For some reason, said Brandon Palaniuk, he felt the bass were going to bite for him Thursday, the kickoff of the Diet Mountain Dew Mississippi River Rumble presented by Power-Pole.
Palaniuk, the first of 99 Bassmaster Elite Series pros to come to the scales, had just weighed what later proved to be the largest bag of the day: 18 pounds, 4 ounces.
“I caught a few big ones in practice, but never felt I was on anything solid,” said the pro from Rathdrum, Idaho. “I don’t know how to explain that, other than I had confidence that the bass I was after were going to bite today.”
On Wednesday, the eve of the four-day event, he had described his practice as “not very good.”
But the magic happened for Palaniuk, who at 25 already has a 2012 Elite win on his record as well as the 2010 B.A.S.S. Nation Championship title. He secured a 2-pound, 4-ounce lead over Kevin Hawk of Guntersville, Ala., in second place with 16-0.
Third place was taken by John Crews of Salem, Va., with 15-7. In fourth place was Clifford Pirch of Payson, Ariz., with 14-11. Rounding out the Top 5 was the 2012 Bassmaster Rookie of the Year, Brandon Card of Caryville, Tenn. Card had 14-9.
Palaniuk said he is doing “something a little bit different” than the other pros.
“I hope I can keep that deal to myself and that it pans out over the next three days,” he said.
Palaniuk had decided to go for a mixed bag Thursday, and all went according to plan. After culling up seven times, he ended up with four smallmouth and one largemouth. Each bass ran about 3 1/2 to 4 pounds, he estimated.
His one largemouth was his surprise of the day because it came from an area he had not tried in practice.
“You know you have to get at least 13 pounds (a day), so catching a 4-pounder goes a long way here. You need one of those big bites a day. To get two or three is what catapults you up toward the top,” Palaniuk said.
The young pro declared he was “looking for revenge” from last year’s Rumble. He started strong in that 2012 event, but fell out of the Day 2 Top 50 cut by only a few places.
“That smallmouth was a bonus. I caught it five minutes before check-in, right near the ramp,” Hawk said.
His Day 1 game plan was to invest the time needed to lock into Pool 7 along the Mississippi River. That decision paid off in more ways than one. At 9:30 a.m. in Pool 7, he had caught only one fish. He decided to lock back through, and left the area, only to find bad news.
“There was a barge in there. I turned around and went back,” Hawk said.
And he caught the other three largemouth he weighed.
The Rumble’s first prize is $100,000 plus an instant qualification for the 2014 Bassmaster Classic. All Elite pros are earning points that count toward securing a Classic berth and a qualification for Toyota All-Star Week, the postseason event in September.
Points also count toward the Elite season’s biggest prize, the 2013 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year title.
Going into the Rumble, Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla., was atop the points standings. Fighting for his first Angler of the Year crown, Evers has 25 points over 2007 AOY Skeet Reese of Auburn, Calif., and 37 points over seven-time AOY Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich. The Rumble — the sixth event of eight that determine the AOY — could shake up the points standings, or push Evers closer to glory.
Evers was tied for 26th place Thursday. Reese was in a three-way tie for ninth place. VanDam was in a three-way tie at 23rd.