Posted by Z3 MEDIA TEAM on 08/11/2013

Story by Matt Pangrac and Dave Rush - Photos by Dave Rush and Matt Pangrac

Waddington, NY – Brandon Palaniuk entered the seventh stop of the 2013 Bassmaster Elite Series in a precarious position.   After a 2nd place finish in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic on Oklahoma’s Grand Lake in late February, the young Idaho pro struggled throughout the majority of the 2013 Elite Series season, cashing just one check in the first five tournaments of the year.  

At the sixth stop of the season on the Mississippi River in Wisconsin, it appeared as though Palaniuk was on his way to cashing in on the “win and you’re in” Classic qualifying format.  Targeting giant river smallmouth, Palaniuk distanced himself from the field midway through the tournament, but he made a costly mistake on Friday, culling a bass in Minnesota.  As a result, Palaniuk’s entire day two catch was disqualified on the Mississippi, and he finished in 77th place.  

He came to the St. Lawrence River with a do or die mentality, and after several successful practice days, committed fully to making the 200+ mile roundtrip run to Lake Ontario to target what he called “an entirely different class of fish.”

Brandon PalaniukThe gamble paid off in impressive fashion.  On Thursday, he opened the tournament with 23-9 to take the lead.  He backed it up with another 21-5 on Friday to enter the weekend with a lead of just under 2 pounds over Rookie Of the Year leader Cliff Pirch. Still committed to making the run to Lake Ontario on Saturday, Palaniuk braved the windy conditions and was rewarded with a 20-9 limit of smallmouth to boost his total weight to 65-7 and enter Championship Sunday with a lead of just under 4 pounds over 2nd place finisher, Jonathon VanDam.  

With a Classic spot on the line, Palaniuk went to work early on Sunday morning, boxing a quality limit soon after arriving at his offshore location on Lake Ontario after making a run of over two hours.   Over the course of his fishing time, Palaniuk put together a 23-5 limit of Lake Ontario smallmouth for a four day total weight of 88-12.  He beat 2nd place finisher, Jonathon VanDam, by seven-and-a-half pounds to win the second Elite Series trophy of his young career, his first coming in 2012 at Bull Shoals Lake.

Ott Defoe brought in an even 20 pounds on Sunday to finish in 3rd place with 78-10, and Cliff Pirch finished in 4th with 78-6.  Rounding out the top five was Aaron Martens, who weighed-in 77-15 of four days of competition. 

The 5 Final Day Facts from the St. Lawrence River:
Tournament: Bassmaster Elite Series August 8-11)
Location:  St. Lawrence River – Waddington, NY  
Winner: Brandon Palaniuk (23-9, 21-5, 20-9, 23-5: 88-12)
2nd place weight: Jonathon VanDam (81-4)
Total weight separating 1st place from 12nd place: 13-5

1st Place: Brandon Palaniuk (23-9, 21-5, 20-9, 23-5: 88-12)
What was your primary pattern throughout the week?
“I was fishing long points adjacent to the spawning flats in Henderson Bay and Chaumont Bay (in Lake Ontario).  The fish were concentrated on a rock, sand, and grass mix out on long points where the natural current of Lake Ontario would push the bait up over the points.  The smallmouth were just roaming around those points.

“Without my electronics, I would have had nothing. I used every feature on my Lowrance. I would use my Navionics chip to locate the points and the drops, and then I’d idle over them and use the SideScan and DownScan to find the rock ridges that would run along those points.  I needed to pinpoint where the fish were going to be holding because I didn’t have long to fish.  Most of my water was 20 to 35 feet.

“Today, I fished for about three hours, but I think that I fished for a total of 13 hours over four days. There was a lot that went into it, but with those fish, when you got to them and you located them, they were ready to go and they were willing to eat.  The biggest thing was getting there and getting back in the amount of time that I had.  If I only had an hour or an hour-and-a-half to catch them, that was usually enough time to do it.”   

What were your primary baits and tactics?
“I threw a lot of bigger baits in practice, but it seemed like when you dropped down on them, the quickest way to get them to bite was with a small profile bait.  I was drop-shotting with a 3” Berkley Twitchtail Minnow in green pumpkin and Clear Silver Shiner, #2 drop-shot hook, and 3/8-ounce tungsten sinker. 

