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Palaniuk Caps Magical Season With Toyota Bassmaster Angler Of The Year Title

Brandon Palaniuk of Hayden, Idaho, won the 2017 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year title at Mille Lacs Lake held out of Onamia, Minn., Sunday.

                                                                                                                     Photo by Seigo Saito/B.A.S.S.

ONAMIA, Minn. — As the 2017 Bassmaster Elite Series season progressed, Brandon Palaniuk always had a sense that he was in contention for the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year crown.

But he never let himself look at the standings. He never even allowed himself to think about the race.

Now, he may never stop thinking about it.

The 29-year-old pro from Hayden, Idaho, caught 62 pounds, 3 ounces of bass to finish in 20th place at this week’s Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship on Mille Lacs Lake, Minnesota. That allowed him to finish 14 points ahead of Oklahoma pro Jason Christie and secure his first career AOY title.

“I didn’t know if it would ever happen,” said Palaniuk, who topped Christie by a final margin of 902 to 888 in the AOY standings. “This has been a dream of mine since I was 8 years old. I decided 21 years ago that this is what I was going to do.

“I just made up my mind that I wanted to fish for a living — and every decision I’ve made for 21 years has led to this point.”

Hoisting the AOY trophy was the culmination of a phenomenal season that saw Palaniuk record six Top 12 finishes, including a victory on Sam Rayburn Reservoir. The only time he finished outside the Top 30 in 10 Elite Series events was a disastrous 105th-place showing in the second event of the year on Florida’s Lake Okeechobee.

Palaniuk said he feared that finish might haunt him for the rest of the career — until he worked some late magic during Friday’s second round.

With only six minutes left before check-in, Palaniuk landed a 6-pound Mille Lacs smallmouth that proved to be his biggest fish of the event. He put the bass in his livewell and made it back to the weigh-in with only 40 seconds to spare.

“That’s when I really got the feeling that this was meant to be, and I think that’s why I was so calm today,” Palaniuk said. “When that happened, it gave me a completely different mental outlook on the whole week.

“It was like some light switch went off in my head. I think that’s why I went to bed and woke up this morning feeling like it was going to happen.”

Palaniuk spent the majority of the tournament using a drop-shot rig with a Zoom Super Fluke in the purple smoke color pattern with a 2/0 straight-shank hook and a 3/8-ounce drop-shot weight. He threw the rig on a 6-foot-10 Alpha Angler DSR rod and a Daiwa Exist 2500 reel spooled with 15-pound Seaguar Smackdown braid and an 8-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon leader.

But afterward, tackle and techniques seemed far secondary to his career accomplishment. The $100,000 he claimed with the AOY title pushed his career earnings past $1 million with B.A.S.S.

“When I first started fishing, I was running heavy equipment, cutting trees down and fishing local tournaments,” he said. “I would stash away as much money as I could during the summer from fishing local club tournaments. Then I just had one incredible year in 2010 when I qualified for the Elites when it seemed like everywhere I went in the country I caught fish.

“That’s when it all started happening for me — and that’s what helped me get here today.”

While most of the attention this week was heaped on the battle between Palaniuk, Christie and eventual third-place finisher Jacob Wheeler, the Bassmaster Rookie of the Year race was also decided.

Alabama pro Dustin Connell claimed that title by finishing 24th this week with 60-13. Connell’s closest competition — New York pro Jamie Hartman — had a tough week, finishing in 48th place with 41-7. That allowed Connell to win the ROY race by the thinnest of margins, 765-764.

“I set three goals this year,” Connell said. “I wanted to make the Classic, make the AOY Championship and win Rookie of the Year. Then, I also won a tournament (at Ross Barnett in Mississippi), so this has just been an awesome year.”

Unlike the first three years of the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship, a trophy and prize money was awarded this year to the angler with the heaviest weight for the week. The title of Toyota Mille Lacs Champion and the $25,000 bonus that came with it went to veteran Texas pro Keith Combs, who bested the field with 72-5.

“I’m a Texas guy, and that means I’m a long way from home up here this week,” Combs said. “So, to get to come up here and jack these big smallmouth with a big bait and a big stick was just an awesome experience for me.” The “big bait” was a 1-ounce Strike King jig in green pumpkin with a Rage Craw trailer in the Alabama craw color, which exactly matched the color of crawfish bass had been spitting up in his livewell.

