'Prodigy' wins Angler of Year

Posted: September 28, 2017 at 2:33 a.m.

Brandon Palaniuk of Rathdrum, Idaho, worked 21 years to become an overnight success.

Palaniuk's nickname on the Bassmaster Elite Series Tour is "The Prodigy." He was a young, good-looking guy that came from the Rockies to establish himself as a major competitor in a predominately southern sport. On Sept. 17, he reached his sport's pinnacle by winning Bassmaster's coveted Angler of the Year title.

Winning the Bassmaster Classic and Angler of the Year are the most coveted honors in professional bass fishing. Some say Angler of the Year is the premier achievement because it reflects excellence over an entire season, whereas the Classic is a single event.

Palaniuk, who first qualified for the 2011 Classic, is now one of only 21 individuals to win Angler of the Year in 46 years. He said it justifies the many years of self-imposed sacrifice and deprivation to feed his ambitions.

"It's 21 years of hard work and dedication coming to life," Palaniuk said. "All the behind the scenes stuff, all the long nights sleeping in my pickup and driving down the road; the stuff no one ever sees, all of that pays off."

That single-minded dedication is the difference between the elite pros and aspirants that try to juggle fishing with a primary job and family responsibilities. As Palaniuk is fond of saying, people like him don't have a Plan B.

"You essentially have to live like a homeless person, a homeless person with a dream," Palaniuk said. "If want do fish for a living, you've got to do it because mentally and physically you cannot live without it. You have to have such a strong addiction to tournament bass fishing that you absolutely cannot live without it. You have to have it in your life to be happy. The rest falls in place."

Even among the Bassmaster Elites, there are several castes. You have the cream of the Elites, Kevin VanDam, Aaron Martens and people of that ilk. They win a lot of tournaments and have won multiple Classics and Angler of the Year titles. A second tier contains the consistently successful, including some title winners. A third tier is a constantly rotating cast of bit players that come and go relatively unnoticed.

"People think when you make the Elites that everything is good to go, but you still have to prove yourself at that level," Palaniuk said.

The number one criterion is to qualify for the Classic every year, Palaniuk said, and then you must finish consistently high in tournaments.

"My first classic in New Orleans in 2011 is what put my name out there," Palaniuk said. "In 2012, when I won at Bull Shoals, that concreted my status as being here to stay."

Arkansas was once known as a breeding ground for top-level pros because it has so many different types of bass fishing habitat. Palaniuk said that Idaho has the same bass fishing diversity. He merely adapted his home techniques to apply to other regions.

"The cool thing with Idaho is that we can fish every single technique, other than schooled up largemouths like they have on the Tennessee River in summer, That's the only thing we don't have," Palaniuk said. "We have all different types of cover, so there weren't a lot of unknowns to me coming into it. It was more or less fine tuning those techniques and learning when and where to apply them across the South and the East."

On average, western bass are so much bigger than elsewhere that western anglers are hard-wired to pursue only big fish. Their influence in that regard transformed bass fishing. Standard tournament doctrine used to be four keepers and a "kicker" fish. Now, you must have five kickers to have a chance to win.

"Coming from where our weights were always 20-, 25- to even 30-pound bags, it was normal for me to go out and try catch big ones," Palaniuk said.

The challenge for him is adapting to lakes that don't have those kinds of fish.

"One of the things I love most about fishing is that everything is relative to your location," Palaniuk said. "You can go to one lake where a 2- or 3-pounder is no big deal, but then you go to the Delaware River or Ross Barnett Reservoir (near Jackson, Miss.) where a 3-pounder is a really good one. It's the relativity to your location that allows you to get excited over a 3-pound fish."

This isn't the first we've heard from Palaniuk. I suspect it won't be the last, either.

Sports on 09/28/2017