Palaniuk, Cox continue blistering AOY pace

In a tournament that could easily have been a hiccup for either angler, Brandon Palaniuk and John Cox finished seventh and fifth, respectively, at the Whataburger Bassmaster Elite at Pickwick Lake. Six tournaments in to a nine-tournament season, neither angler has blinked in his quest for the Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year title.

Take a look at each angler’s remarkable results in 2022, from the start at the St. Johns River to the last Elite tournament at Pickwick Lake:

Palaniuk – 20th, 28th, third, 12th, second, seventh
Cox – Fourth, seventh, seventh, 33rd, 32nd, fifth

As was well-documented, Palaniuk and his wife, Tiffanie, were expecting the birth of their first child any day, with a due date of May 30, and Brandon was committed wholeheartedly to being in Rathdrum, Idaho, for the birth. However, that phone call never came, and Palaniuk was able to practice all three days and advanced through the Pickwick Lake tournament to a Top 10 finish.

Before the tournament began, eventual winner Brandon Lester predicted it would be a “straight-up ledge derby.” And it was. Of the 10 finalists on Sunday, Cox was the only angler who didn’t spend any time offshore. He stayed shallow, as he much prefers, and put together a remarkable week. He gained two points on Palaniuk in the AOY race. The margin is now 18 points between first-place Palaniuk and second-place Cox.

David Mullins remained in third place after a 16th-place finish at Pickwick. Lester moved up from fifth place to fourth with his victory. Both anglers are having what would often be an AOY-leading season to this point. Mullins has two top five finishes and hasn’t missed one top 47/Day 2 cut. His lowest finish was 45th at Chickamauga. However, he’s 50 points out of first place. Similarly, Lester has two top five finishes and hasn’t missed a Day 2 cut. His lowest finish was 42nd at Lake Fork. He’s 59 points behind Palaniuk.

Three anglers jumped into the AOY top 10 at Pickwick – Scott Canterbury, from 14th to eighth, Chis Zaldain from 25th to ninth with his third-place finish and Jacob Powroznik from 15th to 10th.

As for anglers rising up the AOY standings over multiple events, nobody is on a bigger roll that Matt Robertson. After Santee Cooper, where he missed his third-straight Day 2 cut and had his worst finish of the season – 78th – Robertson was in 75th place in AOY points. He’s now in 21st place after placing fourth at Chickamauga Lake, 17th at Lake Fork and ninth at Pickwick.

With the St. Lawrence River out of Clayton, N.Y., next on the schedule, July 14-17, Chris Johnston is an angler to watch. On July 23-26, 2020, out of Clayton, he became the first Canadian to win an Elite Series title. He almost topped 100 pounds of smallmouth bass in the process, finishing with a winning weight of 97 pounds, 8 ounces. After Santee Cooper this season, Johnston was 51st in the AOY standings. He has since posted finishes of 20th at Chickamauga, 10th at Fork and 19th at Pickwick to move into 12th place.

With three tournaments remaining on the 2022 Elite Series schedule, examples like Robertson and Johnston show how much ground can be gained over three events. However, Palaniuk and Cox are going to have to slip somewhere before anyone else has a chance at the Angler of the Year title.