Tourney Patterns

How Brandon Palaniuk won the Santee Cooper Elite

Need you to understand that Brandon Palaniuk was leading this deal after 2 days, then came in on day 3 with LESS THAN 10 LBS (9-09), then went out day 4 and caught what I think was the 2nd-biggest bag of the tourney (22-11) to WIN BY 8 LBS — on a day 4 when almost half the top 10 guys (who’d been catching ’em all week duh) didn’t even weigh a dang limit! Here’s how he rolled in this’n:

Going in

> “My biggest thing was to not get super spread-out in practice. I was very cautious about that…such a big body of water, so much fishable water. I took the time to do a bunch of research online…to look at the areas of the lake that continually came up in past tourney results no matter what time of year. That way I basically knew a population of fish lived in that area.

> “…coming into it I didn’t know anything about the lake. So I needed to be able to split my 3 days of practice and put myself in areas where I knew a population of fish lived so I could see how those places set up…how fish were using those places that week. …an idea of what stage the fish were in and what they were doing. Then I could narrow it down to the area I felt the most comfortable in.”


> “My practice wasn’t that good. After practice I was just hoping to be able to scrape enough together to make a check and get some good points out of it. In looking back…was a blessing in disguise. I wasn’t dialed into anything necessarily, but I had just enough little clues here and there that allowed me to make those decisions and those adjustments…ultimately what allowed me to win.

> “…figure out how to get 1 big bite and then fill out a limit. I figured that 1 big bite was a difference-maker for guys cutting checks…. The guy who’d win would get 2-3 of those in a day vs just getting 1.

> “It wasn’t easy to get bites — that’s why I started on that place…not a place where I’d catch a bunch, but I thought I might catch one 6-7 lber in the morning and then go punch mats and fish some of the flats up north to maybe fill out a limit and get 1 more big bite.”

Day 1

> “…caught a 1.5 and put it in the box, didn’t have another bite [at his first spot]. I decided to run up north, got up there at 9:30-ish and stopped on the first stretch where I’d caught 1 big one punching [his only big fish in practice]…caught a 7.5. That allowed me to slow down a lot. I felt like that was my 1 big bite I needed.

> “I probably went another 10 minutes…another keeper punching. Then I went to a spot…1st day of practice right at the end of the day I saw a group of fish come up schooling. I never caught one of them, but I knew that group of fish were there. I’d marked a few isolated stumps, isolated rockpiles and little drops in that area. I felt like maybe could take it apart and get a couple bites.

> “…caught a double [on a jerkbait] — a 4 and 2 on the same cast, then I caught a 6. My mindset completely changed from, I just want to survive this event, to I want to win this event. I got caught up in the moment…swapped out the trebles [that had gotten mangled] and started fishing again.

> “I go and punch another stretch of mats — 20-30 minutes — then idled to another place, opened up the livewell again and realized I had 3 floats on one side where there should only be 2. I knew I had 3 big ones on the other side so there shouldn’t be 3 floats on [the other] side.

> “Lo and behold I have 6 of them in there. So I called Trip…2-lb penalty and instantly thought that might have just cost me the entire event. I never caught any more the rest of the day.”

Day 2

> “I decided to start up north and spend as much time there as I could because that’s where most of my fish came from. They changed. They weren’t really biting the jerkbait at all. I end up [fishing] a [XZone] Mega Swammer…slow-roll that swimbait through them…ended up catching a 3.25.

> “I went to punch mats I hadn’t had a bite in but close to that area…. I caught a 4-lber — it was the last bite I ever got in those mats and I fished it multiple times a day.

> “I went back and caught 1 small keeper on a jerkbait, then went back to punching. I went back to the same stretch where I caught the 6-09, fished it twice and never got bit, fished another section and got another keeper [a 4-ish], then went back…caught a 6.5 not more than 30′ from where caught I caught the 7.5 the day before.”

He caught 1 more keeper to fiull out his limit of 18+.

Day 3

> “I started up north [again]…throwing a swimbait. The first bite I get is a 4-5 lber — halfway to the boat he jumps off. I got bit on 6 consecutive casts and landed 3 of them, but they were all little 14-15 inchers.

