SHREVEPORT-BOSSIER CITY, La. -- Camping for three weeks out of the back of his truck while he prefished the Red River paid off for 22-year-old Brandon Palaniuk of Rathdrum, Idaho, in the BASS Federation Nation Championship presented by Skeeter and Yamaha. "
Bill Golightly (a fellow Western Division competitor) and I came down and prefished together," said Palaniuk, who won the event with a three-day catch of 14 bass that weighed 29 pounds, 9 ounces. George Crain of Cropwell, Ala., was second with 24-10, almost 5 pounds behind the winner. Golightly of Preston, Wyo., finished third with 24-9. Palaniuk found out in practice that the Red River was fishing tough.
"I figured if I could get 10 pounds a day for three days, I would be right there," he said. The Panhandle Bass Anglers Club member nearly kept up that pace each day as he cranked a rock jetty with a Lucky Craft Skeet Reese Mini crankbait and flipped the grass in a backwater area with a Texas-rigged Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver.
Palaniuk led on the first day, but slipped to fourth place the second day. But his double-digit weight Friday of 12-0 sent him back up to clinch the championship trophy, a Skeeter-Yamaha boat rig valued at $60,000, an invitation to move up into the Bassmaster Elite Series in 2011 — and what every angler came to the Red River this week to win: a berth in the 2011 Bassmaster Classic.
Palaniuk made two dreams come true by winning the championship and qualifying for the Classic. "Since the first time I was taken out in a bass boat when I was 8 years old, I have been thinking about making the Classic," he said. "And since I started fishing the Federation when I was 16, I started dreaming about winning one of these (annual championships)."
The other five Federation Nation Classic qualifiers were Crain in the Southern Division; Dale Hightower of Sand Springs, Okla., in the Central Division; Day 2 leader Brian LaClair of Denton, Del., in the Mid-Atlantic Division; Sean Alvarez of Rutland, Vt., in the Eastern Division; and David Watson of Dugger, Ind., in the Northern Division. They will compete Feb. 18-20 in a field of 50 on the Louisiana Delta.
"I am speechless. It is absolutely amazing. It is surreal. I am just an average guy and this shows what the Federation Nation can do," said Vermont's Alvarez. The Junior Bassmaster World Championship, also on Friday but on nearby Cross Lake, resulted in two Eastern Division anglers squeaking out titles by mere ounces.
Alexander Wetherell of Middletown, Conn., won in the 15-18 age group by 2 ounces with a total of four fish tallying 4-5. Christopher Catucci of Warwick, R.I., won in the 11-14 age division with two bass weighing 5-12. The young anglers won scholarship money.