Opens profile: Palmer is better late

Freddy Palmer of Estill Springs, Tenn., has long wondered how he would fare against the world’s best bass anglers on the Bassmaster Elite Series. He may be on the verge of finding out.

With one qualifying event left in the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Eastern Division, Palmer sits in eleventh place in the AOY standings. He needs to move up only one spot to earn an invitation to the Bassmaster Opens Championship at Table Rock Lake, Mo.

The winner of the Championship and the top five in the point standings from the Eastern and Central Opens will qualify for the Elites. The winner and the top three point getters in each division will also earn a birth to the 2019 Bassmaster Classic.

“Making the championship would be a mini dream come true for me,” Palmer said. “My ultimate dream is to qualify for the Elite Series. By all means I would fish it.”

At age 52 Palmer believes he has possibly 10 years left in which he would be healthy and strong enough to compete at the Elite level. Beyond that he suspects the grueling task of traveling across the country and fishing the weeklong tournaments, some of them back-to-back, would be too much.

In the meantime, Palmer appears to be raising a bass fishing dynasty. He has three children, Kelsey, 22, Kyle, 19, and Kole, 16. Kyle, a Bassmaster high school All-American, recently received a bass fishing scholarship at Bethel University, a Christian college in McKenzie, Tenn. Kole, a sophomore who is home schooled through the Franklin County High School system, recently competed in his first Bassmaster High School National.

After the elder Palmer graduated from Tullahoma High School in Tullahoma, Tenn., he served our country for four years as a Marine. Thereafter he enrolled in a two-year vocational school where he studied heating and air conditioning. He used his education to start a business in Tullahoma. His company is his major sponsor, and his truck and boat wraps boldly display the words Palmer Heating and Air Conditioning.

As enthusiastic as Palmer is about tournament fishing, he didn’t grow up with it. His single parent mother, Virginia Gann, began taking him panfishing from the bank when he was a youngster. At about age 12 he was old enough to bicycle to Tims Ford Lake with classmates from school.

“We waded the creeks and fished a lot of topwater,” Palmer said. “Mostly Heddon Zara Spooks and Cotton Cordell prop baits. I started driving to the lake when I turned 16, but I still waded and fished from the bank. We couldn’t afford a boat.”

Palmer continued to fish from the shore when he served in the Marines while stationed in Charleston, S.C. This was mainly casting into inlets off the Atlantic for flounder and shark. There were also occasional outings to lakes Murray and Moultrie where he would fish from the bank.

After his stint in the Marines, Palmer shelled out $500 for his first boat, a used 16-foot runabout powered by a 50 hp outboard. He frequently launched it at Tims Ford, Wood Reservoir and Normandy Lake.

“After that I would trade up to a newer boat every three years,” Palmer said. “I got my first bass boat, a 1976 model Bumblebee, when I was 24 or 25. I started fishing a lot of local tournaments out of that boat.”

Palmer moved on to fish regional money circuits and B.A.S.S. Nation tournaments. In the late 1990s he finished second in a B.A.S.S. Nation Southern Divisional. After the year 2000 Palmer concentrated on local FLW weekend series events where he once qualified for the circuit’s All American championship. Three years ago he decided it was time to step up to the Bassmaster Opens.

He competed in all three Southern Opens in 2016 and failed to collect a check. His best finish was 50th place at Lake Douglas, the second event of the season. He again signed on to fish the Southern Opens in 2017.

“I got my confidence that year,” Palmer said. “I placed 16th at Smith Lake and 23rd at Chickamauga. That encouraged me to keep trying.”

Palmer’s Achilles heel in 2017 was the initial tournament of the season at Florida’s Harris Chain where he failed to finish among the top 100 anglers. Florida proved much kinder to him at the start of the 2018 Eastern Opens. He nabbed seventh place at the Kissimmee Chain. Although Palmer failed to cut a check at the next two events, he has done well enough to keep in contention for the Championship.

“I pride myself on being a very versatile angler,” Palmer said. “I’m comfortable fishing shallow and deep. I prefer shallow water fishing, but I can fish just as good on the ledges.”

Palmer’s sponsors include Palmer Heating and Cooling, Nitro Boats, Mercury Marine and Lowrance Electronics.