“The Twitchtail Minnow in particular has a lot of action without hardly any rod movement.  The tail section is so thin and the body profile looks like a minnow that it’s very easy for the smallmouth to eat because they don’t have very big mouths.  I soaked the Twitchtail Minnows in Gulp! Alive! Marinade, and that made a big difference.     

“I used 8-pound-test Berkley FireLine Crystal with a uni to uni knot to 6-pound-test Berkley 100% Fluorocarbon.  The light line gave the bait a lot more action and made it look natural. I was using an Abu Garcia Revo Premier 20 spinning reel with a 6’10” Fenwick medium light Elite Tech rod.” 

Did you have a key moment during the week? 
“The key moment for me was on Sunday night when I decided to go to Lake Ontario Monday morning to start my practice.  I went down there and had an incredible day of practice.  I stayed in my truck and practiced out there again on Tuesday.  I found two completely different patterns on both days and that gave me the confidence that there were enough fish down there and enough big fish that I could win this tournament.”

How would you assess your decision making and execution on the water?
“I really didn’t lose any big fish all week.  I did hook one today that I didn’t see and it felt like a big one, but there wasn’t any fish that I saw and knew would have helped me for sure.” 

What was the most challenging or surprising aspect to your week?
“The most challenging part was making the long run to the lake.  This morning, the run was great. I rolled up to my first spot where I caught my better fish yesterday, and I located the school really quickly.  I literally had three around 5 (pounds), a 4 pounder, and a 3 ½  pounder today by the same time that I was just getting to the area yesterday morning.

“That gave me a ton of confidence for the rest of the day and I knew that I only needed one or two more giant bites to close this thing out.  Going into the tournament,  I figured that 23 pounds a day would put me in contention."

2nd Place: Jonathon VanDam (20-9, 21-8, 19-10, 19-9: 81-4)
What was the biggest key to success this week?
“The biggest key was that my area had a lot of fish. I had a lot of other stuff to run, but I really stuck with it and stayed in one particular area. Obviously, you like to win when you get the chance.  All I could really ask for was that I put myself in contention, and that’s what I did.  There really wasn’t much else I could do this week.” 

What was your primary pattern throughout the week?
“I was fishing deep flats with isolated rock. Yesterday I caught all my fish on a tube, but I caught all my fish today on a drop-shot.  Over the course of the tournament I’d say that around 75% of my fish came on the drop-shot.  I was really keying on areas that were in 25 to 30 feet of water, but I fished as deep as 37 feet this week.” 

What were your primary baits and tactics?
“I was using a Strike King Coffee Tube in Dark Melon Goby and Watermelon Gold/Copper.  I also fished a Strike King Dream Shot on a drop-shot.  For the drop shot, I used a G.Loomis NRX Drop Shot rod with 10-pound-test Power Pro line with an 8-pound-test fluorocarbon leader.  I used the new G.Loomis NRX 872 with 10-pound-test Power Pro and 10-pound-test fluorocarbon leader with the tube.”   

3rd Place: Ott DeFoe (18-5, 23-5, 17-0, 20-0: 78-10)
What was the biggest key to success this week?
“These fish are crazy whenever you hook them,  and using a long 7’6” rod allowed me to hold it way out when the fish were close to the boat.  The extra foot of rod also allowed me to take up slack faster when I got a bite.  Every single fish that I had hooked for at least 10 seconds came in the boat this week, and that was key. I never lost one.” 

What was your primary pattern throughout the week?
“The first three days I fished in the river and I keyed on current breaks.  I caught my fish 15 to 30 feet deep on rock, and I targeted the front edges of particularly big rocks that were boat sized boulders.  The best ones had a really steep drop right behind the boulder.  

“Today, I went way out in Lake Ontario to places that I never practiced or seen before in my entire life.  I ended up catching all my fish out in the lake today.”   

What were your primary baits and tactics?
“I had three primary baits this week: Number one would be a drop-shot, number two would be a drop-shot, and number three would be a drop-shot.  Every fish that I weighed-in this week came on a Berkley Gulp! 3” Fry in green pumpkin.  I threw it on a 7’6” Fenwick Aetos medium-light action rod.”

4th Place: Cliff Pirch (20-11,22-9,17-4,17-14: 78-6)
What was the biggest key to success this week?
"Just figuring out that the fish I was catching were keying in on the perch was key.  The perch were holding in the grass, but I figured out that I could put my bait a cast or two outside the grass line and still get bites.” 

