo Winch reel in a 5.4:1 gear ratio.
“The DT 16 series is my confidence bait,” he said. “I caught my entire 24-4 bag on Day Two on that.”
A key to getting bites, he explained, was to hit the submerged rockpiles around the roadbed from precisely the right angle. The rockpiles were about the size of a boat deck, and a miss of 1 or 2 feet wouldn’t get a bite.
Palaniuk also praised his Hydrowave unit, an electronic device that mimicks the sound of baitfish, for triggering bites from bigger bass. “After I would turn it on, I would catch a 3- or 4-pounder,” he said.
Myers, whose previous top spot in a Bassmaster Elite was seventh, felt as if second place was a win for him after a slow start to the 2012 season. The weather affected his fishing Sunday, making all the difference to his tournament.
“It got really rough, and I made a NASCAR move,” said Myers who hails from Lake Wylie South Carolina. “I came back about 35 minutes early, because it was rougher than I anticipated. I might have won the tournament that way if Brandon didn’t make it back.”
Myers’ move paid off. He caught a 3-plus pound smallmouth right next to the dock, improving his bag by that critical ounce.
Myers’ key bait was a Rapala DT10 on 10-pound-test Berkley fluorocarbon line. He used a Pinnacle 6.3:1 reel with a 7-11 cranking stick.
“That was key, because I could launch that DT10, which was designed to run 8 or 9 feet, and I could get it down to 10 or 12. The fish were on the ledge. They were close to the bank but it wasn’t a bank deal.”
Herren said a combination of the water clearing and the level falling caused him to lose track of the fish. Saturday, with two hours left of fishing, the Trussville, Ala., angler located them again in the main channel. He followed up with that strategy Sunday, pulling in 75 using the M Series green pumpkin jig.
Evers boated his 17-11 bag by fishing any windblown point with a mudline, using a square-billed crankbait Xcs Excalibur 200 and 300 size.
“You could catch a 3-1/2-pounder on the points,” he said. “I caught a bunch, but just ran out of time.”
One of the youngest anglers in the Series, Palaniuk launched his career in the Elites with a win in the B.A.S.S. Federation National Championship in 2012. He finished in the Top 5 in his first Classic and was the first Federation Nation champion to join the Elite Series.
First prize in the TroKar Quest is $100,000 and a qualification for the 2013 Bassmaster Classic. Pros are also fishing to rack up points that count toward postseason entry, Classic qualification and the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year award.
- Carhartt Big Bass of the tournament, which paid $750, plus another $750 if the angler was wearing Carhartt clothing: Zell Rowland’s 6-13 on Day 2.
- Berkley Heavyweight Award of $500 for the best five-fish limit: Brandon Palaniuk’s 24-4 on Day 2.
- Power-Pole Captain’s Cash of $1,000 if the winner has Power-Poles installed on his boat: Brandon Palaniuk
- Toyota $1,000 bonus to the leader in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points race: Brent Chapman with 286 points.
- Luck “E” Strike Comeback Award of $500 to the most-improved pro in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year points race: Brandon Palaniuk
Elite Series competition continues next month in Tennessee with the May 3-6 Douglas Lake Challenge in Dandridge, Tenn.