UPDATE: Palaniuk's Day Two catch has been disqualified.
LA CROSSE, Wis. — Mighty bad weather Friday morning on the Mississippi River out of La Crosse didn’t put the hurt on Brandon Palaniuk.
In fact, the morning storm helped the pro from Rathdrum, Idaho.
Only three hours into Friday’s competition, Palaniuk had 19-plus pounds of bass to bring to the scales at the Diet Mountain Dew Mississippi River Rumble presented by Power-Pole, the sixth event of the Bassmaster Elite Series 2013 season. Combined with his first-day bag of 18-4, Friday’s bag — five smallmouth that went 19-3— was more than enough for the 25-year-old pro to hold on tight to the top spot for the second consecutive day.
With a two-day total of 37 pounds, 7 ounces, Palaniuk stayed 6-0 ahead of Aaron Martens of Leeds, Ala., in second place with 31-7.
Third place was taken by Tommy Biffle of Wagoner, Okla., who shot up from 14th place after weighing 16-0, giving him a two-day total of 30-0. Behind him was John Crews of Salem, Va., who with 28-8 fell one tick to fourth place. Fifth place was claimed by the 2012 Rumble champ, Todd Faircloth of Jasper, Ala., with 28-4.
Friday morning’s violent storm with lightning and high winds set back the Rumble’s launch time from 6:20 a.m. to 8 a.m., when B.A.S.S. tournament officials determined that the anglers could safely get on the water. The lost hour and 40 minutes shortened the competition day for everyone.
Once on the water, Palaniuk ran into instant trouble. Within the first 30 minutes, he hooked into, and lost, five smallmouth. He estimated all five were 3- to 4-pounders.
“That made me extremely nervous. I didn’t know if I was going to get another bite,” he said. “I was very close to spinning out.”
Instead, he buckled down to try to figure out why he couldn’t make a solid connection with the smallies.
“I did everything I could think of. I changed rods, I changed hooks, I changed lure colors. Finally, I realized there was nothing I could do about it. So I went back to the same setup I caught them on yesterday.”
Starting fresh at a new spot, the stormy weather actually helped him amass his 19-3 weight.
“It definitely made the bite better today, no doubt in my mind. The cloud cover, the rain, and even the wind blowing against the current, allowed those fish to be more active, a little more willing to bite,” he said.
On his second cast at the new spot, he boated a 4-pounder. Then he caught a 5-9. It was another smallmouth and his biggest of the day as well as the event’s largest bass brought to the scales by any pro in the entire 99-angler field over two days. He left the area with four that weighed about 15 pounds.
His next move yielded his fifth keeper, and a cull.
Palaniuk said he has a “milk run” of spots, and timing is the key.
“If you can pull up and cast when those fish are ready to feed, you can catch the big ones,” he said.
The leader said that a 6-pound lead isn’t enough of a safety net, especially with two more days remaining in the competition.
“If I had a 30-pound lead, yes. But you can’t have a big enough lead against these guys (the Elite field),” he said.
Palaniuk’s second-day success piled on the laurels. One, he was the recipient of the Livingston Leader Award, a bonus of $500 for being the Day 2 leader. Two, his 5-9 smallmouth became the leader for the event’s Carhartt Big Bass competition for a $1,000 bonus plus another $500 if the angler was wearing Carhartt apparel. Three, his 19-3 bag was the top contender for the Rumble’s Berkley Heavyweight Award of $500 for the best five-fish limit; Palaniuk actually beat his own Day 1 bag of 18-4.
While Palaniuk was targeting smallmouth exclusively, Martens went for largemouth. He brought five to the scales Friday. The 17-3 sack broke him out of a ninth-place three-way tie and pushed him into the runner-up’s spot.
For Martens, the storm relocated his bass. He spent about 10 minutes to find them about 100 feet away.
“I was a little concerned when I pulled up and didn’t get any bites in the first three or four casts. I fan-casted around and found them,” he said.
Within about three hours, he had the limit he weighed in.
“Then I went fishing for a big one. I caught about a 13-pound limit, but nothing that helped me,” said Martens.
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. Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla., led the AOY race going into the Rumble. The non-final tally after two days had Evers still in the lead, but losing ground.
The field was cut to the Top 50 for Saturday’s round. Those 50 will compete to be among the Top 12 for Sunday’s championship finale. The pros will launch at 6:20 a.m. at Veterans Freedom Park in La Crosse. The weigh-in, at the same location, will begin at 3:15 p.m.
Fans can watch the pros prove the richness of the Upper Mississippi River, the fishery named as No. 17 on Bassmaster Magazine’s “100 Best Bass Lakes” list of 2013.
The Bassmaster Elite Series Expo will open at noon Saturday and Sunday. The Expo features products of Elite Series sponsors, activities for kids, and much more. Fans can sign up for demo rides in Nitro, Skeeter and Triton bass rigs powered by Mercury and Yamaha engines.
All Bassmaster events are free.
Bassmaster.com will provide extensive online coverage Saturday and Sunday, including blogs, video and BASSTrakk catch reports from on-the-water observers, and live reporting form the Lowrance War Room. During the weigh-in, streaming video and real-time leaderboards will be available. Live recaps from the Toyota Hooked Up! stage with Tommy Sanders and Mark Zona will be broadcast on Bassmaster.com. Access to all features is free.
Coverage of the Rumble will air on ESPN2 on June 30, 8-9 a.m. ET, on The Bassmasters TV show.
The event is hosted jointly by the La Crosse Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (www.ExploreLaCrosse.com); the La Crosse Park, Recreation and Forestry Department; and the Onalaska Tourism Commission.