The biggest key to winning the St. Lawrence River Elite Series tournament was finding better than average smallmouth bass. When you consider that the average smallmouth in these waters is heftier than just about anywhere else in the country, that’s saying something.
How did Palaniuk, who had never fished here before and who had no help whatsoever, manage to find the biggest ones? On the Sunday evening before Monday’s first official practice day, Palaniuk spread six contour maps of the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario out on the bed and floor of his motel room.
“I just looked for the largest spawning areas near deep water and the best smallmouth habitat,” Palaniuk said.
That area included the water outside Henderson and Chaumont bays off Lake Ontario. Palaniuk was undaunted that these places were more than 100 miles from Waddington, N.Y., where the weigh-in was to happen.
It didn’t take Palaniuk long during Monday’s practice to learn that he had made a wise decision. He found the bass on points and steep drops near those points in 20 to 35 feet of water.
For some reason, he didn’t notice many bass on his Lowrance graph in the down scanning mode while idling over these structures. However, when he tooled around with his electric motor, he could see the bass on his bow Lowrance graph set on 2D sonar. To help him spot individual smallmouths near the bottom, Palaniuk set the graph on 2X bottom scan mode.
“The bass were relating to sand and gravel seams on some spots and to boulders on others,” Palaniuk said. “The wind was pushing balls of baitfish up over the points. That’s what the bass were feeding on.”