Brandon Palaniuk hadn’t been home for four and a half months when he pulled his boat rig into his driveway in Hayden, Idaho, on May 18.
Two weeks later, he was on the road again, headed south 2,000 miles to Lake Fork in Texas for an appearance at the Skeeter Boat Owners tournament. He probably won’t see Idaho again until sometime in July or August — maybe later.
No way is he complaining. He’s got the only job he’s ever wanted, and he knew going into it that travel was required.
Palaniuk, 23, is in his rookie year as a Bassmaster Elite Series pro. Among the youngest (Bradley Roy of Kentucky is the youngest at 20), Palaniuk also is one of the pros who must travel hard and fast if they want to go home between events.
Until mid-May, Palaniuk hadn’t had the time, energy or money for a trip home. He had left in early January, when he went to Texas to pick up his new Skeeter, freshly wrapped in a B.A.S.S. Federation Nation motif as a salute to the hundreds of fellow Federation Nation anglers whose donations helped finance his rookie year. He headed to Florida for Bassmaster Elite Series event scouting before he swung west to New Orleans for the Bassmaster Classic, to fill the berth he’d earned through the Federation Championship in late 2010.
He finished fourth in the Classic, an auspicious start to a season in which he is currently the No. 4 rookie and 29th in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings, which would put him into the 2012 Bassmaster Classic were the season to end now.
His first real chance at a visit home was the nearly three weeks off between the sixth and seventh Elite Series events. He decided the drive of 2,600 miles from South Carolina to western Idaho was worth it.
Home, he found, felt a bit different. People treated him differently, but in a good way. Hayden’s a small town, but it’s next to Coeur d’Alene, population about 43,000. Palaniuk said that just about everywhere he went, people came up to him and told him they were following his career via Bassmaster.com.
“It was amazing to me how many people recognized me, knew about my fishing,” he said. “People I’d never met before, people who had seen me on the local news or read about me in the newspaper.”
Or noticed him in a recent Toyota advertisement that featured the rookie standing next to Edwin Evers, the Oklahoma pro who is making a good run at the 2011 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year title.
“People are telling me they’ve been following me at every tournament, watching me at Bassmaster.com,” he said. “I think bass fishing is getting bigger, and people are asking what it’s like, what it’s all about.”
He said he spent much of his time at home catching up with family and friends, but he didn’t take a holiday from fishing.
“I have such an addiction to fishing, I wouldn’t be able to go two weeks without it,” he said.
He put that passion to good use when Spokane (Wash.) TV station KHQ requested an interview. He took a camera person and reporter out on Coeur d’Alene Lake and handily boated a few good-size largemouth off beds on cue.
He admitted to having a tough time leaving home again.
“It’s so clean — clean air, clean water, the mountains with snow still on them,” Palaniuk said. “It is the most beautiful place in the whole country, and I’ve seen a lot of the country.”