Onstage, after winning Bassmaster's 2017 Angler of the Year award, Idaho pro Brandon Palaniuk thanked family members for their support. On the water all season, baits in the Rapala family of brands helped him catch the bass that put himself in a position to win.
"I've got to say a huge thanks to my family," Palaniuk said Sunday, moments before hoisting the Angler of the Year trophy above his head. "They've supported me all the way through [my career] – even when my mom told me I better have a Plan B and I told her 'Why, if I'm not going to fail at Plan A?'"
Plan A succeeded for Palaniuk better than ever this season, seeing him earn an amazing six Top 12 finishes in 10 tournaments – including a victory on Sam Rayburn Reservoir. His game plan relied heavily on Rapala® lures and baits by other Rapala Respected Brands. As weather and water conditions changed across the country from one tournament to the next, Palaniuk relied on several key baits to get bites, including a Storm® Arashi® Top Walker, Rapala Shadow Rap® Deep, Rapala DT®s, Storm Wiggle Wart®, Terminator® Frog and Storm Arashi® Spinbait.
VMC® hooks helped Palaniuk keep his bites buttoned up. All his hardbaits come armed with them and he rigged soft-plastics on VMC Weedless Neko Hooks, Heavy Duty Wide Gap Hooks, Stand Up Shakey Head Jigs and Ike Approved Rugby Jigs.
Palaniuk clinched his AOY win Sunday on Minnesota's Mille Lacs Lake, where he finished 20th and totaled 902 points. That finish earned him just enough AOY points to eclipse Jason Christie, who finished in 2nd with 888 points. Fellow Rapala Pro Jacob Wheeler was a close third in the AOY race, with 885 points.
"Who would've thought an 8-year-old kid from Idaho – Idaho where we're known for catching trout, and for rivers and streams – could make this happen," Palaniuk said onstage Sunday, after thanking his family and before hoisting the AOY trophy. "I didn't know if it would ever happen. 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."
Palaniuk, 29, first earned a berth to the Bassmaster Elite Series in 2011. He joined the Rapala Pro Team in 2012. He has competed in 89 Bassmaster tournaments and seven Bassmaster Classics. He has won three Elite Series tournaments and finished runner-up in three more. His best finishes in the Classic are a runner-up and a 4th place.
Topwater: Storm® Arashi® Top Walker
When Storm first released the Arashi Top Walker top-water plug last year, Palaniuk predicted he'd enjoy great success with it. "It's the best walk-the-dog bait by far now," he said at the time. "It's going to up my odds of putting more fish in the boat." His prediction was spot on. A Top Walker was key this season in both his late-May win on Rayburn in Texas and his 3rd-place finish on New York's Lake Champlain in late July.
"Every single day I caught a big one on it," he said after his win on Rayburn, his third on the Bassmaster Elite Series circuit.
A long-glide, walk-the-dog action, a powerful wake and a multiple-rattle sound combine to help Arashi Top Walkers call in the biggest bass from the farthest distances. They come in two sizes, both of them big – 4 ¼ inches and 5 1/8 inches. They feature four bearings that broadcast a variable pitch frequency, mimicking the sound of schooling baitfish that predators can't ignore. The 4 1/4-inch Top Walker weighs 3/4 of an ounce. The 5 1/8-inch model weighs 1 1/8th ounces.
Crankbaits: Rapala® DT® Series & Storm® Wiggle Wart®s
In placing 12th in the first tournament of his AOY season, a mid-February contest on Tennessee's Cherokee Lake, Palaniuk exclusively fished Storm Wiggle Warts and Rapala® DT® crankbaits. Below freezing temperatures on the derby's first day gave way to highs in the upper 60s by the fourth and final day. Slow-cranking channel swings and rock piles with a Wiggle Wart in the Phantom Brown Orange Craw pattern and DTs in Demon helped him kick of his season with his first of six Championship Sunday appearances of the year.
"In cold water, you want to just crawl a Wiggle Wart over the rocks," Palaniuk instructed. "When you do that, it looks just like a little crawdad, scooting and scurrying in and out of those rocks. The action and the sound of that bait makes those fish bite."
The legendary Original Wiggle Wart features an inimitable wide-wobbling action and rattle that mimics the movement and sound of crawdads. Crawdads make a better meal for fish in the spring especially, Palaniuk said, because they are bigger than newly hatched minnows and fry baitfish.
Wiggle Warts are available now in four new crawfish color patterns designed to help anglers to match local conditions: Phantom Green Copper Craw, Phantom Copper Craw, Faded Molting Craw and Brown Mustard Craw. The new designs will help anglers better match the hatch, as crawdad colors vary widely by species, water body and region.
Built from Storm's original molds, the Original Wiggle Wart comes armed with premium, super-sharp VMC® Treble Hooks. Designed to run to depths of 7-to-18 feet, the Original Wiggle Wart is 2 inches long and weighs 3/8 of an ounce.
Rapala's DT® Series of crankbaits dive fast to a pre-set depth and stay in the strike zone longer than any than other crankbait on the market. They combine carefully placed internal weights, a tapered fuselage and a thin tail to create the ultimate crankbait action. DT crankbaits are also available in new lifelike, seasonally specific crawfish patterns: Blaze, Delta, Mossy, Ole Blue and Rusty.
Rapala DTs were key for Palaniuk in another tournament this season also, his 12th-place finish on Arkansas' Lake Dardanelle in early June.
