Rapala Pro Brandon Palaniuk is Runner-Up in Bassmaster Classic
Iaconelli Finishes 4th, DeFoe 11th
Not only did Brandon Palaniuk chunk and wind with many of the same brand baits as fellow Rapala Pro Mike Iaconelli in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic, he also channeled Ike’s motto - Never give up! His persistence almost paid off with a victory.
Despite launching yesterday in 2nd place, with a seven-pound deficit to overcome to catch leader Cliff Pace, Palaniuk fished with the attitude that he could win. When the final fish was weighed, however, he came up 3.4 pounds short, finishing runner-up to Pace.
“There’s a whole whirlwind of emotions going on in here, I’m trying to hold it back,” a visibly choked up Palaniuk told Bassmaster Emcee Dave Mercer onstage at Tulsa’s BOK Center before a capacity crowd. “I didn’t really know how much I had today. I knew I had somewhere between 14 and 15 [pounds].”
Upon learning that his limit weighed 15.4 pounds - and probably having learned through the grapevine backstage that Pace caught only four fish, one short of a limit - Palaniuk likely dared think he might have pulled off the upset.
“By the end of it I didn’t think I had a shot,” he told Mercer and the BOK Center crowd “But in the morning I did, I caught ‘em quick.”
While Pace struggled to get a bite in the morning, Palaniuk got off to a great start, boating keepers on a Storm Wiggle Wart in the Ghost Phantom Crayfish pattern. In the first two days of competition, he caught his fish on a Storm Twitch Stick, a Rapala X-Rap and a shakey-head finesse worm.
“Those four baits, between the last three days, might have won me a few dollars,” Palaniuk reflected, only minutes before learning that Pace’s four-fish limit would weigh enough to turn back his upset bid. The Bassmaster Classic champion wins $500,000. The runner-up wins $45,000.
Pace weighed in 11.8 pounds to get the wire-to-wire win with a total of 54.12 pounds. Palaniuk’s total was 51.8 pounds.
Iaconelli, who was tied with Pace in first place after Day 1, finished 4th, with a 48.5-pound total. Ike and Pace caught an identical 21.8 pounds on Day 1 to take the lead, but Pace followed up with another 21-pound day (21.12, to be exact), while Ike weighed only 13.11 pounds on Day 2 after losing an hour of fishing time due to a broken trolling motor. That left him 8.2 pounds behind Pace going into the final day of competition.
Despite the Day 2 technical difficulties, which forced Iaconelli to finish the day fishing out of someone else’s boat, he stayed true to his motto and promised he’d keep battling.
“Today was kind of a goofy day and I’m actually really fortunate to salvage that weight I had,” he told the BOK Center crowd after weighing in his Day 2 limit. “Tomorrow’s a new day. I’m going to go out and try to catch 25 pounds and we’ll see where the chips lie.”
Throughout the tournament, Iaconelli combined power and finesse fishing, using Rapala baits to find and catch aggressive fish and then combing back over productive areas with a finesse worm on a VMC jighead.
“On the power-fishing side... I used a jerkbait,” Ike told the Tulsa crowd after weighing in his Day 3 limit. “I used a Rapala Husky Jerk. And then I used a crankbait by Rapala called a Scatter Rap. It’s a brand-new crankbait. The thing hunts, the thing searches. And those cold-water, lethargic fish, that triggers them.”
He threw the Husky Jerk and Scatter Rap “to cover a lot of water and get a reaction bite,” he explained. “When I got a few bites, I would slow down and fish back through the area with [a ¼ ounce jig] and a grub on a VMC Darthead.”
He caught fish also on Rapala DT-6’s. His most productive Scatter Rap and DT-6 color was the blueback herring pattern in his Ike’s Custom Ink line.
DeFoe fights back to 11th
In 18th place when he launched on the final day of competition, DeFoe was 17.28 pounds behind Pace, giving him little chance to win. Still, he improved on his Day 2 weight by three pounds to finish in 11th.
“I was really happy with my day today,” Defoe said onstage after weighing in 13.10 pounds.
When fishing on Day 3 without a chance to win, DeFoe explained this morning in a phone interview, “you just want to go out and have fun and try to do as well as I can. You can always move up - and any time you do, that’s money in your pocket!”
At the same time, he said, “I also want to stay out of those other guys’ way that have a chance to win.”
DeFoe caught all of the fish he weighed throughout the tournament on Shad Raps and Terminator jigs. On Day 1 and Day 3, his best Shad Rap was the new No. 6 size, in the Purple Olive Craw and Original Crawdad patterns. On Day 2, the bass wanted only a No. 5 Shad Rap in Original Crawdad. All his Terminator fish came on a ½ oz. black and blue jig.
Cold weather, cold water
By all reports, this year’s Classic was the coldest on record. Day 1 air temps were in the low 20s and water temps were in the high 30s. Both air and water temps increased slightly over the three days of competition, but never got anywhere near what one would call “warm.”
Owing to those conditions, Palaniuk and Iaconelli both said before the tournament that they liked their chances. Unlike a majority of bass pros, Iaconelli and Palaniuk both hail from north of the Mason Dixon line - New Jersey and Idaho, respectively. So they’ve fished in cold weather since they were kids.
“Fishing back home, I learned you can still catch bass in 37, 38, 39-degree water, so to see temperatures in the mid to upper 40s doesn’t freak me out at all,” said Palaniuk, who placed 4th in his first-ever Classic after qualifying out of the B.A.S.S. Nation, a federation of mostly local-tournament anglers. This year’s Classic was his third in a row. All have been contested in February.
“Growing up with that, I think it’s easier for me to keep focus on the fishing, whereas some guys that haven’t dealt with that, they’re worrying about their hands being cold and things like that,” Palaniuk said prior to the tournament. “That can play with guys mentally.”
Iaconelli previously placed high in other cold-weather Bassmaster Classics and tournaments and fished a lot in cold conditions in his youth, competing in New Jersey club, federation and regional events. Going into this year’s Classic, he said that experience would give him “a little bit of confidence” other anglers might not have.