BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — In September 2006, the last time the Bassmaster Elite Series stopped at Table Rock Lake, Brandon Palaniuk was a budding 19-year-old pro. An Elite Series career was a plan that would not pan out for four more years.
Fast-forward to the present. Palaniuk, now 26 and into his fourth Elite season, is a two-time champion. One of his Elite wins was in April 2012 at Bull Shoals, often regarded as a twin fishery to Table Rock Lake.
That’s why, despite his scant experience on Table Rock, Palaniuk could be considered a favorite in the April 3-6 A.R.E. Truck Caps Bassmaster Elite on Table Rock Lake out of Branson, Mo.
“From my Bull Shoals experience, I have a good feel for the way Table Rock fish move and set up,” said Palaniuk, who is from Hayden, Idaho. “And I have competed two times on Table Rock. All the Ozarks lakes fish much the same.”
“The Rock” boasts largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass, all fair game for Elite pros. The largemouth, on average the heaviest of the three species, are expected to be the pros’ main targets.
As in any tournament, much depends on weather trends. For the first two days of the April 3-6 event, The Weather Channel’s 10-day Table Rock forecast shows low temperatures at 33 to 34 degrees. Movement into the upper 50s is as warm as the air temperature will get. Cloud cover and winds up to 12 mph are predicted.
There’s a 40 percent chance of precipitation the day before the tournament begins; water running through the system can change the game.
“One time, the water will be high and dirty, then you come back a year later, and the water will be low and clear,” Palaniuk said. “The fish are going to position accordingly, so one trip to the next, you’re going to catch them in ways that are almost polar opposites.”
He, of course, has been keeping a close watch on the weather.
“They just had snow up there,” he said last Sunday. “With this kind of cold, fishing will be different than normal for early April. When I get there for practice (March 31-April 2), I’ll see it in real time and make adjustments to my plan.”
Exactly what that plan is, Palaniuk wisely would not reveal. He’s up against 107 other pros for the event’s first-place prize of $100,000 and an instant qualification for the 2015 Bassmaster Classic. The pros are also vying for points that count toward the 2014 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year crown and a Classic qualification.
Palaniuk did reveal that he expects many pros will turn to jerkbaits and wide-wobbling crankbaits such as the Storm Wiggle Wart, a 3/8-ounce, 2-inch lure that can run 7 to 18 feet.
“Those are huge players in those Ozark Mountain fisheries this time of year,” he said.
He said that spawning bass patterns, which played a big part in the first two Elite events held in Georgia and Florida, won’t be present at Table Rock.
“Normally, Table Rock bass spawn in April. This year, no way, unless it suddenly gets crazy hot,” he said.
Another young Elite pro, 29-year-old Casey Scanlon of Lenexa, Kan., has proved his prowess on Table Rock at least three times in as many seasons of competition: a win in April 2012 in the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open; a third place in the September 2013 Professional Anglers Association event; and a seventh-place finish at the October 2011 Bassmaster Open.
Among other Elite pros with good Table Rock karma: Kevin Short of Mayflower, Ark., who won the 2011 Open; Todd Faircloth, from Jasper, Texas, victor at the September 2006 Elite event with 50 pounds, 9 ounces; and Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla., who placed second in the 2006 Elite, behind Faircloth by 4 pounds, 6 ounces.
Each of its four days, the A.R.E. Truck Caps Bassmaster Elite on Table Rock Lake will begin at 6:30 a.m. CT from Table Rock State Park, 5272 State Highway 165, Branson.
The daily weigh-ins will take place at two different venues. On Days 1 and 2, the weigh-ins will begin at 3:15 p.m. CT at State Park Marina, 380 State Park Marina Drive, Branson. On Days 3 and 4, when the 108-pro field will be cut to 50 and 12, respectively, the weigh-ins will be at 3:15 p.m. CT at Branson Landing, 100 Branson Landing Blvd., Branson.
There’s no admission charge for any Bassmaster event.
ESPN2 will air coverage of the Table Rock Lake event on The Bassmasters, Sunday, April 20, at 8 a.m. ET and again on Sunday, April 27, at 7 a.m. ET.
The local sponsor of the A.R.E. Truck Caps Bassmaster Elite at Table Rock Lake is the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, www.bransonchamber.com.