If you’re a bass angler who wants a fast track to greatness, I can’t think of a better head-start than the bass club circuit of the B.A.S.S. Nation.
I’m living proof. If I had taken my own advice, I wouldn’t be developmentally delayed in my fish-finding/fish-catching capabilities.
Brandon Palaniuk is even better living proof. After winning the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship in 2010, he seemingly burst onto the pro scene by finishing fourth in the 2011 Bassmaster Classic in New Orleans, which is a world away, geographically as well as geologically, from his home in the Idaho panhandle. Just 23 years old, Palaniuk boated more than 55 pounds of bass that week.
Seven seasons later, and still shy of his 30th birthday, Palaniuk achieved a lifelong dream by winning the 2017 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year title. In doing so, he joins a notable list of AOY title holders who got their starts as B.A.S.S. club fishermen, including Denny Brauer, Kevin VanDam and Mike Iaconelli.
Palaniuk is a vocal promoter of the B.A.S.S. Nation and practices what he preaches. He still pays his B.A.S.S. club dues and fishes Idaho Panhandle Bass Anglers club tournaments when he has the chance.
He is eternally indebted to a club fisherman who took him bass fishing the first time.
“He took me out in an old 195 VX Skeeter, green, purple and silver, with a 200 V Max,” he recalls as if it were last week. “When I found out there was a thing such as targeting a specific species — bass — I was all in.
“That one day literally changed my life. If he hadn’t taken me out that day, who knows what I would be doing now?”
Palaniuk is adamant that the best route for someone wanting to get into professional bass fishing is through the B.A.S.S. Nation.
“It’s the most opportunity at the best price,” he said. “And now the Top 3 Nation guys are getting boat and truck deals and Opens entries!” In addition, the top finishers in the Academy Sports + Outdoors B.A.S.S. Nation Championship presented by Magellan Outdoors qualify for the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods, as he did, and one of them is invited to compete in the Bassmaster Elite Series. Palaniuk was the first Nation standout to go the Elite route, and he probably was the first to attempt to “crowdfund” his foray into the big leagues.
“When I started fishing the Elites, I had absolutely zero money,” he recalls of the 2012 season. “I had no idea how to pay for it. So I came up with the idea of promoting the B.A.S.S. Nation. Nobody before then had gone from the Nation to the Elites, so I hoped to get some money from each of the state Nation chapters. Not everybody stepped up to the plate, but most of the Western states did. And even the Maine chapter, probably the smallest one, donated a thousand bucks!”
With that seed money and proceeds from the sale of his prize boat for winning the 2011 Nation Championship, Palaniuk invested the “rights fee” for the Elites and began making a living, and a name, for himself. He had to sleep in the back of his Tundra the first couple of years to make ends meet, but with more than $1 million in tournament winnings in his young career, the investment has paid off.
Not only does the young Idahoan give credit to the B.A.S.S. Nation for his success, but he also personifies what many view as the typical blue collar bass club angler.
He began fishing club tournaments at 16, the minimum age to compete. His family cosigned the note for a bass boat, and young Palaniuk worked tirelessly, building roads through the Idaho wilderness, to make payments. He says he misses the manual labor, even today. Driving heavy equipment and wielding chainsaws to clear roadways, he developed an indomitable work ethic.
“I’m still a blue collar fisherman,” Palaniuk said proudly in a recent interview. “It’s the way I was brought up. The older I get, the more I appreciate the simplicity of jobs like that. It was good, hard, physical manual labor. It’s part of who I am.”
The other part of who he is, I feel safe in saying, is a bass club fisherman, through and through.