– At 10:30 Sunday morning, Brandon Palaniuk had just one smallmouth bass in his boat. He had dreamed of becoming a professional angler since he was 8 years old, and now, on this most important day of his fishing career, his livewell was nearly empty.

Palaniuk, of Hayden, Idaho, had entered the third and final day of the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship as the season-long points leader among 108 Elite Series fishermen.

A $100,000 paycheck awaited him if he could put together a five-bass limit that weighed about 20 pounds Sunday. But he held only a slim, 12-point lead over Oklahoma angler Jason Christie, and Palaniuk knew he needed a productive third day on Mille Lacs to win.

“The next spot I fished I had fished twice each day the first two days of the tournament, and hadn’t caught a fish either day,’’ Palaniuk said. “This time I caught 12.’’

Palaniuk, 29, had been “drop-shotting’’ plastic baits just off the bottom in water 8 to 22 feet deep the entire tournament, and on Sunday he stayed with that technique.

“After I caught those 12, three of which I weighed at the end of the day, I went to my next spot and on two successive drops caught two 4-pounders,’’ he said.

At a campground near Mille Lacs, Palaniuk’s girlfriend, Tiffanie McCall, along with his mother, stepfather and a handful of other family members were gathered in the 43-foot fifth-wheel trailer Palaniuk and McCall have used this year to travel the Elite Series circuit that began in Tennessee in February and ended last month in Michigan.

Palaniuk’s mother had warned him years ago his dream of becoming a bass pro might not work out, and that he should have a Plan B.

“I said, ‘Why? I’m not going to fail at Plan A,’ ’’ Palaniuk said. “I decided 21 years ago this is what I wanted to do.’’

Palaniuk’s determination paid off Sunday in the parking lot of tournament sponsor Grand Casino Mille Lacs when he recorded five Mille Lacs smallies weighing 19 pounds, 14 ounces, good enough to edge Christie by 14 points for the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year title and the $100,000 payday.

How’d he catch ’em?

By drop-shotting a purple smoke Zoom Super Fluke with a 2/0 straight-shank hook and three-eighths-ounce drop-shot weight. He used a 6-foot, 10-inch Alpha Angler DSR rod and a Daiwa Exist 2500 reel spooled with 15-pound Seaguar Smackdown braid and an 8-pound fluorocarbon leader.


• Minnesota pro Seth Feider weighed a 20-13 five-bass bag Sunday, placing him 13th of 50 fishermen in the three-day Angler of the Year Championship and 14th of 108 anglers in Elite Series season-ending points, worth $22,000. “I’m really happy,’’ Feider said. “I had a good year. I’m looking forward to taking some time off and getting ready for next year.’’

• Texas angler Keith Combs caught the tournament’s heftiest three-day, 15-bass bag, tipping the scales at 72-5 and earning a $25,000 bonus in addition to his $27,000 in Angler of the Year earnings.