What was your primary pattern throughout the week?
"I mainly used a drop-shot all week in the river.  I was rotating through a few different areas throughout the tournament that were holding some really big fish.  I was keying on rocks with good current breaks behind them.  The fish were just positioned behind them where the food could just come to them with the current.  

“Hard bottom areas with a rock and grass mix was the deal for me.  I think my fish were feeding on perch and not gobies, I never caught a goby, but had plenty of perch so I was trying to match my colors to imitate a perch."

What were your primary baits and tactics?
Roboworm (various natural worm and perch imitating colors).

5th Place: Aaron Martens (20-10,21-8,16-14,18-15: 77-15)
What was the biggest key to success this week?
"The fish were positioning themselves based on how the current was running, so reading  the current was key for me.  Even out in the deeper water,  you could see the boils and the little seams the current made."

What was your primary pattern throughout the week?
"The first three days I used a drop-shot in anywhere from 10 to 40 feet of water.  I was using my graph to find the rocks out in the river and that’s what I keyed on.  Basically, I was fishing a Roboworm with 7- and 8-pound-test Sunline.  I had an 18” to 20” leader and 1/0 Gamakatsu drop shot hook.  I was pairing that with a River2Sea 3/8-ounce and ½-ounce weight.  I was switching back and forth between a 4.5" and 6" Roboworm depending on what action I wanted out of the bait.  Today, I caught some on a jerkbait, and some on a spinnerbait as well."

What were your primary baits and tactics?
Megabass Vision 110 jerkbait, Davis Baits X-wire spinnerbait, Roboworm  4.5" Straight Tail Worm (Aaron's magic, Aaron's Pro Magic), 6" Straight Tail Worm (Aaron's magic, Aaron's Pro Magic).

6th Place: Bernie Schultz (18-7, 23-5 ,17-3, 18-13: 77-12)
What was the biggest key to success this week?
"Just doing what I do was the key.  Instead of worrying about the deep off shore bite, I just went and fished shallower than most of the other guys were.  I have a lot of history here and know that the fish do live shallow as well, so just trusting that knowledge was a big deal for me this week."

What was your primary pattern throughout the week?
"I was fishing predominantly shallow this week, but mixed it up and went deep occasionally.  When it wasn't windy I could get the fish to come up on my topwater, but when it was windy I was swimming the swimbait to catch my fish.  If the fish wouldn't eat the swimbait they would at least follow it and show themselves.  When that would happen I would follow up with the tube or the drop-shot and catch them."

What were your primary baits and tactics?
Rapala Skitter Walk, Hildebrandt Drum Roller, Gary Yamamoto Tube, Gary Yamamoto Shad-Shaped Worm.

7th Place: Steve Kennedy (14-12,19-10 ,23-14,19-6: 77-10)
What was the biggest key to success this week?
"Figuring out the deal with the swimbait was the key for me.  I went out there and tried to do what you are supposed to do here but it just wasn't working for me."

What was your primary pattern throughout the week?
"I started out fishing a drop-shot this week on one area, but could only catch smaller fish.  I had one area that was a lot shallower that I had caught some fish on a swimbait.  I stopped on it the first day and lost some really good fish, and caught a few also.  The rest of the tournament I keyed in on that spot, and was able to put a little pattern together doing the same thing throughout the river with the swimbait.  I was concentrating on 2 to 8 feet of water, so I am pretty sure I was targeting fish that other guys weren't fishing for."

What were your primary baits and tactics?
Unnamed swimbait, Kinami Flash.

8th Place: Josh Bertrand (19-5,18-13,20-6,19-2: 77-10)
What was the biggest key to success this week?
"Being able to keep a tight line in the current was critical.  You had to be able to feel the really light bites in the current, so picking the right casting angle and drift was a big deal."

What was your primary pattern throughout the week?
"For the most part I was fishing shoals in 15 to 25 feet of water with a drop-shot.  That was a little bit shallower than I had anticipated having to fish this week, but it worked out for me.  I was having to pick really good lines to drift in this current up here because it was super swift this week."

What were your primary baits and tactics?
Berkley Gulp Minnow, Berkley PowerBait Twitchtail Minnow.

9th Place: Kevin Hawk  (19-5,19-0 ,22-1,16-5: 76-11)
What was the biggest key to success this week?
"Keeping a drop-shot in my hand was the key for me this week.  I tried some other stuff in practice, but it seemed like when I would pick the drop-shot back up I would get some bites."

