By Todd Ceisner
BassFan Editor

Two former B.A.S.S. Anglers of the Year are headed back to the Bassmaster Elite Series while two former FLW Tour Anglers of the Year are joining the Bass Pro Tour in their place.

A year after they were among the 68 anglers who left the Elite Series to join Major League Fishing’s fledgling BPT, Brandon Palaniuk and Gerald Swindle, two of the biggest draws in the sport, are headed back to the top B.A.S.S. circuit in the most surprising development of an offseason that has been largely dominated by the fallout of MLF’s acquisition of FLW.

Palaniuk and Swindle will gain re-entry into the Elite Series via the Legends exemption, by which anglers accumulate points based on Bassmaster Classic victories and B.A.S.S. AOY titles during their career. Swindle (two AOY titles) has two points while Palaniuk (one AOY title) has one.

MLF also announced today their spots on the BPT roster will be filled by two of the most decorated competitors from the FLW Tour in Bryan Thrift and David Dudley.

MLF and B.A.S.S. put out separate statements around 4 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, giving BassFans plenty to talk about over the extended holiday weekend. MLF included news of Palaniuk’s and Swindle’s departure (and Thrift’s and Dudley’s addition) in a lengthy release detailing the 2020 BPT field, which will remain at 80 competitors.

Palaniuk came up through the ranks of the B.A.S.S. Nation and his win at the national championship in 2010 kick-started his pro career. He won three Elite Series title and the 2017 AOY crown during his first eight years with the circuit, building a loyal fanbase through his social media channels, which included a recurring video series on his YouTube page chronicling his life as a pro angler.

Photo: FLW

Bryan Thrift will get his first taste of Major League Fishing competition in 2020.

“These types of decisions are never easy,” Palaniuk said in the MLF announcement. “I want to thank the entire MLF staff, boat officials, and especially the anglers for 2019. I have learned a ton about many things, mostly myself, and the reality is that I have some goals outside of the Bass Pro Tour.”

In a separate release circulated by B.A.S.S., Palaniuk added:

“One of the toughest things to live with in life is regret. Now, let me stop everyone right there. I don’t regret the last year. Not even a little bit. I’m actually thankful for 2019 and the things I learned from it. I learned about this industry, I learned about business, I learned more about catching fish, and most importantly I learned a lot about myself. That last one is the reason I’m back fishing with the Bassmaster brand. What I didn’t realize about myself was that I spent 15 of my 32 years chasing the highest level B.A.S.S. has to offer and then spent another eight years fishing the Elites. So, you could say I spent 23 years of my life, or 72 percent of it, living and breathing B.A.S.S. I underestimated how much all of those struggles, chasing my dreams and sleeping in the ‘Tundra Suites,’ contributed to my happiness and that the brand itself was such an important part of my life. I didn’t feel complete without it. So I’m back with a full heart and love for the game.”

Swindle, meanwhile, will resume a B.A.S.S. career that already spans three decades and includes AOY titles in 2004 and 2016. He has 18 Classic appearances and remains one of the biggest personalities in the sport, often regaling fans with humorous quips on stage or on the water during competition.

“I’m looking forward to finding personal happiness as I compete with my nephew at the beginning of his career,” Swindle said in the MLF release. “It’s a promise that I made to my brother and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to spend this last quarter of my career fulfilling that promise.”

Swindle also said he missed the familiarity of a traditional five-fish limit format.

“My reason for wanting to return to the Elites is simple — it’s my home, it’s all I know, it’s what I’m comfortable with, the format, the weigh-ins, the tournament schedule, etc. I miss all of it,” Swindle said in the B.A.S.S. release. “I’ve spent most of my adult life learning how to fish a five-bass limit and manage fish and the different related techniques. So I want to continue that learning process. It’s pretty simple — I love to fish. That’s what led me down this road — a big love for a little green fish — and that love hasn’t died. I’ve missed the fans and the stage and I really look forward to coming home.”

