Palaniuk's roller coaster season

Palaniuk grappled his way through the ups and (mostly) downs of 2013

James Overstreet
Elite Series pro Brandon Palaniuk started the 2013 season on a high note after he managed a 2nd place finish at the Bassmaster Classic. Here he congratulates winner Cliff Pace.

The "baddest" rollercoaster in the world is reputed to be Kingda Ka at New Jersey's Six Flags Great Adventure Park. Kingda Ka accelerates from 0 to 128 miles-per-hour in 3.5 seconds and features a 418-foot drop — roughly equivalent to falling from the top of a 40-story building.

Brandon Palaniuk had a Kingda Ka kind of year on the Bassmaster Elites Series in 2013. There are other ways to describe Palaniuk's season of highs and lows.

"It was a hurricane, a hurricane of emotions," said Palaniuk, adding, "It was a perfect storm. It was a train wreck."

Somehow the 26-year-old Idaho native kept his ever-smiling face above the water and qualified for the 2014 Classic. It was some kind of year, all right — not one Palaniuk would care to repeat.

Briefly, it began like this:

1. CONFIDENCE ­— After finishing second to Cliff Pace in the Bassmaster Classic at Oklahoma's Grand Lake, Palaniuk started the Elite Season three weeks later more confident than ever in his third season on the tour.

"I walked away from (the Classic) with a ton of confidence," he said. "I fished the best I could have, and I had a shot (to win). I felt really good."

2. CRASH — In the narrow, serpentine Sabine River on Day One of the first 2013 Elite Series event, Palaniuk was headed toward the weigh-in site when he rounded a bend and saw another boat headed straight for him.

"I turned right, hugged the bank, and (the other boat driver) panicked," Palaniuk said. "He turned left and came right toward me. He t-boned me at about 40 miles per hour."

The bow of the other boat came up over Palaniuk's boat about mid-ship, missed his Marshal's head by less than 2 feet and slid off, leaving some deep scratches on Palaniuk's Skeeter bass boat and some men shaking in their shoes and thanking God for their lives.

(Note: Palaniuk didn't mention the incident, and no one in the media was aware of it until two weeks later. Compared to Mike Iaconelli accidentally putting his boat on the bank on the Sabine, which was widely reported, this story flew under the radar, so to speak, all season.)

New Jersey's famous Kingda Ka rollercoaster and Palaniuk's 2013 season followed a similar trajectory.New Jersey's famous Kingda Ka rollercoaster and Palaniuk's 2013 season followed a similar trajectory.
3. CONFIDENCE SHATTERED — Palaniuk made his check-in time that day on the Sabine; local police gathered everyone after the weigh-in to complete an accident report but Palniuk finished 90th in the tournament. That's 90th out of 100 competitors.

At event No. 2 on Falcon Lake, Palaniuk finished 82nd. He was in full crash-dive mode after Bull Shoals, where Palaniuk had won the year before, when he finished 81st  in April.

Palaniuk's season was all but over after only three events into the eight-tournament 2013 season. He figured that four top 20 finishes in a row would give him a shot at qualifying for the Classic. A 24th place finish at Georgia's West Point Lake — and his first check of the season — gave him some hope. But that was dashed when he finished 79th on the Alabama River.

There was no other way to make the Classic by late June: He had to win one of the three remaining Elite Series events or a Northern Open. Palaniuk was officially one of the longest of long shots for the 2014 Bassmaster Classic.