Brandon Palaniuk knows he’s leading the race for the Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year title. He insists that he doesn’t know by how much. His mindset is simply, “I’ve got a one-point lead – one point.”
In reality, his lead grew over second place from 18 points before the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at the St. Lawrence River to 41 points afterwards, despite Palaniuk’s second-worst tournament of the season. When your worst performance is 26th at Florida’s Harris Chain and your second-worst is 25th at the St. Lawrence, clearly you’re having a remarkable season.
However, that marked Palaniuk’s worst finish at the St. Lawrence, where he won in 2013 and finished in succeeding years 19th, third, seventh, 10th and sixth.
“It’s all about perspective,” he said. “I finished 26th at Florida, and I was ecstatic about it. I finished 25th at the St. Lawrence, and I feel like I got gut punched. But that’s because of the expectations I set for myself.”
After seven tournaments in the nine-tournament 2022 season, David Mullins has moved into second place and shaved a few points off his deficit to Palaniuk with a 16th-place finish at St. Lawrence. John Cox stumbled and missed a top 47 cut for the first time this season. His 58th-place finish at St. Lawrence left him in third place in the AOY standings, 51 points behind Palaniuk.
Fourth-place Brandon Lester remained there for the second straight tournament, and Drew Benton held his spot in fifth place again as well. They trail Palaniuk by 66 and 85 points, respectively.
The drama is more intense at the Bassmaster Classic cutline. As it stands now, there are four double-qualifiers for the Classic – Brandon Lester, now fourth in AOY and the Kissimmee Chain Southern Open winner; Kenta Kimura, now 14th in AOY and the James River Northern Open winner; Jason Christie, now 21st in AOY and the Bassmaster Classic winner; and Lee Livesay, now 38th in AOY and the Ross Barnett Central Open winner.
With those four double qualifiers, the list of Elite Series qualifiers for the 2023 Classic, which starts at the top 39 in final 2022 AOY, now extends to the top 43. That could change if Livesay drops below 42nd in the final standings. But no matter what happens with Livesay, there are a dozen anglers separated by only 30 points around that qualifying number – from 37th Carl Jocumsen with 411 points to 48th place Bill Lowen with 381 points.
And that doesn’t preclude anglers above or below those rankings making dramatic rises or falls in the last two tournaments of the year. Even this late in the season, there are significant movements in the AOY standings after every event. Rookie Jay Przekurat made a big move after his win at St. Lawrence, rising from 36th to 20th in the AOY standings. Fellow Elite Series rookie Joseph Webster experienced the other side of the coin, dropping from 29th to 47th after his 88th-place finish at St. Lawrence.
Noteworthy: Only four anglers have made every top 47/Day 2 cut this season. The first three are no surprise – Palaniuk, Mullins (worst finish, 45th at Chickamauga) and Lester (worst finish, 42nd at Lake Fork). Who is the fourth? Jacob Powroznik is 17th in the AOY standings with a best finish of 26th at the St. Johns River and a worst of 43rd at the St. Lawrence River.
- Matt Robertson was 75th in the AOY standings after missing his third straight cut at Santee Cooper. Since, he has finished fourth, 17th, ninth and 17th to rise to 15th place in AOY points.
- Lee Livesay has enjoyed a similar rise in AOY. He was 71st after Chickamauga. After placing first at Lake Fork, 39th at Pickwick and 29th at St. Lawrence, he’s now 38th in AOY points.
- Chris Johnston was 51st after Santee Cooper. Since, he has placed 20th, 10th, 19th and sixth to move up to seventh in AOY points.
- Kenta Kimura was 49th after Chickamauga. He has placed 14th, 10th and 18th in the last three events to move up to 14th in AOY points.