Thirty-year-old Brandon Palaniuk of Hayden, Idaho, was on his way to 7,000+ acre Lake Chatuge, in the Appalachian Mountains near Hiawassee, Georgia, for the Bassmasters Angler of the Year (AOY) Championship when interviewed. The AOY Championship took place, Thursday, September 20 to Sunday, September 23. After winning $1,126,360 through the years fishing Bassmaster tournaments, Palaniuk hoped to cash in on his familiarity of fishing deep, clear lakes to win this AOY Championship. He was the 2017 Angler of the Year.
“Lake Chatuge is the first lake in the South that Bassmaster has held the AOY Championship at in a while. This smaller body of water is a clear mountain lake. That information excites me, although I’ve never fished Chatuge. I do know the lake has a mixture of largemouths and spotted bass, and I’m looking forward to fishing it.”
Prior to the competition, Palaniuk was in tenth position for Angler of the Year, and he shared:
“Even if I win the AOY tournament, I still can’t move into first place. I actually didn’t know what position I was in for AOY until the final tournament on the St. Lawrence River. But I know if I catch one bass at this AOY tournament, I’ll make the roster for the Bassmasters Classic. My game plan is to go in and win the event, which should move me up in the rankings as much as is physically possible. Before this AOY tournament, I’m 83 points ahead of the 2019 Bassmaster Classic cut.
“One of the reasons I’m looking forward to fishing Lake Chatuge is because being from Idaho, I’ve fished deep, clear lakes most of my life. I also know Lake Chatuge has trout in it, and they’re a great forage food for bass. I expect to catch a mixed bag of both largemouths and spotted bass, although I’ll be targeting the largemouths.”
In deep, clear lakes like Chatuge, the bass are very sight-oriented, since they generally can see their baits before they attack. On this type of lake, fishing with a wide variety of baits and covering water more quickly than stained-water lakes is a good strategy. What surprises many anglers about deep, clear lakes is that sometimes the bass will go shallow, instead of deep, depending on available cover.
“I’ve actually seen largemouths in deep, clear lakes go shallow and hold in very thick cover, or they’ll move into any available shade where the water’s cooler,” said Palaniuk. “But this Angler of the Year tournament should be very interesting to all 50 of us who fish it.”
Palanuik finished ninth in the Angler of the Year Championship tournament and eighth in the final standings. He had the highest finish of all Mossy Oak Fishing Team members competing for AOY. Mossy Oak Fishing Pro Ott DeFoe is in fourth place in the AOY standings, the highest for Mossy Oak Fishing.