By Todd Ceisner
Luke Palmer and his dad, Tammy, stole away for a few hours last weekend to do some fishing together. Pre-fishing, actually, as Tammy has a club tournament at Lake Eufaula in eastern Oklahoma this weekend and he wanted to get clued in to what the bass are up to. During their time on the water, Luke wondered aloud, “Is it just me or has this felt like the longest year?”
His dad concurred, but between working two jobs while he’s at home in Coalgate, Okla., and learning the ropes of being a tour-level angler, the 28-year-old Palmer seems to be juggling everything just fine.
“There’s so much going on that I haven’t had any time to step back from it,” said Palmer, who currently sits 23rd in the Bassmaster Elite Series points standings with one regular-season tournament remaining followed by the Angler of the Year Championship event. “Every time I turn around, it seems like I’m gone. It’s definitely been a whirlwind.”
And he’s loving every second of it.
He recently returned from a two-week stint in New York where he collected two top-40 finishes at fisheries – the St. Lawrence River and Cayuga Lake – he’d previously only seen on a map. Those results fortified his place in the standings and put him in good position to claim an invite to the 2020 Bassmaster Classic.
“That’s a big deal,” Palmer said. “I’ve had a couple slip-ups that aggravated me because you always want to be near the top of the standings. It’s been a learning curve and hopefully next year I’ll able to focus more on the fishing side.”
For now, the grind continues. Palmer is part owner of C&C Hardware along with his dad and uncle, and also runs a landscaping business.
“I’d really like to be out fishing somewhere right now to get an idea of what might be happening at Tenkiller, but I won’t be out of work until dark today,” Palmer said, referencing the venue that recently replaced Fort Gibson Lake as the site of the season finale later this month.
Palmer, one of 18 rookies in the Elite Series this season, summed up his experience so far as “different.” Raised on fisheries that feature mostly rocks and sand, getting to compete at grass lakes, tidal systems and swift current rivers has been quite an eye-opening experience.
“The schedule is very diverse,” he said. “There’s nothing around here that’s like some of the places we’ve been. Grass lakes have been a challenge. Same with the herring lakes and the lakes where you target smallmouth only. It’s a little awkward because if you do that in Oklahoma, you’re going to get burned. I don’t know what it is about them here, but you’ll catch them two days in a row and then they vanish for 20 years.”
As diverse as the schedule has been, Palmer has been able to maintain his footing. His worst showing so far was a 55th at Lake Lanier. He rebounded with a 33rd at Lake Hartwell then posted 8th- and 11th-place finishes at Winyah Bay and Lake Fork, respectively.
He pointed to Winyah Bay as the highlight of his season and rightly so.
“It was just a grind,” he said. “I was making a long run and had one area that I stuck to for four days. I didn’t want to expand too far because you can run forever there and my stress level was already through the roof because you do not have much time to fish to start with. As far as the mental game goes, it was a stressful week.”
He was also pleased to complete the New York swing without upending his season or compromising his Classic chances.
“I was really nervous about going up there,” he said. “I didn’t want to bomb. Just going out and fishing current and grass is something I don’t know how to do and I’m still not good at it. Hopefully I can work at it and get better next year.”
Another area he plans to devote time to is getting more comfortable with a spinning rod. Prior to this season, the only spinning combo he owned was an ultralight set up for trout fishing. He actually borrowed a few from friends for the St. Lawrence River/Cayuga trip because he only had two.
“I definitely need to get more experience with it. That’s been a big adjustment,” he said.
Wants To Finish Strong
Palmer said starting his season off with a top-20 (19th) at the St. Johns River was as important as any other tournament this year. It put his nerves to rest and he proved he belonged. Now, he wouldn’t mind a similar end to the season.
“It definitely gave me confidence because after day 1, I was like, ‘You have to be kidding me. Are you cut out for this,’” he recalled. “I don’t step out of Oklahoma much. When I won the ABA Nationals, it was in Louisiana, which isn’t too far away, but getting to that level and fishing against these guys is totally different. On day 2, I bounced back and on day 3 I had another good day, so that gave me a little more drive and made me feel I was here for a reason.”
As one of two Oklahoma residents in the 75-man Elite Series field, Palmer will receive his share of pre-tournament hype leading up to the Tenkiller tournament next week. Coalgate is roughly 2 1/2 hours away and he’s fished there a fair amount over the years, but much of his experience has come earlier in the year.
“Normally, the tournaments run February through June there because it’s so clear and it gets a lot of boat traffic in the summer,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun to fish and I’ve always enjoyed it.”
He’d like nothing more than to post another solid showing in front of what figures to be a pro-Palmer crowd and carry that momentum to Lake St. Clair for the AOY event.
“The momentum would be outstanding,” he said. “Fishing is a lot about your gut instinct and the mental game is so important. It would be nice to pull out a top 10 in Oklahoma. There will be quite a few people there that I know that I used to fish against, so that’ll be a cool deal. My dad and uncle will get come check it out.”