Bass fishermen competing on one of the professional tours for the first time often face the daunting task of having to catch fish on lakes they’ve never seen before, but Yamaha Pro Brandon Palaniuk has solved that problem with a method anglers everywhere can use on any new lake they fish.
Palaniuk, 23, tries to relate the local water, weather, and fishing conditions he encounters to situations he’s experienced previously on his home lake, where he’s fished several times weekly for years. This technique worked for him at the eight Bassmaster® Elite tournament stops this past season, resulting in one 15th place finish, five more in the top 50 (winning $10,000 each time), and a spot in the 2012 Bassmaster Classic® world championship.
It’s more remarkable because Palaniuk’s home water is Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho, far from the heart of American bass fishing. He had never seen any of the Elite waters before, either, which included both lakes and rivers in Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.
“I’ve been able to fish Lake Coeur d’Alene as much as three times a week for the past seven years, since I was 16 and got my first boat,” explains the Yamaha Pro, “and I’m fortunate the lake has so many different types of cover and structure. Each part of the lake fishes differently, so it’s been a great place to learn different techniques and presentations. I actually started fishing there when I was eight years old, and today I still live just 15 minutes from the water.
“Without question, confidence is one of the greatest assets an angler can have, and I think being able to relate back to previous fishing experiences, wherever they occurred, can provide that confidence for any bass fisherman.”
Lake Coeur d’Alene is a glacially-formed reservoir extending about 25 miles south from the city of Coeur d’Alene. Although best-known for its salmon fishery, the lake also offers excellent largemouth and smallmouth bass habitat, including lily pads, hydrilla and milfoil, and long, rocky points. Palaniuk finished fourth in the 2011 Bassmaster Classic® in the Louisiana Delta after being reminded of a similar stump-filled bay on Coeur d’Alene.
“When I idled into the Lake Cataouatche area in the Delta,” he relates, “I recognized the same conditions immediately, and even though I counted 15 boats in Cataouatche, none were fishing the shallow stumps. It had been cold but the water was warming, the moon was full, and I knew from similar experiences on Coeur d’Alene bass would start moving in to spawn. I caught two quality fish on a crankbait in three casts there, and decided that was where and how I would fish the Bassmaster Classic.® As it turned out, the Bassmaster Classic® winner fished there, too.”
Even during the first two Elite events of the season in Florida, Palaniuk found conditions similar to those he’d often fished on Lake Coeur d’Alene, including sight-fishing for shallow spawning bass. In Idaho, due to water temperature fluctuations created by melting snow, the sight-fishing season extends from May through July so the Yamaha Pro has had plenty of practice with that technique. Later on Toledo Bend where he finished a season-best 15th, the Yamaha Pro was able to fish a swim bait over stumpy, wind-blown points, another technique he uses often in Idaho.
“Overall, I believe bass behavior is basically the same wherever you fish, which is why remembering your past experiences is important,” he continues. “What differs is the timing of that behavior, because the timing of the seasons varies across the country and sometimes even from lake to lake. You have to study the present weather situation, water temperatures, and other factors, then correlate them to those past experiences.”
The only technique Palaniuk was not prepared for was the deeper ledge crankbaiting that dominates summer fishing on many of the Tennsessee River impoundments, including Wheeler Reservoir in Alabama where the 2011 Elite season concluded.
“About all you can do in a situation like that is look forward to learning by on-the-job experience,” laughs the young Yamaha angler, “and I while I did not finish really well there at Lake Wheeler (58th), I feel a lot more confident about it now. Who knows? Maybe I can use that experience to improve my fishing back home in Idaho.”