By Jonathan Manteuffel
Special to BassFan
Looking back, Lake Champlain Bassmaster Elite Series winner Brandon Palaniuk wishes he hadn’t kept a couple of largemouths for the weigh-in scales.
“They weren’t much bigger than the smallmouths I culled,” he said. “It would have been cool to win with all smallmouths.”
Lake Champlain multi-day tournaments are not often won with all of one species or the other. The frequent situation is an angler brings in a nice bag of smallmouths anchored by a big largemouth or two, or a bag of mostly largemouths that includes a limit-filler smallmouth or two.
Palaniuk is a fierce competitor so he kept the two largemouths for the few ounces gained, to assure himself every advantage at a venue where outcomes are often determined by ounces. He ended up winning by a margin of 1-03 over runner-up Seth Feider.
Here’s how it all played out.
Under cloudy and windy conditions in practice, Palaniuk found a good number of areas that he felt had the potential to produce during competition. Some were places he knew from previous visits while others were new. All of them had the right combination of rocks, bait, and bass that he either saw on his graph or caught to verify that the size was right.
His Humminbird MEGA 360 Imaging unit was a key component of his scouting efforts, as he could identify active versus barren areas just by electronically looking around, and do some experimentation to see how the fish that he saw on his electronics would respond to his lure presentations.
“I had so many places I found in practice that I knew I couldn’t fish them all in one day,” he said. “One of my biggest hurdles was going to be to try not to fish them all or I’d fish too fast.”
> Day 1: 5, 19-12
> Day 2: 5, 18-10
> Day 3: 5, 20-05
> Day 4: 5, 21-06
> Total = 20, 80-01
Palaniuk started out strong, piling up enough weight to land in 8th place at the conclusion of day 1.
“I had so many places I wasn’t sure where to start,” he said. “I picked a place I felt had healthier (heavier) fish on it, and I caught 17 or 18 pounds in the first hour.
“That allowed me to move around freely and check other things from practice. I dialed into which areas were holding bigger fish and how they set up."
He weighed all smallmouths on day 1.
Day 2 was his toughest day. “I didn’t get as many big bites, had to grind it out,” he noted. “The bait had moved, and I had to fish more places to get my weight.”
That was his lightest bag of the tournament and it dropped him to a tie for 10th (officially 11th due to the tiebreaking system in which the heaviest one-day bag gets the advantage). Again, he weighed all smallmouths.
The sunny, calm conditions that prevailed on day 2 continued on day 3.
“I started in the same place as I did (on day 2), and caught a few,” he said. “Then I expanded on that area, using the Humminbird MEGA 360 Imaging to find rock veins and a few sweet spots that weren’t getting as much (fishing) pressure.
“I think the pressure might have pushed them to those out-of-the-way spots,” he added. “I moved around near the end of the day and caught a couple largemouths (one on a Neko rig and one on a glide bait) that culled up just ounces. Those were the only two largemouths I weighed all week.”
His day-3 effort pushed him back into the Top 10 at 5th place, enabling him to make a run for the win the next day.
Palaniuk caught the majority of his fish on a dropshot rig.
Day 4 was a magical, though blustery day for Palaniuk. He put on a gleeful clinic for about 90 minutes in the afternoon, catching bass after bass in the 4-pound range. “Every boulder I saw on the MEGA 360 had fish on it,” he said. “The wind that morning pushed the bait up and the (bass) followed them. Those were not resident fish, but had moved with (the bait).”
He followed the bass that followed the bait that followed the wind, catching them in 20 to 32 feet of water. Most of the fish were fooled by an X-Zone Finesse Slammer on a dropshot rig.
“(That bait) floats which gives it a horizontal presentation, and the flat body gives it the right action without having to work it much at all,” he said. “(On day 4) they hit it immediately, as soon as it got close to them.
“When the wind blows bait into that kind of area, the smallmouth get set up on high places and boulders where they feed,” he noted. “I was able to catch a little bigger fish and they were more willing to bite.”
So willing that he sacked up his best bag of the tournament, enabling him to collect his fourth blue Elite Series trophy.
Winning Gear Notes
> Dropshot gear: 6'10" medium-action Alpha Angler DSR rod, Daiwa Exist 3000 spinning reel, 15-pound Seaguar Smackdown flash green braid (main linke), 8-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon leader (about 15 feet), 3/8-ounce VMC tungsten dropshot weight about 12 to 18 inches below either a No. 44 VMC Neko hook or No. 2 VMC dropshot hook, X-Zone Finesse Slammer (green pumpkin/blue flake or big limit).
> He fished the Slammer threaded onto the Neko hook the first 2 days, then went to a nose-hooked approach on the dropshot hook for the last 2 days.
> Neko rig gear: 7' medium-action Alpha Angler Wrench rod, same reel and line, 3/16-ounce half-moon VMC wacky weight, No. 11 weedless VMC Neko hook, VMC Crossover ring, X-Zone MB Fat Finesse Worm (summer craw)
> Glide bait gear: 7'9" extra-heavy Alpha Angler Wide-Glide rod, Daiwa Zillion HD casting reel (7.3:1 ratio), 25-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon, Storm Arashi Glide Bait (oikawa mesu).