(Sep 17, 2017 - ONAMIA, Mn.)
As the 2017 Bassmaster Elite Series season progressed, Brandon Palaniuk always had a sense that he was in contention for the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year crown.
But he never let himself look at the standings. He never even allowed himself to think about the race.
Now, he may never stop thinking about it.
The 29-year-old pro from Hayden, Idaho, caught 62 pounds, 3 ounces of bass to finish in 20th place at this week’s Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship on Mille Lacs Lake, Minnesota. That allowed him to finish 14 points ahead of Oklahoma pro Jason Christie and secure his first career AOY title.
“I didn’t know if it would ever happen,” said Palaniuk, who topped Christie by a final margin of 902 to 888 in the AOY standings. “This has been a dream of mine since I was 8 years old. I decided 21 years ago that this is what I was going to do.
“I just made up my mind that I wanted to fish for a living — and every decision I’ve made for 21 years has led to this point.”
Hoisting the AOY trophy was the culmination of a phenomenal season that saw Palaniuk record six Top 12 finishes, including a victory on Sam Rayburn Reservoir. The only time he finished outside the Top 30 in 10 Elite Series events was a disastrous 105th-place showing in the second event of the year on Florida’s Lake Okeechobee.
Palaniuk said he feared that finish might haunt him for the rest of the career — until he worked some late magic during Friday’s second round.
With only six minutes left before check-in, Palaniuk landed a 6-pound Mille Lacs smallmouth that proved to be his biggest fish of the event. He put the bass in his livewell and made it back to the weigh-in with only 40 seconds to spare.
“That’s when I really got the feeling that this was meant to be, and I think that’s why I was so calm today,” Palaniuk said. “When that happened, it gave me a completely different mental outlook on the whole week.
“It was like some light switch went off in my head. I think that’s why I went to bed and woke up this morning feeling like it was going to happen.”
Palaniuk spent the majority of the tournament using a drop-shot rig with a Zoom Super Fluke in the purple smoke color pattern with a 2/0 straight-shank hook and a 3/8-ounce drop-shot weight. He threw the rig on a 6-foot-10 Alpha Angler DSR rod and a Daiwa Exist 2500 reel spooled with 15-pound Seaguar Smackdown braid and an 8-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon leader.
But afterward, tackle and techniques seemed far secondary to his career accomplishment. The $100,000 he claimed with the AOY title pushed his career earnings past $1 million with B.A.S.S.
“When I first started fishing, I was running heavy equipment, cutting trees down and fishing local tournaments,” he said. “I would stash away as much money as I could during the summer from fishing local club tournaments. Then I just had one incredible year in 2010 when I qualified for the Elites when it seemed like everywhere I went in the country I caught fish.
“That’s when it all started happening for me — and that’s what helped me get here today.”
While most of the attention this week was heaped on the battle between Palaniuk, Christie and eventual third-place finisher Jacob Wheeler, the Bassmaster Rookie of the Year race was also decided.
Alabama pro Dustin Connell claimed that title by finishing 24th this week with 60-13. Connell’s closest competition — New York pro Jamie Hartman — had a tough week, finishing in 48th place with 41-7. That allowed Connell to win the ROY race by the thinnest of margins, 765-764.
“I set three goals this year,” Connell said. “I wanted to make the Classic, make the AOY Championship and win Rookie of the Year. Then, I also won a tournament (at Ross Barnett in Mississippi), so this has just been an awesome year.”
Unlike the first three years of the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship, a trophy and prize money was awarded this year to the angler with the heaviest weight for the week. The title of Toyota Mille Lacs Champion and the $25,000 bonus that came with it went to veteran Texas pro Keith Combs, who bested the field with 72-5.
“I’m a Texas guy, and that means I’m a long way from home up here this week,” Combs said. “So, to get to come up here and jack these big smallmouth with a big bait and a big stick was just an awesome experience for me.” The “big bait” was a 1-ounce Strike King jig in green pumpkin with a Rage Craw trailer in the Alabama craw color, which exactly matched the color of crawfish bass had been spitting up in his livewell.
Combs won the Livingston Lures Day 2 Leader Award of $500 for leading the tournament on Friday’s second day of competition. He also won the Toyota Bonus Bucks Award of $3,000 for being the highest-placing eligible entrant in the program.
Each qualifier went home with at least $11,000. Payouts from the $1 million purse were based on the anglers’ final standings in the AOY points race.
The second-highest-placing eligible entrant, James Elam of Tulsa, Okla., received $2,000.
Aaron Martens of Leeds, Ala., claimed the $1,500 Phoenix Boats Big Bass Award for a 6-pound, 1-ounce smallmouth he caught during Thursday’s opening round.
Grand Casino Mille Lacs hosted the championship.
