The young champion says he depends heavily on his Humminbird electronics and LakeMaster charts to find and catch bass all over the nation.
By Greg Arens
When a kid dreams of hitting the home run that wins the World Series, then grows up and actually does it, where is "up" from there?
The same question applies to Brandon Palaniuk in the world of professional bass fishing. As an 8-year old boy catching trout in his home state of Idaho, young Brandon had a very specific quest: To rise to highest ranks in B.A.S.S. and become the best-of-the-best.
At the 2017 AOY Championship on Lake Mille Lacs, Palaniuk achieved his boyhood dream. His 62+ pounds of Minnesota smallmouth secured him as the points leader to make Brandon the Toyota Bassmaster Elite Series Angler of the Year.
So where is "up" from here? For Palaniuk, the answer is as simple as an answer can be. "My approach is still the same, in fact it's strengthened, and that's to fish the Elites a tournament at a time, a day at a time, a cast at a time, with the belief that I can win it."
Concentrating his winning attitude down to each individual cast is what keeps Brandon Palaniuk focused on the moment. "You can't win by blind casting. When I'm out there, it's about locating bass that I KNOW are there, positioning my boat for a perfect presentation, and making a precise cast to trigger strikes from the fish I've targeted."
Palaniuk taps technology to its fullest extent to execute this strategy. "It all starts by investigating my LakeMaster chart for the water we're fishing, and identifying key structures," he explains. "From there, my Humminbird HELIX 12 shows me if there are bass on the spots, how big they are, how they're relating to the structure, everything. I won't make a cast until I see the fish I want to catch."
Brandon attributes MEGA Imaging for making it possible to target ideal structure, specific schools or even individual fish. His performance at Mille Lacs is a clear example of this. With MEGA Side Imaging and Humminbird 360 Imaging he was able to locate big boulders and see the quality and exact locations of fish using the boulders for cover. "I knew that on every cast I was putting the bait right in a smallmouth's face."
Palaniuk's 2017 victory at Sam Rayburn is a another case study. "My HELIX 12s found brush piles that other guys drove right past with their sonar units. During practice I stacked up tons of waypoints on brush that held good fish, and during the tournament I was able to go back, see where the bass were on the piles, and smash them."
After using technology to find fish, Palaniuk credits another technological innovation for helping him catch them. "Boat control is critical for picking a school apart after I find them, and the trolling motor I ran in 2017 was a huge part of my AOY success for the year."
Brandon's trolling motor is the Minn Kota Ultrex, and the control he references is the feature that virtually every bass angler is talking about: Spot-Lock. "Whether it was on Mille Lacs boulders or Sam Rayburn brush piles, hitting Spot-Lock to keep me automatically glued in one position was the key to making cast after cast to active bass."
Spot-Lock allows Palaniuk to fight fish, land them and cull without having to operate the trolling motor to stay in position. "I almost felt sorry for the guys not running an Ultrex. I'd see them hook up and then get blown 100 yards off while they dealt with the fish. Then they'd have to fire up the big motor to get back to the waypoint. That's a lot of time spent NOT fishing. Like I said, I almost felt sorry for them."
Another way Ultrex helped Brandon control his boat toward an AOY victory was through power steering. "The ease of driving this Minn Kota is such a big contributor to efficient and productive fishing. First of all, that leg and muscle fatigue after a long day on the foot control is gone because you're not fighting the motor anymore. You set it on a line and the prop torque doesn't affect it and twist you off course. Even when navigating through heavy grass - it just chops right through and doesn't fight the pedal. You combine that with the big power and fast turning response and nothing gives you more control in the thick stuff like an Ultrex."
With AOY checked off his bucket list, Brandon is the first to admit that defending the title is his goal. To do so, he believes he'll need to win at Lake Martin, Ala. in February. His game plan? Study the LakeMaster chart, find fish with his SOLIX 12s, stay on them with the Minn Kota Ultrex, and catch them one cast at a time.