Combs won the Livingston Lures Day 2 Leader Award of $500 for leading the tournament on Friday’s second day of competition. He also won the Toyota Bonus Bucks Award of $3,000 for being the highest-placing eligible entrant in the program.

Each qualifier went home with at least $11,000. Payouts from the $1 million purse were based on the anglers’ final standings in the AOY points race.

The second-highest-placing eligible entrant, James Elam of Tulsa, Okla., received $2,000.

Aaron Martens of Leeds, Ala., claimed the $1,500 Phoenix Boats Big Bass Award for a 6-pound, 1-ounce smallmouth he caught during Thursday’s opening round.

Grand Casino Mille Lacs hosted the championship.

2017 Bassmaster Elite Series Platinum Sponsor: Toyota

2017 Bassmaster Elite Series Premier Sponsors: Humminbird, Nitro Boats, Mercury, Minn Kota, Power-Pole, Shell Rotella, Skeeter Boats, Triton Boats, Yamaha, Berkley, Huk

2017 Bassmaster Elite Series Supporting Sponsors: Shimano, Advance Auto Parts, Livingston Lures, Academy Sports + Outdoors, Carhartt, Dick Cepek Tires & Wheels, Lowrance, Phoenix Boats, T-H Marine

About B.A.S.S.
B.A.S.S. is the worldwide authority on bass fishing and keeper of the culture of the sport, providing cutting edge content on bass fishing whenever, wherever and however bass fishing fans want to use it. Headquartered in Birmingham, Ala., the 500,000-member organization’s fully integrated media platforms include the industry’s leading magazines (Bassmaster and B.A.S.S. Times), website (Bassmaster.com), television show (The Bassmasters on ESPN2), radio show (Bassmaster Radio), social media programs and events. For more than 45 years, B.A.S.S. has been dedicated to access, conservation and youth fishing.

The Bassmaster Tournament Trail includes the most prestigious events at each level of competition, including the Bassmaster Elite Series, Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open Series, Academy Sports + Outdoors B.A.S.S. Nation Series presented by Magellan Outdoors, Carhartt Bassmaster College Series presented by Bass Pro Shops, Costa Bassmaster High School Series presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods, Toyota Bonus Bucks Bassmaster Team Championship and the ultimate celebration of competitive fishing, the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods.

Palaniuk’s Longtime Loyalty to Toyota Paid Off

The 2017 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year title that Brandon Palaniuk won Sunday at Lake Mille Lacs started with a dream when he was an 8-year-old boy growing up in Idaho. Then it caught speed in 2010 when he purchased his first Tundra, and began to cash-in on Toyota Bonus Bucks.

“I was running heavy equipment and cutting down trees for a living to try and save enough money to launch a pro career. And there were times when my buddy and I were down to our last dollars, and thought we’d have to wash dishes on our way back from tournaments to make it home to Idaho.”

“Then in 2010 I won $20,000 as a co-angler, and bought my first Tundra,” Palaniuk remembers vividly. “That year became magical, I won the B.A.S.S. Nation National Championship which qualified me for the Elites and the 2011 Classic, and the Toyota Bonus Bucks I won helped give me the money I needed to survive the first year of the Elites.”

At times during his rookie year on the Elite Series – it was just that – “surviving.” He often slept in the back of his Toyota in what he famously termed the “Tundra Suites” to save from paying for a hotel room.

Over the past six years, Brandon’s loyalty to Toyota has continued to pay him Bonus Bucks, and the days of wondering if he might have to wash dishes or cut down trees in the Idaho lumberjack woods have long since faded in the rearview mirror.

His brand new title of 2017 AOY Champion pays him $100,000, and his continued participation in the Bonus Bucks program is sure to pay dividends for years to come.

However you don’t have to be a full time pro, a Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year, or even win your local tournament to cash-in on Bonus Bucks. You just have to be a registered participant in any of the dozens of tournaments sanctioned by Bonus Bucks, and be the highest-placing participant.

To learn more and get signed-up, please visit http://www.toyotatrucksbonusbucks.com/ or phone (918) 742-6424, and ask for Jessica or Kendell and they can also help you get signed-up.

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