VMC® Hooks & Weights
With post-spawn largemouth on the move on Sam Rayburn in Bassmaster's May 17-21 Texas Fest tournament, two bait rigs armed and anchored with VMC hooks (Weedless Neko & Heavy Duty Wide Gap) and VMC weights were key components in Palaniuk's arsenal. In his win, he weighed four 5-fish limits for a combined weight of 93 pounds, 12 ounces.
And on a muddy, fluctuating Arkansas River in early June, Palaniuk moved into third place in the Angler of the Year race with a 12th-place finish. Key to his success were two VMC jigs dressed with a thin soft-plastic worm – a 3/16th oz. Stand Up Shakey Head Jig and a ¾ oz. VMC Ike Approved Rugby Jig.
Stand Up Shakey Head Jig
Although he conceded it "sounds crazy," Palaniuk caught all his biggest fish on Rayburn with the smallest thing he offered them – a Neko Rig comprising a 1/0 VMC Weedless Neko Hook, a 3/16th oz. Half Moon Wacky Weight and a 5-inch finesse worm.
"Every fish I caught over 8 pounds this week came on a Neko Rig," he said after the tournament.
VMC's Weedless Neko Hook features a black-nickel finish, a wide gap, 3-degree offset point, a resin-closed eye and a forged, long shank. It's available in four sizes: 2, 1, 1/0 and 2/0. What makes it weedless is a unique snag-guard made from two heavy-duty fluorocarbon bristles. VMC's Half Moon Wacky Weight is mushroom-shaped and features a long, ribbed shank designed to embed in – and stay put in – one end of a soft-plastic worm.
Unlike wire, the 50-pound-test fluorocarbon bristles guarding a Weedless Neko Hook are practically invisible to fish. They also protect the hook from the kind of submerged trees and brush that Palaniuk was fishing on Rayburn.
Palaniuk's confidence in his Weedless Neko Hook's ability to avoid snags paid off early, when he caught an 8-pound, 4-ounce largemouth out of a submerged tree on the first of the tournament's four days of competition. Without that confidence, he might not have tried a finesse offering around sunken trees as a follow-up to his Texas Rig (5/0 VMC Heavy Duty Wide Gap Hook, ½ oz. VMC Tungsten Flippin' Weight and 10-inch plum-colored worm).
The last hook Palaniuk set on Sam Rayburn was indeed a VMC Heavy Duty Wide Gap, with which he stuck a 5-pound, 15-ounce largemouth with only 24 minutes remaining before the tournament ended at 3 p.m. Keeping that fish buttoned up and into the boat won him the tournament.
"Without that fish at 2:36, there'd be a different dude standing up here right now," he said onstage after weighing the winning bag of bass. And that wasn't just hyperbole – the tournament runner-up caught a 6-pound bass at 2:30 p.m. to take an unofficial lead. Palaniuk's 2:36 p.m. catch gave him a 2-pound margin of victory.
Spies & Jerks – Storm® Arashi® Spin Bait & Rapala® Shadow Rap® Deep
About half the bass Palaniuk weighed in his third-place finish on Lake Champlain came on an Arashi® Spinbait in the Green Gill color scheme. Still more came on a No. 13 Arashi® Top Walker and a Shadow Rap Deep in the Haymaker color pattern.
"I caught lethargic, post-spawn smallmouth and needed lures to trigger reaction strikes," Palaniuk told Bassmaster.com after the tournament.
Although similar in appearance to a topwater prop bait, a Spinbait is a finesse offering you fish deep for suspending bass. And although suspending bass are notoriously hard to catch, Spinbaits command their attention like other lures can't.
"Subtle differences can be key," Palaniuk said. "When this bait falls, it's going to fall horizontal, and when it does that, it's going to shimmy on the fall. And that triggers a lot of strikes. That draws a lot of fish."
After Palaniuk determines a depth at which fish are suspending, he makes long casts to the area and counts down his Spinbait to the strike zone. He then reels it very slowly through the school.
Arashi Spinbaits measure 3 1/8 inches, weigh 1/3 oz. and comes in 10 fish-attracting color patterns: Hot Blue Shad, Bluegill, Blue Back Herring, Wakasagi, Ghost Hitch, Ghost Pearl Shad, Green Gill, Pro Blue, Black Silver Shad, Green Gold Shad.
Combining a horizontal struggle with a vertical fade, Rapala's all-season jerkbait perfectly mimics an injured minnow's last moments. Unlike a host of similar-looking jerkbaits, Shadow Raps neither rise slightly on the pause, nor strictly suspend in space. Rather, they combine a horizontal struggle with a slow vertical drop.
And while most jerkbaits follow a forward trajectory with each twitch of the rod tip, the Shadow Rap's action stands out. Not only will it dart side to side, but with the right action, you can make it spin around almost 180 degrees. And with very little effort, an angler can fish a Shadow Rap practically in place, positioning its flickering fade right in a fish's face. Featuring a metallic style body finish with textured scales, the Shadow Rap is designed to target bass and other gamefish in two to four feet of water.
The Shadow Rap Deep targets fish in four to eight feet. Both models come armed with three sticky-sharp No. 6 VMC black-nickel, round-bend hooks and are available in 14 color patterns: Albino Shiner, Blue Back Herring, Blue Ghost, Bone, Bud, Carbon, Clown, Ghost, Ghost Shiner, Moss Back Shiner, Olive Green, Purpledescent, Silver and Yellow Perch. Each measures 4 3/8 inches and weighs 7/16 of an ounce.
">See Storm® Arashi® Top Walker
">See Rapala® DT® Series
">See Storm® Wiggle Wart®
">See VMC® Stand Up Shakey Head Jig
">See VMC® Rugby Jig
">See VMC® Weedless Neko Hook
">See Rapala® Shadow Rap® Deep