GREEN BAY, Wis. — It's a new day and a new leader at Lake Michigan in the Bassmaster Elite Series Green Bay Challenge.
On the first day, it was 2005 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Aaron Martens. On Day Two, two-time Elite winner Dean Rojas grabbed the top spot.
Today, the hot seat belongs to Idaho's Brandon Palaniuk, who has already won one Elite event this year on Bull Shoals Lake.
Palaniuk brought in the day's heaviest catch, a five-bass limit of Lake Michigan smallmouth bass that weighed a dazzling 21 pounds, 2 ounces.
It was also the heaviest catch by any angler thus far in the event. It moved Palaniuk up from fourth place and gives him 56-2 and a four-ounce cushion over Michigan's Jonathon VanDam, who had the day's only other 20-pound catch (20-12).
Palaniuk's big bite started on the second day, when he brought a 5-10 bronzeback to the scales to take the lead in the Carhartt Big Bass contest.
Today, VanDam's limit was anchored by a smallmouth that weighed 5-9 — today's best, but not quite good enough to surpass Palaniuk for the tournament lead or big bass of the tournament.
VanDam's catch came by drop shotting a 4-inch Strike King Dream Shot in KVD Magic (green and silver with blue flake). He's using a 3/8-ounce sinker and fishing in the same area that has kept him high on the leaderboard for all three days.
"I think my area will hold up," VanDam said, "but I'd like the wind to blow a little more. It helps my bite and I think it makes it tougher for the other anglers in the field to hold on their spots and fish them effectively."
When VanDam was fighting his biggest bass to the boat today, the fish was followed by several others, some of which were also in the five-pound class. He's hoping to put them in the boat on Sunday.
Day One leader Aaron Martens fell from second place into third today after catching a limit of smallmouth that weighed 16-1. He has 53-0 for three days. Dean Rojas, the Day Two leader, slipped to fourth with 13-8 for a total of 51-4.
With less than four pounds separating the top four anglers, this is one of the closest tournaments of the Elite season. Palaniuk could become the first angler to win multiple Elite events in a single season since Skeet Reese won two in 2010.
Jonathon VanDam would earn his first Bassmaster Classic berth with a win, and either Martens or Rojas could notch a third Elite title with a victory in Green Bay.
On the Angler of the Year front, the race continues to tighten between a trio of anglers. For Brent Chapman and Todd Faircloth, this tournament is over. They finished in 27th and 29th, respectively.
For Ott DeFoe, last season's Bassmaster Rookie of the Year, there's still a chance to add to his AOY points total.
DeFoe is in sixth place going into the finals on Lake Michigan. A few spots up or down tomorrow could be critical to his dream of winning the AOY title.
For now, Chapman leads the race with 566 points. DeFoe is second with 552, and Faircloth is third with 546.
The race will be decided in the season finale at the Oneida Lake Challenge, Aug. 23-26.
First prize in the Green Bay Challenge is $100,000 and a berth in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic. The pros also are fighting for points to earn a qualification for the 2013 Classic.
Those near the top of the points standings are in contention for a postseason entry and the 2012 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title.
The Challenge will continue through Sunday at Metro Boat Launch in Green Bay. Takeoff is set for 6:15 a.m., and weigh-ins will begin at 3:15 p.m. The Bassmaster Elite Series Family Festival will open at noon on Saturday and Sunday.
All Bassmaster fan activities are free and open to the public.
Bassmaster.com will provide extensive daily coverage, including daily streaming of the weigh-ins as they happen, real-time leaderboards, photo galleries, results and standings.
Saturday and Sunday, the Bassmaster Elite Series War Room will present updates from BASSTrakk, a catch reporting system relayed from the water, plus in-depth interviews and analysis. Hooked Up! segments will be presented Saturday and Sunday. Access is free to all Bassmaster.com pages and features.
Coverage of the Green Bay Challenge will air on ESPN2 on July 14 and on Aug. 5 from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.