Winning an Angler of the Year title at the professional level in bass fishing is a career-defining moment; doing so more than once puts that angler in rare company. Idaho pro Brandon Palaniuk was able to secure his second Bassmaster Angler of the Year this season after also claiming the title in 2017, further cementing himself as one of the best bass anglers currently competing at the top level of the sport.
From the outside, it appeared that Palaniuk was in cruise control as he led the race for much of the season. A deeper look shows some trying moments. Several anglers made valiant runs towards the title in the final events after an uncharacteristically mediocre finish for Palaniuk at a northern event, seemingly in his wheelhouse as a smallmouth specialist, in the second-to-last tournament. Add in the birth of his first child, daughter Kora, in June and the season was full of tense moments and trying times mixed with celebration, joy, and triumph.
Vying For a Second Title
Palaniuk's mindset and attitude about tournament fishing are part of what makes him so good. He sets out at every tournament looking for a win and Angler of the Year is his goal every year.
"You always want to be in contention at the end of the year," Palaniuk said. "If you don't, why would you want to be fishing at this level?"
His approach to fishing is all about wins and Angler of the Year titles. Interestingly, he never looks at the standings and is only aware that he's leading because others tell him. Palaniuk never knows how much he's ahead or behind in the points race.
"For me, every win or Angler of the Year title is a milestone and proves that previous ones weren't lucky," he said. "I don't want to know the points because they could affect how I fish. My mindset is to fish for the win; it's the only way I know how to."
During the 2017 Bassmaster Elite Series season, Palaniuk started with a near dead-last finish in the second tournament with a 105th place position to kick off the season at Florida's Lake Okeechobee. He rallied back to claim the Angler of the Year title. Because of this, he believes his 2022 triumph was more difficult.
"In 2017, I was digging myself out of a hole all year long. That tournament on Okeechobee was so bad for me that I could have skipped it and saved the expenses it took to show up," he said. "I was constantly behind and trying to play catch-up and was the underdog all year. Knowing I was on top this year, there was much more pressure because everyone was coming for me."
Taking the Angler of the Year Lead and Kora's Arrival
The season's fifth event was on Tennessee's Lake Chickamauga, and Palaniuk scored a 12th-place finish to take over the Angler of the Year lead. One event later, he finished 2nd at Lake Fork, Texas. His wife, Tiffanie, was due at any moment and Brandon was on an incredible streak of good finishes.
He kept the momentum, finished 7th at Alabama's Pickwick Lake after the due date, and had every excuse to be distracted, but he wasn't.
"In an odd way, everything that was going on helped me," said Palaniuk. "I perform my best in the face of chaos when a lot is going on. There's no time to second-guess your decisions in those times, which transferred to the water. I was hyper-focused on everything I was doing with my fishing."
Kora was born and both she and Tiffanie were healthy, and Palaniuk was able to spend time with them during the break in the season before the tour headed north, with Palaniuk firmly in control of the Angler of the Year Race.
The Northern Swing
With the Angler of the Year lead in hand and a new baby in tow, the Palaniuks headed to New York's St. Lawrence River. This was the site of his 2013 win and he was one of the favorites to win.
He did well, finishing 25th before heading to the next event on South Dakota's Lake Oahe. This is where Palaniuk finished a season-low 66th, which made things interesting.
"I knew I hadn't completely blown it because they said I was still leading, but I knew I missed a good chance to put it away," he said. "I knew that had made the last event on the Mississippi River a lot more important and much more stressful. I didn't know how many points I was ahead, so I knew my only way to guarantee it was to try for the win."
While he didn't win, he did enough with a 25th-place finish to best Tennessee's Brandon Lester by 16 points.
The final three tournament stretch was a success for Brandon on the water and Kora, who got her first experience on the road as part of the Bassmaster Elite Series family.
"There haven't been many changes in our life with Kora except that we can't drive quite as far in a day as we used to," he said. "Tiff and I are on the same page and we're incorporating her into our lifestyle on the road. Even though we are still traveling to all the events together, there's still a level of consistency because we stay in our RV and there are the same sounds and smells, so we've been fortunate because the transition has not been difficult. She's now spent more time on the road with us than at home."
Difference Makers in Palaniuk's AOY Season
Looking back at the year's events that took him from Florida to Wisconsin, with plenty of other locales in between, Palaniuk relied on many different fishing conditions and techniques. Two themes among the various fisheries were Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon and Smackdown braided line.
"I can look back and think of fish I caught cranking with 12 lb. on Lake Fork, fishing for bedding fish on Santee Cooper or fishing a big spoon on Pickwick with 22 lb. and everything in between," Palaniuk says. "Fluorocarbon is my go-to line and Tatsu is my go-to fluorocarbon. The double structure line has an incredible strength-to-diameter ratio. It's also smooth and supple, so you can have the best strength and not sacrifice any manageability."
A noted spinning rod fanatic, Palaniuk shares that he caught fish at every event this season on a drop-shot rig.
"At each event, I had at least one bass I caught on a drop-shot in my livewell," he said. "I may not have weighed every single one, but the technique was a big player. I caught all those fish with 15 lb. Seaguar Smackdown Flash Green braid and a leader of 8 or 10 lb. Gold Label fluorocarbon. I've used the braid since it was released, the same with Gold Label. I love how strong Gold Label is and how you can drop down a size because the diameter is so thin."
After another incredible season, Brandon Palaniuk is the Bassmaster Elite Series Angler of the Year. His season was full of trying times and the birth of a new child, but he persevered and became a two-time winner of one of the sport's most coveted trophies.