DETROIT — There was ample position shifting on Friday’s leaderboard during Day 2 of the Plano Bassmaster Elite at Lake St. Clair, proving that some dreams never die, and persistence can pay off.
After a strong showing on Thursday, Brandon Palaniuk stayed on the fish and weighed five smallmouth for 21 pounds, 1 ounce. With a two-day total of 44-5, Palaniuk claimed the top honors, including the Bass Pro Shops Big Bass, a 5-11 smallie.
“I caught my two biggest fish right away — both over 5 pounds — and I thought for sure I was about to catch the biggest limit of smallies I’ve ever weighed,” he said. “I managed to find another 3-pounder, but then the bite just died.”
The two-time Elite Series champion said he returned to the same spot a couple of times during the day to check if the fish had returned, but they hadn’t. He decided to run back into St. Clair where he managed to catch his fifth bass to fill out his limit with just minutes to go.
“The wind direction changed midday; the last couple of days it was out of the north, which pushes a lot of water from Huron into the river," he said. "I believe the current that gets created is key to those specific fish being on that spot. When the wind turned almost 180 degrees, the current was reduced.”
He isn’t sure if the spot will continue to hold the right bass, but it’s a safe bet that Palaniuk will start Day 3 in the same general area and, depending on the bite, relocate as it evolves.
“I caught the right fish again today, but I think the pattern is deteriorating. I’m not sure if the pattern will hold out for another couple of days,” said James Elam, who is currently holding second place with 20-5 Friday for a total of 43-12. “Today I only put four fish in the boat from this particular spot, and it literally shut off. I drove down to St. Clair and finished my limit with a 4 1/2-pounder.”
Yesterday, Elam climbed up the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year leaderboard. He started one point inside the Top 50 cut and jumped to 28th. He improved another notch Friday, making his dreams of fishing in the 2016 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro a bit more likely.
“My dream is still alive for next year’s Classic, and I hope to keep the momentum rolling into tomorrow,” Elam said.
Alton Jones brought in five smallies that weighed 17-4 for a two-day total of 41-8 and stands third. He, too, found the area near the mouth of Lake Huron deteriorating.
“By lunchtime I had to move to another location; as a whole, I had to work a lot harder today,” he said. “The bite is changing where I’m fishing, but I know the bass are still in the area — hopefully I can catch them again tomorrow.”
Current AOY leader Aaron Martens improved on Friday by bringing in 18-8 for a two-day total of 36-13, and is currently holding down 16th place. Filling out the Top 5 are Casey Scanlon in fourth with 41-4, and Chad Pipkens in fifth with 40-13.
“I lost a pretty nice fish today that most likely would have put me in the Top 10,” Martens said. “I still want to make a smart decision tomorrow, but I could justify gambling and go to Erie, but I may play it safe and stay close. I know where to find a suitable limit on St. Clair.”
A “suitable limit” would most likely sew up Martens’ third Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year title, but if he manages to find 20 pounds or more, he could be in position to fish on Championship Sunday.
The Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race has been updated with Martens still on top with 693 points. Justin Lucas climbed back into second, but at 600 points trails by an almost insurmountable margin. Dean Rojas is in third with 597 points, fourth place is Jacob Powroznik with 572 points, and Edwin Evers is in fifth place with 570 points.
Because Palaniuk is in the lead on Day 2, he will earn the Livingston Lures Leader Award of $500.
The Top 50 angers advanced to fish the semifinal round on Saturday, which will resume with takeoff out of Lake St. Clair Metropark at 6:20 a.m. The weigh-in will be held at the same location at 3:15 p.m. when the field will be cut down to the Top 12 for Championship Sunday.