2017 Bassmaster Elite Series Platinum Sponsor: Toyota
2017 Bassmaster Elite Series Premier Sponsors: Humminbird, Nitro Boats, Mercury, Minn Kota, Power-Pole, Shell Rotella, Skeeter Boats, Triton Boats, Yamaha, Berkley, Huk
2017 Bassmaster Elite Series Supporting Sponsors: Shimano, Advance Auto Parts, Livingston Lures, Academy Sports + Outdoors, Carhartt, Dick Cepek Tires & Wheels, Lowrance, Phoenix Boats, T-H Marine
B.A.S.S. is the worldwide authority on bass fishing and keeper of the culture of the sport, providing cutting edge content on bass fishing whenever, wherever and however bass fishing fans want to use it. Headquartered in Birmingham, Ala., the 500,000-member organization’s fully integrated media platforms include the industry’s leading magazines, Bassmaster website , television show (The Bassmasters), radio show (Bassmaster Radio), social media programs and events. For more than 45 years, B.A.S.S. has been dedicated to access, conservation and youth fishing.
The Bassmaster Tournament Trail includes the most prestigious events at each level of competition, including the Bassmaster Elite Series, Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open Series, Academy Sports + Outdoors B.A.S.S. Nation presented by Magellan Outdoors, Carhartt Bassmaster College Series presented by Bass Pro Shops, Costa Bassmaster High School Series presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods, Toyota Bonus Bucks Bassmaster Team Championship and the ultimate celebration of competitive fishing, the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods.
2017 Points Report
PROFESSIONAL ELITE SERIES
as of 17-Sept-2017
Angler Points Lbs-Oz
1 Brandon Palaniuk Hayden, ID 902 365- 1
2 Jason Christie Park Hill, OK 888 356- 4
3 Jacob Wheeler Harrison, TN 885 374-11
4 Jordan Lee Grant, AL 823 356- 1
5 Edwin Evers Talala, OK 817 338- 5
6 Casey Ashley Donalds, SC 814 336-14
7 Ott DeFoe Blaine, TN 810 348-14
8 Greg Hackney Gonzales, LA 794 343- 0
9 Keith Combs Huntington, TX 771 349- 1
10 Kevin VanDam Kalamazoo, MI 769 344- 6
11 Brent Ehrler Redlands, CA 766 343- 5
12 Dustin Connell Clanton, AL 765 348- 4
13 Jamie Hartman Newport, NY 764 329- 4
14 Seth Feider Isle, MN 750 340- 6
15 Gerald Swindle Guntersville, AL 735 334- 1
16 Aaron Martens Leeds, AL 733 324- 9
17 Bobby Lane Jr. Lakeland, FL 731 328-12
18 Mark Daniels Jr. Tuskegee, AL 723 337- 3
19 Clifford Pirch Payson, AZ 722 331-14
20 Todd Faircloth Jasper, TX 720 329-10
21 Mark Davis Mount Ida, AR 717 343-14
22 Russ Lane Prattville, AL 710 341-12
23 Luke Clausen Otis Orchards, WA 700 311- 0
24 Brandon Coulter Knoxville, TN 698 333- 5
25 Matt Lee Guntersville, AL 698 323- 9
26 Cliff Pace Petal, MS 694 334- 2
27 James Elam Tulsa, OK 685 337- 1
28 Randy Howell Guntersville, AL 680 331-13
29 Josh Bertrand San Tan Valley, AZ 674 329-15
30 Hank Cherry Jr Lincolnton, NC 673 316-13
31 Micah Frazier Newnan, GA 672 330-11
32 Bradley Roy Lancaster, KY 672 321- 9
33 Skeet Reese Auburn, CA 672 319- 4
34 John Crews Jr Salem, VA 672 311- 9
35 David Walker Sevierville, TN 668 305- 4
36 Alton Jones Lorena, TX 663 310- 2
37 Jesse Wiggins Cullman, AL 657 330- 0
38 Brandon Lester Fayetteville, TN 657 309- 3
39 Jason Williamson Wagener, SC 648 318-14
40 Steve Kennedy Auburn, AL 644 312-13
41 Michael Iaconelli Pitts Grove, NJ 642 324- 4
42 Jonathon VanDam Kalamazoo, MI 638 323-12
43 Kelley Jaye Dadeville, AL 637 315- 7
44 Dave Lefebre Erie, PA 634 318-11
45 Ish Monroe Hughson, CA 634 299- 7
46 Adrian Avena Vineland, NJ 627 321-10
47 Jacob Powroznik North Prince George, VA 623 298-15
48 Mike McClelland Bentonville, AR 616 315- 6
49 Bill Lowen Brookville, IN 610 305- 6
50 Brock Mosley Collinsville, MS 609 292- 0
2017 Rookie of the Year
as of 17-Sept-2017
Angler Points Lbs-Oz
1 Dustin Connell Clanton, AL 765 348- 4
2 Jamie Hartman Newport, NY 764 329- 4
3 Mark Daniels Jr. Tuskegee, AL 723 337- 3
4 Jesse Wiggins Cullman, AL 657 330- 0
5 Alton Jones Jr. Lorena, TX 454 238- 6
6 Gerald Spohrer Gonzales, LA 378 224- 0
7 Jesse Tacoronte Orlando, FL 373 234-13
8 Darrell Ocamica New Plymouth, ID 247 196- 4
9 Robbie Latuso Gonzales, LA 225 164-10
10 Tyler Carriere Youngsville, LA 210 197- 0
11 Skylar Hamilton Dandridge, TN 208 186- 9