Wind, Waves Push Larger Smallmouth Into His Fishing Area
Seldom, if ever, does a bass pro welcome wind and stormy weather during a day of competition, but for veteran Brandon Palaniuk, those very conditions during the final round of the recent Bassmaster® Elite tournament on Lake Champlain played a major role in leading the Yamaha Pro to victory on the massive, open-water impoundment.
For the four-day tournament, Palaniuk brought in 20 basses weighing 80 pounds, one ounce, including 21-06, his heaviest daily weight, in the wind and waves.
“We had wind and storms during practice and I located some better-than-average smallmouth holding around big boulders scattered over a deep flat,” noted Palaniuk. “It has been an extremely warm summer in that region and the lake was lower than I’ve ever seen it. That led me to think the smallmouth might be in deeper water further offshore, so after checking places I had fished during previous tournaments, I began searching entirely new water. Late on the second day of practice I finally found the type of fish I’d been looking for.
“At Champlain, my goal was to average about 20 pounds per day. I felt that would put me in a position to win on the final day, but during the first three days of the tournament the weather turned hot and calm and the fishing was tough. Then the wind and storms returned the last day, and I believe the upwelling current created by that wind pushed baitfish up around those boulders. The smallmouth followed them, and I was able to take advantage of the conditions.”
Strong wind and waves will often push both forage and bass toward shallower cover and structure, but this time it was as if the Yamaha Pro found a different caliber of fish. Instead of catching 3 and 3 ½-pound smallmouth, he suddenly started catching 4 and 4 ½-pounders. Even while he ultimately weighed in more than 21 pounds, he culled two more five-fish limits that probably would have weighed nearly as much.
Palaniuk describes that day as ‘magical,’ and because of his previous experiences fishing Lake Champlain, he realized something very special was happening. Less than three pounds separated the 10 finalists that day and he fished as hard as possible so all of them would need big catches, as well. Still, the Yamaha Pro did not know for certain he had won the event until the last fisherman weighed in his catch. He beat runner-up Seth Feider by slightly more than a single pound.
“I caught the majority of my fish on a dropshot rig, fishing depths ranging from 20 to as deep as 40 feet,” he explained. “Despite the rough conditions I was still able to pinpoint the big boulders with my electronics and make my casts accurately. It seemed as if every boulder I found had smallmouth around it and many of those fish hit my lure on the initial fall. I was having so much fun, it was difficult to leave and head back to the weigh-in.”
Lake Champlain, which for part of its length forms the border between Vermont and New York, marked only the fourth Bassmaster® Elite Series tournament of 2020 due to the postponement of several events in June and July because of Covid-19 restrictions. The Yamaha Pro, who lives near Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, spent much of his free time fishing close to home, something he hasn’t been able to do in nearly a decade due to his normal tournament schedule.
“I enjoyed being able to fish and spend the springtime with my family and friends,” he admits. “I learned to fish on Lake Coeur d’Alene, but for the past 10 years the only time I’ve been home has been during the fall and winter months when it’s cold and snowy.
“I think a lot of the Elite pros used their off-time the same way, spending more time with their families and fishing closer to home on lakes they may not have visited in years.”