WADDINGTON, N.Y. — Who or what can stop Brandon Palaniuk?
Not wind and 6-foot waves.
Not a daily trip by water of 200-plus miles.
Not a 2-pound penalty.
But maybe Jonathon VanDam can.
Trailing Palaniuk by less than 4 pounds, VanDam says it’s possible to stop Palaniuk from closing on the Evan Williams Bourbon Showdown at St. Lawrence River, the Aug. 8-11 Bassmaster Elite Series event out of Waddington, N.Y.
Palaniuk, of course, hopes the Showdown turns out his way. And so far, it has been going his way. Despite all the obstacles Palaniuk has encountered, the Elite Series pro from Rathdrum, Idaho, persevered Saturday, not letting go of the lead he’s had since the event began.
With a three-day tally of 65 pounds, 7 ounces, the 25-year-old pro secured a margin of 3-12 over VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich. VanDam rose from fifth place into second on Saturday with 61-11 to become Palaniuk’s biggest threat.
In third after Saturday was Cliff Pirch of Payson, Ariz., falling from second with 60-8. One ounce behind Pirch was Chad Pipkens of Holt, Mich., in fourth place at 60-7.
Fifth was taken by Kevin Hawk of Guntersville, Ala., who after a banner day leapt from 17th place by boosting his weight to 60-6 — just 1 ounce behind Pipkens.
The Top 5 head up the 12 anglers left standing after Saturday’s cut. The dozen finalists will compete Sunday for the Showdown’s title, $100,000 and an instant-in for the 2014 Bassmaster Classic.
Palaniuk took command on the first day by running to the big smallmouth of Lake Ontario more than 100 miles away from Waddington, the takeoff point on the St. Lawrence. To get into the lake, he had to navigate 6-foot waves.
The second day, he had to take a 2-pound penalty for having six fish in his livewell. For Saturday’s round, he again ran the river to reach Ontario.
All those challenges came on top of the mental weight of a disqualification of his Day Two weight when he was leading during the previous Elite event in June.
And now he’s in front in another Elite event. Boating conditions Saturday were still dicey at times, but better fishing conditions helped him to the 20-9 he brought to the scales.
“It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be today,” he said. “Still, I had to run 15 to 25 mph in the waves. And with the wind switching directions, it was like being in a washing machine out there. The waves came from all directions and I couldn’t get into a good rhythm with them.”
He got a break when he reached his spots after navigating the river and lake for about 2 1/2 hours.
“The wind and waves died down and allowed me to concentrate and fish a little bit longer. I had a little over two hours before I had to make the run back,” said Palaniuk, whose fishing time has been short each day.
Palaniuk said he had to “bounce around” to relocate the smallmouth.
The key to his day, he said, was one of those moves, which brought him to his three largest fish. He boated those within 30 minutes.
He said he’s committed to his Ontario spots for Sunday.
“Definitely I’m going back,” he said. “It (the wind and waves it creates) is supposed to be better tomorrow. I’ll be running.”
VanDam, a smallmouth expert, didn’t hesitate when asked if he could overcome his 3-12 disadvantage.
“Definitely,” said VanDam, who chose to go after St. Lawrence River smallmouth. “I’ve caught some big smallmouth here. And you have to take into account the risk he (Palaniuk) is taking in making a 100-mile run. Who knows what can happen? I’m going to go out and catch what I can.”
Interestingly, the same JVD-Palaniuk faceoff occurred last season at the Lake Michigan Elite event, another smallmouth fest. VanDam trailed Palaniuk by 3 ounces going into the final day. VanDam won by more than 2 pounds.
Saturday’s largest bass was weighed by Steve Kennedy of Auburn, Ala. His 5-13 smallmouth beat Palaniuk’s 5-12 smallie of Friday to become the newest candidate for the Carhartt Big Bass bonus of $1,000, plus $500 if the angler was wearing Carhartt clothing.
With his Saturday bag of 23-14, Kennedy again bested Palaniuk, whose 23-9 bag of Thursday had been the previous largest of the event. Kennedy went to the head of the line for the Showdown’s Berkley Heavyweight Award of $500 for the best five-fish limit.
Kennedy’s big day propelled him from 46th place into 12th, qualifying him for the final competition day.
In the 2013 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year points race, Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla., continues to lead, even after finishing the Showdown in 25th place. Aaron Martens of Leeds, Ala., who qualified for the Showdown finals, trails Evers by 32 points. Michigan’s Kevin VanDam (Jonathon’s uncle), is 39 points behind Evers.
Like Evers, VanDam fell out of the Showdown after ending up Saturday in 14th place,
The Aug. 22-25 Plano Championship Chase on Lake St. Clair in Michigan will wrap up the season-long race, and the 2013 AOY will be crowned.
Fans are invited to watch the Showdown’s 12 finalists take off Sunday at 6:30 a.m. ET at Whittaker Park in Waddington. The weigh-in will begin at 3 p.m. ET.
The Tastes and Talents of the North Country Festival organized by the host city of Waddington will continue through Sunday at Whittaker Park, as will the concurrent Bassmaster Elite Series Expo. Among the many activities and exhibits is the opportunity for fans over 16 to take a free demo ride in Nitro, Skeeter and Triton bass rigs powered by Mercury and Yamaha engines.
Bassmaster.com will continue its extensive coverage of the Evan Williams Bourbon Showdown. Features include streaming video of the weigh-ins, real-time leaderboards, from-the-water BASSCam videos and blog reports, and Toyota Hooked Up! shows streamed live on Bassmaster.com with hosts Tommy Sanders and Mark Zona. All access is free.
ESPN2 TV coverage of the Showdown will air Aug. 18 at 8-9 a.m. ET, and again on Sept. 7 at 6-7 a.m. ET.
ESPN Classic will air the show Aug. 18, 10-11 a.m. ET, and Sept. 8 at 8-9 a.m. ET. In addition, The Outdoor Channel will present the Showdown Sept. 16. For times, check local listings.