Talking turkey in Texas

Brandon Palaniuk and Clark Wendlandt pose with a turkey in 2022.

In recent years Yamaha has held an annual “Turkey Bass Smash” in Texas, a good natured but fiercely competitive event that combines fishing and hunting in a made-for-TV product. Veteran television producer Wade Middleton organizes it, and while there have been up to four teams in the past, this year there were just two – Scott Newby of Yamaha and Wade against me and Clark Wendlandt.

Clark and I teamed up last year for a win, and we came back to defend our title. The competition was important to us, but stepping back from that focus for a moment I have to recognize how special it was to team up with Clark. He’s been out on tour a lot longer than I have and has consistently set a great example. Getting to spend time in the boat with people like that is a privilege and a great way to continue to improve my own game.

We spent day one turkey hunting. Clark is much more experienced in that discipline than I am, but it was pretty obvious that we’re both really competitive and inclined to hunt in the same way. While most other hunters down there sit in a blind and wait, we were constantly on the go.

We’d hop in the Wolverine X4 side-by-side and drive and call. Then we’d walk a mile or so calling. Then we’d change direction. Our strategy worked. We shot a turkey really early on and had the lead coming into the afternoon.

Even though I didn’t shoot one in the afternoon, it was the best turkey hunting I’ve ever experienced. At one point there were six different groups of toms gobbling around us 360 degrees. I had four different opportunities to shoot within 30 yards, but I never had exactly the right shot. There’s tons of brush down there, as well as mesquite and huisache trees. There was always one branch in the way, or a hen standing in the wrong position, or the turkeys were on the wrong side of the fence.

Fortunately for us, Wade and Scott had similar difficulties that afternoon. There were various ways to accumulate points, including the longest beard, longest spurs and heaviest turkey. We were still on top.

Not surprisingly, last year we really distinguished ourselves on the fishing side. We figured that since it was approximately the same time, similar patterns would be in play. Of course, it’s fishing, and nothing is ever the same. Last year we caught all of our fish in grass, and this year there was no grass in those areas. The lake was also 20 feet higher. We were going to have to hunt for them.

Despite the struggles, It was cool to fish with another Elite pro, especially one like Clark who has won AOY titles with both FLW and B.A.S.S. By bouncing ideas back and forth, it jumpstarts the learning process again and again. As I wrote above, we hunted similarly, but there are enough differences in our fishing style that it caused me to reevaluate the way I do certain things.

For example, he’ll fish through areas and process things quicker than I will. It made me realize that I probably don’t need to spend as much time in a given area during practice. It also allowed me to consider expanded bait choices. Where I throw a jerkbait he might pick up a squarebill. That gives me confidence to branch out.

As for Clark, I don’t think people realize how incredibly competitive he is. Of course, all Elite Series pros are competitive, but until I got to spend some time with him I didn’t realize that he can be a stone cold killer. On camera and off the water he’s super nice, polite and easygoing, but on the water he’ll do everything he can to beat you. He’s won a bunch of titles but he remains humble. I admire his ability to balance those different parts of his personality.

I was particularly interested to talk to him about raising a family. In fact we may have discussed that more than fishing. I appreciate how involved he is in his kids’ lives. They traveled with him when they were younger, and I still have a lot to learn about that process.

We ended up losing by 20-something points. On the fishing side, the difference was 3/10ths of a pound. We thought it was going to be worse than that. We checked in at several times during the day and while we struggled to catch a limit, they had one pretty early. We finally filled out our limit, and it turned out that theirs were not much bigger. However, there were points awarded for various things. They got 50 points for the largest bag. We got 25 points for the largest bass. They got 20 points for the second-largest bass. In the end, we fell just a little bit short.

There had been a fair amount of trash talking before the competition. I told them that I was going to step on their necks. They responded after the fact that I must’ve slipped when trying to do that and broken my own neck.

In any event, we told them they now have 365 days of bragging rights – use them wisely! We will be back.