What was your primary pattern throughout the week?
"I was concentrating on 25 to 28 feet of water and looking for rock croppings.  It was critical for me to keep showing the fish different baits in my areas.  If I made a drift and didn't catch a fish, I would come back through with a different bait.  I was rotating through about three different baits in the same spots to get the fish to bite."

What were your primary baits and tactics?
Gary Yamamoto 5" Thin Senko, Gary Yamamoto 3" Fat Senko, Gary Yamamoto Shad-Shaped Worm

10th Place: Chad Pipkens (20-4,21-12,18-7,15-9: 76-0)
What was the biggest key to success this week?
"Being able to run around and different spots was key.  I didn't have one area where I could just sit and catch them, so I was constantly having to adapt to the conditions and find new little groups of fish."

What was your primary pattern throughout the week?
"I was concentrating on little isolated pieces of structure this week.  Any little rock pile I could find outside of the main shoals and island were holding fish for me.  I was drop-shoting my fish, and just moving around a lot.  I would just run around and fish stuff for five or 10 minutes and if I didn't get a bite just move on. There are so many fish in this place that eventually you are going to run into a good group of fish."

What were your primary baits and tactics?
Poor Boy's Erie Darter, Unnamed hand poured plastic, Damiki Ghost Shad

11th Place: Gerald Swindle (19-9,19-13,19-2,17-8: 76-0)
What was the biggest key to success this week?
"I think concentrating a little shallower this week was key for me. I wasn't catching as many fish as everyone else, but the quality was a little better for me."

What was your primary pattern throughout the week?
"The biggest thing I focused on this week was fishing the strongest current in the river.  If the current would hit one of these islands, or the little rock shoals  I would fish the very peak of the current.  The current was literally ripping so hard that when you would hook one you would have to chase them down.  It didn't matter whether I was fishing the shallow part or the deep part off the shoal, you had to be in the strongest current to get the bites.  I was throwing a jerkbait up shallow, and then I would back off and drop-shot the deeper areas."

What were your primary baits and tactics?
Zoom Z Drop (smoke purple, green weenie), Lucky Craft Slender Pointer 110 (Ghost Sun Fish).

12th Place: John Murray (19-9,20-7,19-15,15-8: 75-7)
What was the biggest key to success this week?
"Going to the largemouth first thing everyday was the key for me.  It allowed me to get 16 to 18 pounds in the box early, and that really let me settle down and fish with confidence the rest of the day."

What was your primary pattern throughout the week?
"I was pitching in holes in the grass anywhere from 18 to 20 feet of water.  I had seen a big 7 pound largemouth in the area during practice, so I knew that quality fish lived there.  That gave me the confidence to fish for largemouth in the tournament."

What were your primary baits and tactics?
River2Sea Junk Grenade, Gene Larew Salt Craw.

A complete story will be posted soon.


Place PRO ANGLER Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4 Total Fish Total Weight
1 Brandon Palaniuk 5 23- 9 5 21- 5 5 20- 9 5 23- 5 20 88-12
2 Jonathon VanDam 5 20- 9 5 21- 8 5 19-10 5 19- 9 20 81- 4
3 Ott DeFoe 5 18- 5 5 23- 5 5 17- 0 5 20- 0 20 78-10
4 Cliff Pirch 5 20-11 5 22- 9 5 17- 4 5 17-14 20 78- 6
5 Aaron Martens 5 20-10 5 21- 8 5 16-14 5 18-15 20 77-15
6 Bernie Schultz 5 18- 7 5 23- 5 5 17- 3 5 18-13 20 77-12
7 Stephen Kennedy 5 14-12 5 19-10 5 23-14 5 19- 6 20 77-10
8 Josh Bertrand 5 19- 5 5 18-13 5 20- 6 5 19- 2 20 77-10
9 Kevin Hawk 5 19- 5 5 19- 0 5 22- 1 5 16- 5 20 76-11
10 Chad Pipkens 5 20- 4 5 21-12 5 18- 7 5 15- 9 20 76- 0
11 Gerald Swindle 5 19- 9 5 19-13 5 19- 2 5 17- 8 20 76- 0
12 John Murray 5 19- 9 5 20- 7 5 19-15 5 15- 8 20 75- 7