DETROIT — After a poor start to the season, Brandon Palaniuk of Rathdrum, Idaho, claimed that paying attention to the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings had been negatively affecting how he approached each day.
He hasn’t checked the points in a couple of months. He’s simply been swinging for the fences.
His approach is clearly working to his advantage — he weighed 20 pounds of smallmouth bass Saturday to retain the lead going into the championship round in the Plano Bassmaster Elite at Lake St. Clair.
His three-day total was pushed to 64-5, keeping exactly 2 pounds between him and the second-place angler, Todd Faircloth.
“I started my day in the same place where I managed to catch three nice fish and one that I hoped to cull out later,” said the five-time GEICO Bassmaster Classic contender. He hooked, fought and boated all four bass on Bassmaster Live, an innovative video service that allows visitors to Bassmaster.com watch the leaders fish in real time.
“I left a little earlier, based on what I learned from the past couple days. It seems that the bite is shut off by noon, and I knew there were quality fish in St. Clair that could help me wrap up a limit.”
Palaniuk believes that to seal the victory Sunday, he’ll need his hot spot near Lake Huron — a 50-minute boat ride from Lake St. Clair — to produce another limit of 4-pound bass.
Coming in under the radar to take over second, Faircloth weighed five bass for 21-11 Saturday, including the Bass Pro Shops big Bass of the day, a 6-3 smallmouth. He has a three-day total of 62 pounds, 5 ounces.
“I’ve been fishing an expansive flat that is holding the best green cabbage I was able to find during practice,” said the four-time Bassmaster Elite Series champion.
“I’ve been finding new areas each day, and when I am able to locate tall and green cabbage adjacent to a break in the vegetation with a hard bottom, it’s pretty much a money spot.”
Keep in mind, Palaniuk’s weights have been declining daily, while Faircloth’s have been increasing each day.
James Elam has been consistently dropping 3 pounds from his daily total. He weighed 17-12 Saturday afternoon, which kept him in third place with total of 61-8.
He plans to grind it out on a spot that he’s been sharing with Palaniuk since Thursday.
“The fishing is slow and takes a great deal of concentration on that particular spot,” Elam said. “However, the fish that I do catch there are big, and it’s time to go for broke. I’m pretty confident the tournament will be won on this particular spot. Brandon has been very cordial and willing to share the water, it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.”
Rounding out the Top 5 after the semi-final round are Chris Lane with 58-6, and Jonathon VanDam with 57-11.
The Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race has Martens still on top with 698 points, Rojas with 601 points, Justin Lucas has 598 points, Jacob Powroznik has 565 and Edwin Evers with 564 points.
Martens made it to Championship Sunday, climbing up to 11th with 56-1. With one day of the regular season and all of the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship to go, Martens has all but sewn up what would be his third AOY title.
He leads his closest challenger, Dean Rojas, by 97 points and needs to finish St. Clair 101 points ahead to guarantee the crown. To do that, Martens will have to finish seventh or higher Sunday.
If he fails to reach the magic number of 101, he will need to weigh at least one bass in the AOY Championship at Sturgeon Bay, Wisc., on Sept. 17-20.
The Top 12 anglers will compete for the Plano Bassmaster Elite at Lake St. Clair championship on Sunday beginning 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., where the champion will be crowned.