Lake MILLE LACS – Idaho fishing pro Brandon Palaniuk caught a monster smallmouth bass in the closing minutes of competition Friday to cement his points lead — however tenuously — in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship.
Palaniuk said a windblown Mille Lacs on Friday prevented him from moving around the lake as quickly as he did Thursday, when the lake was calm.
“I was just catching one here, one there — and I wasn’t really catching any big ones,’’ Palaniuk said. “But then at 3:14, I made one final drop and caught a 6-pounder.’’
The late catch nearly kept him from returning to the tournament check-in on time.
“Check-in was at 3:20 and I was 3 miles away,’’ Palaniuk said. “I ended up making it back with 40 seconds to spare.’’
Ahead of the Mille Lacs tournament, Palaniuk held a 15-point season-long lead over Oklahoma angler Jason Christie, with Jacob Wheeler of Tennessee only a few points further back.
Christie’s smallmouth bag Friday weighed 22 pounds, 9 ounces, and Wheeler’s was 24-5.
Sunday, when competition resumes at 6:40 a.m. in front of Eddy’s Resort, Palaniuk will try to maintain a 12-point lead over Christie and 17-point margin ahead of Wheeler. The point differences are slim enough that any of the three anglers could win the $100,000 and be named Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year.
Meanwhile, Seth Feider, Minnesota’s favorite son on the Elite Series circuit, weighed a 22-1 bag Friday, good enough for 12th place in the daily standings after two days of competition.
The heaviest five-fish bag on Friday tipped the scales at 24-15, and was again turned in by Texas angler Keith Combs. With another good day Sunday, Combs could win the $25,000 awarded for the biggest three-day total.
Anglers don’t fish Saturday. Instead they’ll gather in the parking lot of Grand Casino Mille Lacs, the tournament sponsor, as part of “Bassmaster University.’’ Beginning at 11 a.m., anglers will hold seminars and sign autographs as part of the Elite Series Outdoor Expo, featuring boats, motors and other fishing products, as well as demonstration boat rides, food vendors and kids activities.