Palaniuk: Mastering Classic week

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Darren Jacobson
<p>Palaniuk looks on as Cliff Pace pulls up to the stage.</p>

As I prepare to fish the 2016 Bassmaster Classic at Grand Lake, I can’t help but be reminded of the fact that at the last Grand Lake Classic, in 2013, I was the runner-up to Cliff Pace. I’m sure that I’ll be asked about that fact more than a few times before the week is over, so I thought it made sense to think about what a second place finish means.

There’s probably not a one-size-fits-all answer to that question. For two different anglers, it could mean two very different things – it could be a confidence booster or it could be a career killer. For me, it definitely gives me confidence that I’ll be prepared to do well this time around. I know that the tournament is two weeks later in the year than it was in 2013, and I’m sure that the conditions will be vastly different, but in my experience I’ve found that there are certain lakes that just seem to fit my style and Grand is definitely one of them. Its patterns at this time of year remind me very much of the late winter and early spring fishing that I grew up with in Idaho. Therefore, I feel like every time I put the boat in the water there I’m going to catch them. That may not happen, but it’s the way that I feel.

Of course the hardest part of fishing a lake where you’ve had success in the past is going in with a completely open mind. Bull Shoals is a perfect example of how that can bite you. When we visited the lake in 2012, I won, but when we went back the following year at the exact same time, the fishing was completely different. I didn’t adjust and ended up 81st.

I haven’t fished Grand since the last day of the 2013 Classic, so I’ll definitely try the things that worked last time around. Maybe I’ll eliminate them or maybe they’ll be even better. If everything goes smoothly I’ll just pick up where I left off last time. It’s rarely that easy, though. They’ve had a lot of rain in recent months, and the temperatures look like they’ll be warm and stable between now and the tournament, so I’m sure there will be some twists and turns confronting our expectations. That’s fine with me. I consider building a game plan and executing it to be my strengths. That’s why I wasn’t absolutely devastated by the runner-up finish in 2013. Sure, I was upset when I left the stage because you never know when you’ll get another chance to be in contention at the Bassmaster Classic, but I never lost a fish all tournament that would’ve helped me. More importantly, I made adjustments every day, and even hour to hour, that helped me to catch more fish.

Now, heading into my sixth Classic, I’m at ease because I’m a lot more comfortable with the flow of the week. At my first Classic in 2011, I had no idea what to expect. The extracurricular activities like Media Day and the various dinners all consume time, and while I did well in the tournament, I wasn’t fully prepared for all of the other obligations. Now, I’ve learned how to balance it all so that I can turn those skills on and off a lot quicker, allowing me to maximize my focus on fishing. There are tons of photo sessions and interviews, and that’s all part of the game.

Of course the flip side is that I’m a known commodity now. At Media Day in my first Classic I don’t think that more than five or six writers talked to me all day. Now, especially after finishing second last time, I’m sure that I’ll be fairly busy. I’m trying to spend this time ahead of that event to prepare myself for the likely questions.

I also didn’t have any real sponsor obligations at that first Classic. Now, I’m fortunate to work with many of the best companies in the business. In addition to being a huge week for the anglers, this is one of the biggest weeks of the year for anyone involved in the fishing industry. There will be announcements and product launches, like a big one from Rapala. I’ve been using one of their new lures successfully for four or five months already, but I haven’t been able to show it to anyone or tell them about it because it’s been top secret.

Looking back at that first Classic, or even back to Grand Lake in 2013, it’s amazing to me how much social media has continued to enhance the experience. Combined with rapidly advancing technology, there are now constant updates for the majority of the anglers. That’s huge for the viewers and creates great opportunities for us anglers, too.

Along with my sponsor Cabela’s, we’re trying to build on that with the “Goin’ Fishing With Brandon Palaniuk Contest.” It’ll run from Feb. 29 through March 7. Just post a big bass photo to Instagram or Twitter with the hash tag #CabelasFishTales and you could win an all-expenses paid trip to fish with me later this year on a lake to be determined. Entries will be judged based on originality, consistency with Cabela’s values and the quality of the photo. I hope that I’ll have a Classic trophy to show the winner, but even if I don’t I promise we’ll have a great time.