Photo: FLW

This was a common occurrence for David Dudley during his FLW Tour career – holding up Angler of the Year trophies and six-figure checks.

Palaniuk finished 27th in BPT points and qualified for the BPT Redcrest this year while Swindle finished 42nd in points. Palaniuk qualified for two MLF Cups, which will air on Outdoor Channel in 2020, and Swindle will appear in one Cup.

The contract BPT anglers signed with MLF last year reportedly included a three-year commitment and a $50,000 buyout clause if an angler wished to depart the BPT. According to sources, MLF had requested confirmation from BPT competitors by last Friday if they intended to return for the 2020 season.

It was roughly 14 months ago that both Palaniuk and Swindle posted videos to their social media pages – Palaniuk on YouTube, Swindle on Facebook – announcing and explaining their decision to be part of the launch of the Bass Pro Tour. Now, after the inaugural season, they’re opting out.

The addition of Thrift and Dudley will give the BPT two established stars who will both be new to the MLF format. Thrift, a two-time FLW Tour AOY and 2019 FLW Cup winner, will bring a seat-of-his-pants style to the BPT that carried him to the top of BassFan’s World Rankings.

“Moving to the Bass Pro Tour is an exciting opportunity that I feel grateful to have earned,” Thrift said in the MLF release announcing the field. “Featuring the top pros in the world and no entry fee, this is THE professional league, akin to other pro sports leagues like NFL and Major League Baseball; those athletes don’t pay entry fees. I’m excited and nervous to see what I can accomplish on the (MLF) Bass Pro Tour.”

Dudley, a four-time FLW Tour AOY and 2003 FLW Cup champion, has said privately that he would’ve accepted an invitation to the BPT last year had one been extended. Now, he gets that opportunity.

“I’m motivated to start a new chapter and set new goals for myself on the Bass Pro Tour,” Dudley said in the MLF release. “This format will present some new challenges and opportunities for me to grow as an angler; I will have to practice hard this winter to compete, which makes me both nervous and excited – feelings on which I thrive as a competitor.”


Here's a look at the updated 2020 Bass Pro Tour angler roster (in alphabetical order):

> Casey Ashley
> Justin Akins
> Adrian Avena
> Josh Bertrand
> Tommy Biffle
> Zach Birge
> Stephen Browning
> Brent Chapman
> Jason Christie
> Luke Clausen
> Dustin Connell
> Brandon Coulter
> Cliff Crochet
> Mark Daniels Jr.
> Mark Davis
> Ott DeFoe
> Boyd Duckett
> David Dudley
> Brent Ehrler
> James Elam
> Paul Elias
> Edwin Evers
> Todd Faircloth
> Shin Fukae
> Anthony Gagliardi
> Shaw Grigsby
> Greg Hackney
> Roy Hawk
> Brett Hite
> Timmy Horton
> Randy Howell
> Mike Iaconelli
> Alton Jones
> Alton Jones Jr.
> Kelly Jordon
> Gary Klein
> Jeff Kriet
> Jason Lambert
> Bobby Lane
> Chris Lane
> Russ Lane
> Jordan Lee
> Matt Lee
> Dave Lefebre
> Jared Lintner
> Justin Lucas
> Aaron Martens
> Mike McClelland
> Cody Meyer
> Ish Monroe
> Andy Montgomery
> Andy Morgan
> John Murray
> Britt Myers
> Michael Neal
> Takahiro Omori
> Cliff Pace
> Keith Poche
> Jacob Powroznik
> Skeet Reese
> Marty Robinson
> Dean Rojas
> Mark Rose
> Fred Roumbanis
> Bradley Roy
> Terry Scoggins
> Fletcher Shryock
> Gerald Spohrer
> Jeff Sprague
> Wesley Strader
> Scott Suggs
> Randall Tharp
> Bryan Thrift
> Kevin VanDam
> Jonathan VanDam
> Greg Vinson
> David Walker
> James Watson
> Jacob Wheeler
> Jesse Wiggins