By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor

Brandon Palaniuk knows that he's a serious contender for the B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year (AOY) title, but he swears he's unaware of exactly what place he's in with three tournaments remaining in the regular season or how many points separate him from the current leader.

"I don't look at the points – it's something I haven't done for a fewyears," he said Wednesday while preparing for this week's Lake Oneida Bassmaster Northern Open. "I know I'm at least in position, but I don't know what the gap is.

"I want to make decisions based on catching the most weight possible each tournament day and not on the points race."

Palaniuk, who won the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest in May, is 3rd in the AOY standings with a 14-point deficit to leader Ott DeFoe. It's an enviable spot for him to be in as the Elite Series heads into its Northern swing – he'll be able to pursue his beloved smallmouths and he already boats an Elite win on one of the remaining venues and a runner-up showing on another.

"I know I've got a chance. This has been my best start in 7 years on the Elites and I love fishing up north, but who knows, anything can happen. It's not like the rest of the guys in the group are a bunch of slouches."

Got Burned Once

Palaniuk's aversion to keeping tabs on the AOY race dates back to the 2015 season opener at the Sabine River, where he finished 101st and drove home with nary a single point on his ledger.

"After that I did all the math and figured I needed to average a top-30 something in the rest of the tournaments to make the Classic," he said. "Then we went to Guntersville for the next tournament and after the first day I was like 21st, and catching enough weight the next day to stay in the top 40 was all that was on my mind. I ended up bombing that day and finishing 60th.

"Pretty much from there, I quit looking at the points. I had a really good run the rest of the way and ended up making the Classic pretty much off of seven tournaments while most everybody else had eight. I just fished to catch as much weight as I could every day and I ended up making better decisions based off that."

He said it's not really difficult for him to ignore the AOY standings during the season.

"I've just gotten used to not caring what the points say – I more or less judge everything off each individual tournament – whether I turned one when I was really on nothing into a decent tournament and things like that."

Rock-Solid Nowadays

In the infant stages of Palaniuk's career there were questions as to whether he'd always be a boom-or-bust competitor with a tournament ledger sprinkled with high finishes, but also containing a fair number of stinkers. He's answered that question with three straight showings of 17th or better on the final points list, and now he's got a shot at the title that speaks to consistency like no other.

"It'd be a big personal achievement for me (to win the AOY)," he said. "I still go into tournaments with the same attitude I've always had, but I've learned to do better damage control on the bad ones. I feel like I've learned a lot over the last 3 or 4 years.

"I think I'm making a lot better decisions on the water and not freaking out and trying to force things to happen. It's kind of a matter of sitting down and looking at the conditions, and having more confidence about when to stay and when to move."

As an example, he pointed to the late-April event at Mississippi's Ross Barnett Reservoir, where he finished 18th.

"After practice I thought I was going to catch everything offshore, but I never caught one out deep during the tournament. I ran all my stuff the first day and never got bit and I ended up catching all of them punching mats, even though I never caught one doing that in practice.

"I feel like I'm better at making decisions like that, where I look at the situation and adapt, whether it's something I did in practice or not."


> The Elite Series regular season will conclude with events at the St. Lawrence River and Lake Champlain in July and a stop at Lake St. Clair in August. Palaniuk won at the St. Lawrence in 2013 and was 2nd at Lake St. Clair in 2015.

> He's made four 12-cuts in six events this year. His only non-money finish was a dooozy – a 105th at Lake Okeechobee.