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Brandon Palaniuk Selects the Bait That Won the 2020 Lake Champlain Tournament

Thirty-three-year-old Mossy Oak Fishing Team member Brandon Palaniuk of Hayden, Idaho, has been a bass pro for 9 years and the Angler of the Year and has earned $1.3 million fishing. To learn more about Brandon Palaniuk, visit his Facebook page.

Brandon Palaniuk Bassmaster Elite 2020

I was fishing a green-pumpkin-blue XZone Lures’ Pro Series Finesse Slammer, a 3-1/4 inch soft-plastic lure that I use to drop shot fish. After the tournament I was asked, “Why did you decide to use that color?” I had learned that the bass were biting that color more than any other color. I believed this color did a good job of imitating the small perch and any other bait fish on which the smallmouth were feeding. For the first two days of the competition, I used a color called Big Limit, but on the last two days I caught most of my fish with the green-pumpkin-blue color. 

The more fishing pressure the bass get, the more effective finesse fishing is with little baits, light line and spinning tackle. I fished an Alpha Angler DSR rod with a Daiwa Exist 3000 Reel. I put the Finesse Slammer on a light wire #2 drop shot hook with a 3/8-ounce VMC tungsten drop shot weight at the end of my 8-pound-test Seaguar line. I had that line tied to a 15-pound-test Seaguar Smackdown Braid for my main line and used about a 15-foot leader. The knot that I tied the two lines together with was called a Crazy Alberto. Once I got the knot tied, it was almost the same diameter as the line, so it ran free and easy through the guides on my spinning rod. 

One of the main reasons I use this fishing equipment is so I can feel the bite when I’m fishing 40-feet deep. Braided line has the most sensitivity compared to any other line, and having the right rod also enables me to feel the fish bite better. As small as the bait and lead are, I can see my lure fall on my depth finder, the bass reacting to it, and then I can follow the bait down toward the bottom where the bass will be. I guess you can say that my depth finders are just high-tech video games that help me catch bass. 

The main reason I use spinning tackle for drop shotting is because I get the best performance out of my lure. Most of the time, I try to drop my drop shot rig right on top of the fish when I see the smallmouths on my depth finder. Another secret to catching those smallmouths is the way I set my hook. I don’t actually set my hook, but instead reel down on the fish when I feel the bite and put pressure on the rod. The rod then drives the hook into the fish’s mouth. Another important key when you’re fishing that deep for fierce-fighting smallmouths is how you set your drag. I set my drag, so that it’s tight enough to get my hook set. Once I know that I have a good hook set, I’ll often loosen my drag to let the bass fight against the line and pull offline when the fish makes a long run. I want to make sure that once I’ve got the fish hooked, I don’t put too much pressure on it and break the line. 

I often play a 4-5 pound smallmouth for 1-2 minutes before I bring it to the boat just to tire it out. Smallmouths love putting on a show in the air, and many anglers will panic when these bass start jumping, as they’re trying to get them into the boat. Though there’s nothing that you can really do to prevent them from jumping. Most of the time, if you try to pull them down, you’ll pull the hooks right out of their mouths. That’s when having the right equipment really pays off. To put a bass in the boat, I try to pick them up by the belly like I pick up a football, since their mouths are closed when they come up beside the boat. When you pick them up by their bellies, they almost act paralyzed, so I’ve found this to be the best landing technique.

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