Skeeter/Yamaha Pro Brandon Palaniuk is the 2017 Toyota® Bassmaster® Angler of the Year. Palaniuk caught 62 pounds, 3 ounces of bass to finish in 20th place, earning the points he needed to surpass Oklahoma Pro Jason Christie by a final margin of 902 to 888 points, and claim his first Angler of the Year title during the Toyota® Mille Lacs Championship tournament.
For the 29-year-old pro from Hayden, Idaho, hoisting the AOY trophy was the culmination of a phenomenal season that saw Palaniuk record six Top 12 finishes, including a victory on Sam Rayburn Reservoir. The $100,000 he claimed with the AOY title pushed his career earnings past $1 million with B.A.S.S. ®
“I didn’t know if it would ever happen,” said Palaniuk. “This has been a dream of mine since I was 8 years old. I decided 21 years ago that this is what I was going to do. I just made up my mind that I wanted to fish for a living — and every decision I’ve made for 21 years has led to this point.”
Palaniuk said he feared that finish might haunt him for the rest of the career — until he worked some late magic during Friday’s second round. With only six minutes left before check-in, Palaniuk landed a 6-pound Mille Lacs smallmouth that proved to be his biggest fish of the event. He put the bass in his livewell and made it back to the weigh-in with only 40 seconds to spare.
“That’s when I really got the feeling that this was meant to be, and I think that’s why I was so calm,” he said. “When that happened, it gave me a completely different mental outlook on the whole week.”
Unlike the first three years of the Toyota® Bassmaster® Angler of the Year Championship, a trophy and prize money was awarded this year to the angler with the heaviest weight for the week. The title of Toyota® Mille Lacs Champion and the $25,000 bonus that came with it went to veteran Texas Yamaha Pro Keith Combs, who bested the field with 72-5.
“I’m a Texas guy, and that means I’m a long way from home up here this week,” Combs said. “So, to get to come up here and jack these big smallmouth with a big bait and a big stick was just an awesome experience for me.”
Combs won the Livingston Lures Day 2 Leader Award of $500 for leading the tournament on Friday’s second day of competition. He also won the Toyota® Bonus Bucks Award of $3,000 for being the highest-placing eligible entrant in the program.
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