Last week on the Mississippi River between Minnesota and Wisconsin, Brandon caught the fish he needed to clinch his second Bassmaster Angler of the Year title. Needing to place 38th or better in the final Bassmaster Elite Series tournament of the year to hold off the AOY contenders hottest on his heels, Palaniuk placed 25th to get the win.
Fellow Rapala Pro and two-time Bassmaster Angler of the Year Gerald Swindle ended his season strong as well, placing 8th in the tournament on the Mighty Miss and finishing 11th in the AOY race. Rapala Pro Patrick Walters finished 5th in AOY points.
To become only the 11th angler in Bassmaster’s storied history to win a second AOY title, Palaniuk caught and brought to the scales in La Crosse, Wisc. three 5-bass limits weighing a combined 39 pounds, 11 ounces. A last-minute Mississippi River keeper late Saturday afternoon and a quick limit Sunday morning allowed him to maintain his lead.
A day before that outcome had been decided – and less than an hour after he almost lost the opportunity to determine his own fate on Semifinal Sunday – Palaniuk explained in a weigh-in-stage interview how “the feeling of winning,” more than anything else, including prize money, motivates him to work so hard, dawn to dusk, to improve, evolve and eventually triumph.
“It’s that feeling of when you succeed and you win, and you’ve put in the hard work, and everything comes together,” he explained. “The trophy is awesome. The money is awesome. But that feeling is what does it for me.”
Palaniuk had entered the tournament with a 37-point lead. Two weeks ago on Lake Oahe in South Dakota, Palaniuk had given up some ground by placing 66th – his worse finish all season, by far.
“He put the pressure on me,” Palaniuk said Sunday of Brandon Lester. “I hated it the last two weeks and I loved it at the same time. It made me feel alive.”
Palaniuk caught most of the Mississippi River bass he weighed on a Storm Arashi Top Walker. He caught key bass also on Storm Arashi Cover Pops and Terminator Popping Frogs. Swindle’s top baits were Popping Frogs as well. Both Storm and Terminator are Rapala Respected brands.
After weighing the final five bass that helped him finish this season back on top, where he’d been before with an AOY win in 2017, Palaniuk could barely contain his emotions. “I can’t believe it’s over!” he exclaimed from weigh-in-stage Sunday. “There were a lot of times it got really tough this year.”
His voice breaking as he tried to continue without choking up, Palaniuk recounted how he had recently sought and gotten inspiration from a special sticker he had affixed to his boat before this season. It bore the name of Aaron Martens, a fan-favorite and fellow-competitor-favorite former Bassmaster Elite Series pro who passed away in November 2021 after a 19-month battle with brain cancer.
“I would look at that sticker and I felt like he was looking back and he was saying, “I love you, bro,’” Palaniuk said, trying not to choke up. “And it helped every time – every time it got tough. This whole week, I would slap that sticker, or I’d give him knucks to say ‘Thank you,’ for everything he’s done.”
A three-time Bassmaster Angler of the Year, Martens, 49 when he passed, was a role model and more to Palaniuk and other pros who began their Elite Series careers in the last decade and a half.
Palaniuk also thanked Bassmaster’s many passionate fans, including those cheering in person at the weigh-in and those who watch and follow B.A.S.S. tournaments online. “This one is just as much for you guys as it is for me and my family and my sponsors,” Palaniuk said. “Thank you.”
Arashi® Top Walkers Attract Big Bass from Afar
A long-glide, walk-the-dog action, a powerful wake and a unique multiple-rattle sound combine to help Storm Arashi Top Walker topwater baits call in big bass from far away. They feature four bearings that broadcast a variable pitch frequency, mimicking the sound of schooling baitfish that predators can’t ignore.
“It’s a bait for me that in the summertime I’ve always got it tied on,” Palaniuk said. “I’ll fish it in a lot of different scenarios – around rock, grass, wood, and in a lot of different water clarities.”
Toss an Arashi® Cover Pop to Tempt Skittish Bass Out of Hiding
An ideal topwater bait for target fishing, the Arashi Cover Pop emulates a baitfish struggling on the water’s surface. Fish it tight to shoreline brush, trees, laydowns, undercut banks, reeds, docks, rocks and anywhere else big bass hang out. A specially designed cupped face and line-tie combine to create a unique “bloop” sound that pulls fish out of cover.
“It really excels when fish are a little bit skittish and they’re sitting in thick cover and little shade pockets,” Palaniuk said. “For a small package, it has a lot of drawing power.”
Popping Frog Walks as Well as it Talks
Featuring a cupped face, Terminator’s Popping Frog pops and spits, causing a major commotion that attracts big bass from afar. What’s more, it walks as well as it talks. By varying your retrieve cadence and how much slack you give it on the pause, you can make it attract fish in different ways.
Terminator® Popping Frogs and Walking Frogs alike feature custom VMC® frog hooks, round-rubber legs, heavy-duty welded line ties and lifelike detail from nose to rear. Both are tail-weighted to increase casting distance and stability on the retrieve. Their bodies are extra soft, easily compressing when bass bite them to increase your hook-up ratio.
Check your local retailers for the Storm® Arashi® Top Walker.