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 brush pile 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.”
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.”
Hailing from Queensland, Australia, Jocumsen took the Day 1 lead by catching the event’s heaviest sack – 25-8. He slipped to second on Day 2 after adding 12-7 and regained the top spot on Saturday with a 4-fish bag that weighed 12-11. On Sunday, Jocumsen missed his limit again and weighed four bass for 13-8 and tallied 64-2.
Each day, Jocumsen started by fishing a grassy depression midlake with a white Z-Man JackHammer ChatterBait with a white Yamamoto Zako trailer. He then moved to grass mats where he punched with a black and blue Molix SV Craw rigged on a 4/0 Owner Jungle hook and a 1 1/4-ounce WOO! Tungsten weight.
“The early spot kicked off like I had hoped it would today,” Jocumsen said. “It was cloudy and dark this morning and they were feeding and I got two good ones.
“After that, I went punching. The sun came out, there was a little bit of wind, everything was right. I had a few opportunities, I had the bites, I just didn’t put them in the boat.”
Cory Johnston of Cavan, Canada, finished third with 61-9. Spending all week in Jack’s Creek, Johnston turned in a consistent performance with daily weights of 17-7, 14-6, 15-3 and 14-9.
“I found the most fish there in practice, so I thought my best bet was to figure out what was going on in that creek day-to-day,” Johnston said. “I caught them flipping a black creature bait, a 3/8-ounce swim jig with a Strike King Rage Craw trailer and a black SPRO Bronzeye Poppin’ Frog.”
Palaniuk’s win moved him into 15th place in the Bassmaster Elite Series Angler of the Year standings with 493 points. Clark Wendlandt of Leander, Texas, holds the lead with 587, Johnston follows in second with 550 and David Mullins of Mt. Carmel, Tenn., is in third with 540.
Jeff Gustafson of Keewatin, Canada, won Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with his 9-7.
Bernie Schultz of Gainesville, Fla., took home $3,000 for being the highest-placing entrant in the Toyota Bonus Bucks program, and Brandon Lester of Fayetteville, Tenn., earned $2,000 for being the second-highest placing entrant.