When we first saw the kid from Idaho blaze onto the national B.A.S.S. scene back in 2011, the immediate impression of Brandon Palaniuk was he’d do big things.
Fast forward six years and “The Prodigy,” as emcee Dave Mercer appropriately nicknamed him, broke through as the 2017 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year. A smidge behind the Classic in prestige to the bass fishing world, the AOY is coveted by the pros as the ultimate angler accomplishment.
Last Sunday, Palaniuk became just the 21st man awarded the title in its 46 years of existence.
“I can’t even talk,” said Palaniuk, who pays no attention to pounds and points, concentrating solely on catching fish. “I didn’t know coming into it how much I needed, where I was. I was calm and collected all day, because I didn’t really know what I needed.”
Then the thought of his feat seemed to hit.
“I had one bass at 10:30 – one bass,” he said choking up. “I never got freaked out. I just kept pushing and pushing. For some reason when I woke up this morning, I just felt like it was going to happen.”
Happen it did. Through his slow morning, Palaniuk never wavered, never showed a crack, just kept plugging away. Then bam, he rocked the world, literally. The rock, which he and cameraman Erik Kaffka nicknamed “Dwayne Johnson,” finally came through for him.
“I fished that rock at least twice a day the last two days of competition and had not got a bite on it. I just knew it was set up right,” said Palaniuk, who caught a dozen fish there, enough to take the title, before moving on to cull with two 4-pounders.
Wiping tears from his eyes and fighting to speak without a crack in his voice, Palaniuk trudged forward as usual.
“Who would have thought an 8-year-old kid from Idaho – I mean Idaho, where we’re known for catching trout – would make this happen,” he said.
With his family watching from right off the stage, Palaniuk thanked them and his sponsors, and made a point to mention how his mother always advised him to have a Plan B in case fishing didn’t pan out.
“And I told her, ‘Why?’ Because I’m not going to fail at Plan A,” he said.