CLARENDON COUNTY — Locating big-fish areas and remaining mobile enabled Brandon Palaniuk of Rathdrum, Idaho, to take the Day 2 lead of the Bassmaster Elite at Santee Cooper Lakes brought to you by the United States Marine Corps with 39 pounds, 14 ounces.
After placing second on Day 1 with 21-1, Palaniuk added 18-13 Friday.
Palaniuk, who claimed his fourth Elite Series win on Lake Champlain earlier this season, caught two of his keepers on a jerkbait, one on a 5-inch X-Zone Swammer rigged on a 1/2-ounce VMC swimbait head and two on a punch rig comprising an X-Zone Muscle Back Finesse Craw on a 3/0 VMC Heavy Duty Flippin’ Hook with a 1 1/4-ounce weight.
Rotating through 10 to 12 spots within a 2-mile area on the upper end of Lake Marion, Palaniuk anchored today’s limit with a 6-6 that he caught while punching shortly before 2 o’clock. Proximity, he said, confirmed he was in the right area.
“I caught the 7-9 I had yesterday maybe 5 feet from where I had a 4-pounder in practice, and then today, I caught a 6-5 maybe 30 feet from where I caught that big fish yesterday,” Palaniuk said. “It’s definitely an area that’s holding the right size fish; I just need to catch five of them.”
Palaniuk said the challenging conditions of the fall transition have required significant consideration, as the fish are in a completely different seasonal mode than they would have been during the event’s originally scheduled dates of April 16-19. When the pandemic required rescheduling, Palaniuk went to work studying for an autumn tournament.
“I came here and pre-practiced in January, which has nothing to do with now,” he said. “I was practicing for an April event, so where I’m actually catching them, I never looked at in pre-practice.
“Coming into this event, I knew I had to put myself around fish, so I researched every article I could find online and I came up with about five or six areas that were frequently mentioned, and that’s where I spent my time in practice. I’ve just continued to narrow it down every day.”
Continuously rotating through his spots gave Palaniuk the best chances of getting his timing right.
“It was literally just showing up at the right place when those fish are ready to feed and then executing when you get that opportunity,” he said. “I haven’t been able to get it dialed in to say, ‘I need to go do this at this time of day’ — I literally have to fish what’s in front of me.”
That game plan mostly worked well, but despite a morning disappointment, Palaniuk kept himself mentally relaxed.
“I didn’t execute as well as I did yesterday — I caught two fish on a jerkbait yesterday,” Palaniuk said. “Today, I lost a big one but I felt like, mentally, I was fishing better. I was way calmer, I was not rushing anything. I was just settling in and taking my time.
“It was actually very similar to how I felt the last day at Champlain. If I can just keep doing that, I feel like I will at least have a chance and then the fish just have to do their part.”
Day 1 leader Carl Jocumsen is in second place with 37-15. After sacking up the event’s biggest bag — 25-8 — on Thursday, the pro from Queensland, Australia, added 12-7 Friday.
“That’s the difference between fishing clean and missing some bites,” Jocumsen said. “I really feel like I’m in the right area and I just didn’t capitalize on those opportunities. I definitely got the bites to have another really good day.”
“I had my head down, grinding with five minutes to go before I had to run back and I cracked a 2 1/2- to 3-pounder and saved the day. There’s two more days to fish, this place has them, I’m around them and I’m going to do everything I can to put them in the boat tomorrow.”
Jocumsen lost a big fish on the white ChatterBait he used on Day 1 and ended up catching all of his weight on a black and blue Molix SV craw rigged on a 4/0 hook.
Derek Hudnall of Baton Rouge, La., is in third with 35-10. After weighing 15-11 on Day 1, he added 19-5. Essential to his success was a 7-12 that bit on the same tree from which he lost a 5-pounder on his previous flip.
“The bites are few and far between, I’m fishing for big fish,” Hudnall said. “I’m around a lot of big ones. More than that is possible where I’m at if I can just make the right casts.”
Targeting cypress trees on the upper end of Lake Marion, Hudnall said the key to his area’s productivity is a set of drains that keep the water moving. He’s catching his fish on a wacky-rigged Missile Baits 48.
Jeff Gustafson of Keewatin, Canada, is in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with his 9-7.
The Top 40 anglers advanced to Saturday’s semi-final round. The remaining Top 10 will go on to fish Championship Sunday.
Today’s takeoff is scheduled for 7:05 a.m. at John C. Land III Sport Fishing Facility. The weigh-in will be held back at the facility at 3.20 p.m.
Live coverage of the event will be available starting at 7:30 a.m. on Bassmaster LIVE at Bassmaster.com and ESPN3.
The tournament is being hosted by the Clarendon County Chamber of Commerce.
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