Luke Palmer may have been forcing things during the first day-and-a-half of the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota at Knoxville. On Day 1, he tried to squeeze in every last minute of fishing time, and squeezed too hard. Palmer missed his check-in time by three minutes. Without the 3-pound penalty, he would have been tied for 29th place. Instead, he started Day 2 in 42nd place.
By noon on Day 2, Palmer’s situation had gone from bad to worse. A mechanical failure forced him into keeping things simple. Palmer had to move into a backup boat.
“I grabbed a couple of (tackleboxes) and a couple of rods,” said Palmer, who decided to make the most of the fishing time he had remaining.
As a result, Palmer caught the Mercury Big Bass of the 53rd Bassmaster Classic. It was a 5-pound, 13-ounce largemouth bass, which he landed about 2 p.m. Saturday. It was worth $1,000 as the Day 2 big bass and another $2,500 as the big bass of the tournament.
When he got back on the water, Palmer spent the remainder of Day 2 with one rod in his hands – a 7-foot Falcon Cranker baitcasting rod – casting one lure – a Norman Speed N Jr. crankbait in “Chili Bowl” color – on 14-pound Sunline Sniper fluorocarbon line.
The big payoff wasn’t immediate. Palmer said he went back to a bluff wall in Fort Loudoun Reservoir where he’d caught a keeper in practice and several nonkeepers on Day 1.
“I caught a couple of 17 1/2-inch smallmouth, then another one,” Palmer said. “I made a cast right next to that bluff wall, then my line started going sideways. I knew it was a big one, and it wasn’t another smallmouth. Then she came up and did that slow wallow. I couldn’t have put her in my hand any better.”
(Note: It would be interesting to know how many 17 1/2- to 17 7/8ths-inch smallmouth, just under the 18-inch minimum were caught in this Classic. There were dozens. And in a tournament where the average weight of the 484 bass brought to the scales was 2 1/4 pounds, releasing a 17 1/2-inch, 3-pound smallmouth was heartbreaking, repeatedly.)
Palmer, who lives in Coalgate, Okla., has qualified for all four Classics since he’s been on the Elite Series. He has finished as high as sixth place last year at Lake Hartwell. His 32nd-place finish at Knoxville is the lowest in his career. Without the late penalty on Day 1, he would have advanced in the Top 25 to fish on Sunday at Knoxville.
But that doesn’t haunt him. First place is the one and only goal at the Classic.
“Was I on the fish to win? No,” said Palmer, adding, ““I got to hold up a big bass at the Classic. That was a thrill.”
As it turned out, it wasn’t just a big bass. It was the Mercury Big Bass of the 53rd annual Bassmaster Classic.