Palaniuk lands victory on Santee Cooper
CLARENDON COUNTY, S.C. — Championships come down to decisions and execution — two things that Brandon Palaniuk mastered en route to amassing a four-day total of 72 pounds, 2 ounces for a dominant win at the Bassmaster Elite at Santee Cooper Lakes brought to you by the United States Marine Corps.
Notching his fifth Elite victory — his second in 2020 (the first at Lake Champlain) — Palaniuk earned a top prize of $100,000.
After leading Day 2, Palaniuk entered Championship Sunday in third place, just 1-3 behind Carl Jocumsen. On Sunday, the pro from Rathdrum, Idaho, added a limit of 22-11 to his previous weights of 21-1, 18-13 and 9-9 to edge Jocumsen.
“This one is so unexpected,” Palaniuk said. “Every single one I won before, I had a good practice and I knew that I would have a shot at the Top 10 and a shot at the win. This one came out of nowhere.”
Spending his tournament in Lake Marion, Palaniuk attributed his final-round success to a prelaunch decision to start in the mouth of the Potato Creek area. Having started there on Day 1, he had a feeling the area was ready to reward him again.
“I was sitting at the dock this morning and something told me to go try it,” Palaniuk said. “With the (warm) weather, the humidity, I felt like I could catch them on topwater, but when I got there, the water was dirty.
“I couldn’t get them to eat it, so I just picked up a 1/2-ounce bladed jig with a 4-inch white X-Zone Swammer. I had not caught a fish on this all week and I caught a 4-pounder and a 3 1/4-pounder.”
Palaniuk caught a lucky break that he exploited when he saw a big fish blow up just out of casting range. Idling toward the commotion, he spotted a brushpile he had not found earlier in the week.
“I tied up a drop shot and caught a giant (7-12) on 10-pound test,” Palaniuk said. “I caught my other limit fish on the drop shot, but I ended up culling them out later.”
Palaniuk’s drop-shot rig comprised a green pumpkin blue flake X-Zone Deception Worm rigged on a No. 1 VMC Finesse Neko Hook with a 1/4-ounce VMC teardrop weight.
Later in the day, Palaniuk returned to the Jack’s Creek area, which produced several of his fish this week. There, he caught two of his keepers by punching a black/blue laminate X-Zone Muscle Back Finesse Craw on a 3/0 VMC Heavy Duty Flippin’ Hook with a 1 1/4-ounce tungsten weight.
“I think it came down to versatility; that’s why I was able to have the kind of day I had,” Palaniuk said. “Without that big one on the drop shot, without those two I caught this morning, I wouldn’t have been able to win.”
Palaniuk overcame a Day 1 penalty of 2 pounds, 4 ounces for inadvertently making a cast with six fish — one more than his legal limit — in his livewell. Palaniuk self-reported the infraction.
“It went through my head about 47 times in the last hour (before weigh-ins),” Palaniuk said. “I kept thinking, ‘If somebody beats me, let it be (more than the penalty weight).’
“One of the things I say a lot is, ‘Control the controllables.’ When I do something like that, it bothers me because it’s something I can control and I knew this event was going to be so tough that 2 pounds is not something you want to be giving up.”