Canadians Gustafson 27th, Cory Johnston 52nd, Gallant 63rd & Chris Johnston 67th.
SHELBY COUNTY, Ala. — Most of this week, Brandon Palaniuk has worn a wry smile on his face. It is one of disbelief more than anything that he has actually found the quality of bass he has during the Whataburger Bassmaster Elite at Lay Lake.
By adding 16 pounds, 5 ounces Friday to his Day 1 tally of 19-7, the Rathdrum, Idaho, native now has a two-day total of 35-12 and holds the lead for the second day in a row. Alabama rookie Will Davis Jr. is second with 34-3 and veteran Florida pro Bernie Schultz is third with 31-8.
“I’m just the clueless leader out there,” Palaniuk said. “I’m 100% in disbelief. The fact I was able to fish for all of those fish the first day blew my mind. The fact I went back there and caught 16 pounds today blows my mind, too. I’m going to have to go again tomorrow because I don’t know what is going to happen. I might have another 15 or 16.”
Palaniuk has been maximizing one specific area of Lay Lake and has had to adjust to the conditions every day. Even though thunderstorms moved through the area Thursday night, the water had dropped a couple of inches when he arrived Friday morning. As the day progressed, it began to rise again.
“It is almost like a tidal fishery this week,” Palaniuk said. “They keep bringing the water up and down, up and down, so it has been hard for me to get dialed in to any one thing. You can see the water clarity change and you can see the current move in one direction and then back the other. It definitely changes everything.”
Friday morning when the water was at its lowest, there was very little activity in the area. The shad were stagnant and the bream beds were not active. But once the water rose, activity increased and the bite improved.
Adding to his disbelief, Palaniuk has had his area largely to himself, with only a couple of anglers filtering in and out.
“The way everyone else fishes it, it is really hard to get a bite,” he said. “The way I am fishing it, I have been able to get bites here and there. That is the biggest difference. I am fishing in an area that has bass, but doing it differently than everyone else. I can’t even describe how obvious it seems, but yet everyone missed it.”
On Thursday, Palaniuk did most of his damage sight fishing and caught the Day 1 Phoenix Boats Big Bass — a 5-14 largemouth — on his second pitch to one particular bed. On Friday, the two-time Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year excelled by finding postspawn bass that were either cruising or in specific cover he saw on his Humminbird MEGA 360.
He pitched his drop shot, rigged with an X Zone Lures Deception Worm to that cover. That presentation produced his biggest bass Friday, which was over 5 pounds. He also caught a couple of bass on a frog.
“I didn’t catch a bass off a bed today. I didn’t even see any,” he said. “I saw one that was maybe set up on a bed but wouldn’t lock on.”
He also caught a 4-pound cruiser and bream came into play as the day progressed.
“They aren’t on all of them, though. Just certain ones for sure,” he said.
Palaniuk added that he had several missed opportunities, including a bass he saw and coaxed into biting with a glidebait. Unfortunately for him, the bass made one big jump as it neared the boat and came free.
That bass went back to the same spot, and Palaniuk said he plans on trying to catch it again Saturday. He also dialed in a specific pattern that led to several culls later in the day.
“I did figure out a little something late where I culled up quite a few times,” he said. “I started catching fish off of my Humminbird 360 that clued me into something different. I don’t know how much I can expand on it.”
After landing in seventh on Day 1 on his home fishery with 15-14, Davis caught 18-5 on the second day with four spotted bass and one largemouth. It was the biggest bag of Day 2.
The Sylacauga, Ala., native’s starting spot had big bass schooling all over it, but Davis was unable to generate a bite.
“It was slick today and that hurt the topwater bite deal I had going on,” he said. “I didn’t have a swim jig bite this morning either.”
As the day wore on, Davis moved to an area on Lay Lake that featured some stronger current and caught close to 12 keepers, six of those coming on consecutive casts. The 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. window was his best window for catching the better quality.
At around noon, he also noticed the dam operators turned on two turbines, which helps position the bigger bass to his liking.
“I think more fish are coming to me,” he said. “I caught a big one late in the day. She was a prespawn spot and she was 10 feet down there. She was almost 5 pounds. I feel good about that for sure.
“They are gorging on shad. I had to clean my livewell screens three times today.”
Davis said the bream bed pattern has not been as good as he anticipated.
“I think a lot of bass are just getting through spawning and they are in that funk,” he said. “In another week, they will definitely be on bream beds. But right now, that’s not the deal — at least not for me.”
Schultz caught 15-4 Friday, anchoring his bag with a 5-11 largemouth he caught early. One bait has done most of the damage this week, a black Hildebrandt SqueakEasy buzzbait he designed with a Zoom Horny Toad as the trailer.
One area has provided the best results for the Gainesville, Fla., native. Schultz said there were so many shad in this area on Day 1 he could walk across them. On Friday, the shad presence wasn’t quite as prevalent, but he got two big bites — the 5-11 and a big spotted bass.
“Yesterday, the bass were active,” he said. “We had a low sky with low pressure. It was a humid kind of morning and it was on. That place had potential because it was right next to deep water and it had so much bait. I don’t know how other people missed it.”
The rest of Day 2, Schultz struggled to get bites but was able to finish his limit in a backwater pond up the river.
Palatka, Fla., angler Cliff Prince claimed the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the Day — and the $1,000 prize that goes with it — with a 6-4 largemouth. That bass surpassed Palaniuk’s Day 1 lunker to take over Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the Tournament honors. Palaniuk still holds the VMC Monster Bag of the Tournament with his 19-7 Day 1 bag.
South Carolina pro Brandon Cobb continues to lead the Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year race with 480 points. Georgia pro Drew Cook is second with 425 points, followed by Louisiana’s Tyler Rivet with 416 and Alabama’s Kyle Welcher and Florida’s John Cox with 401 each.
The Top 50 remaining anglers will launch from Beeswax Creek Park beginning at 6:30 a.m. CT on Saturday and return for weigh-in at 3 p.m. Only the Top 10 will advance to Championship Sunday with a chance to win the $100,000 first-place prize.
Bassmaster LIVE will begin at 6:30 a.m. CT on FS1 before moving to Bassmaster.com at 9:30 a.m.
Discover Shelby is hosting the tournament.
2023 Bassmaster Elite Series Platinum Sponsor: Toyota
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2023 Bassmaster Conservation Partners: AFTCO, Yamaha Rightwaters