> “Then I went punching. I ran into Carl [Jocumsen] and as I’m passing Carl I just randomly flip my punch rig to a cypress tree and catch a 2-lber. That’s the only fish I caught on a cypress tree all week. …caught 1 more keeper on the Mega Swammer.

> “When I caught the 5th one I thought I’d maybe be able to slide into 10th place, or stay in the top 15 or top 20, have a good event and get ready for Chickamauga. But then at weigh-in everyone’s like, ‘I got 2, I got 3, I got 4.’ I was like, Whoa okay…only being 1 lb 3 oz out, I don’t know how I’m going to catch them tomorrow but I still have a chance to win.

> “I felt like my odds were just as good to catch 30 lbs as they were to catch 3 lbs. It was just a matter of making the 5 right casts and crazy things could happen.”

Day 4

> “It was hot and humid — felt like a topwater morning. I felt I had 1 place I might be able to catch a 6-7 lber on a topwater. I pulled up my map to see how far it was, to see [if time-wise it was] worth the gamble. 6-7 [minutes] to get down there, 6-7 back, felt like in 20 minutes [he could know]….

> “[He got there but] the water was dirty so I figured they probably wouldn’t eat a topwater. I picked up a Chatterbait — I had not caught a bass on it [all week] — and caught 2 good ones [a 4 and a 3]. Then I randomly found a brushpile…saw a fish blow up and I was driving to try to go catch the fish that blew up and saw the brushpile on the Mega 360. I chased [that fish] down and caught a 7-12 [dropshotting].

> “I ended up spending way more time down there than I planned because I felt like there was a lot of activity…saw fish on my graph…was seeing things happening. Once I had those 3 fish, I knew I was 2 bites away from having a legit chance at winning.

> “I felt like the odds of getting a bite were better up north.

> “I fished my little magic stretch and didn’t get a bite. I punched the mats…didn’t get a bite. Okay I had to change something up. I had 1 little section of mats marked but I hadn’t fished it in the tournament…ended up punching up a 3.25. That gave me 4. I thought, Just give me 1 more keeper bite and I’ll have a shot.

> “I went to a brushpile I marked in practice up there…not fished int the entire tournament. Threw my dropshot in there and caught a 2.75. Then I went back to my little magic stretch of mats and ended up punching up a 4.25…culled out that 2.75 I just caught.”

Baits and fishing info

> Punch rig: XZone Muscle Back Finesse Craw (black/blue lam), 3/0 VMC Heavy Duty Flippin Hook, 1.25-oz VMC tungsten weight, VMC Sinker Stop, 65-lb Seaguar Smackdown Stealth Grey Braid, Daiwa Zillion HD Reel (7.3), 7′ 11″ H Alpha Angler Mag Hitter Rod.

> “The best mats seemed to be 1.5-3′ hyacinth mats with giant salvinia blown up against them.”

> Bladed jig: 1/2-oz no longer made Fish Arrow (Japanese) bait (white) with a 4″ XZone Swammer (swimbait, pearl white), 15-lb Seaguar fluoro, Daiwa Steez A Reel, 7′ MH Alpha Angler Rebound Rod.

> “The lower end of the lake was the only place I found any submerged vegetation. There’s a pretty heavy vegetation management plan on that lake. I actually read nearly the entire document on the [veg] management plan for that lake, trying to figure out where the grass was and wasn’t.

> “…only about a 50-yard section of submerged grass. I could never figure out exactly what it was. It had that slime grass on it. If you were at a really healthy grass lake, there’d probably be no fish in it. But because it was the only submerged stuff within miles, I think it held some bait and some of those fish. It wasn’t far off the main lake so it allowed those bigger fish to move in and out pretty easily.

> “…in 3-4′, the grass was 4-6” tall — springtime-looking stuff on the [Humminbird] 360.”

> Dropshot: 6′ 10″ M F Alpha Angler DSR Rod, Daiwa Exist Reel (3000), 15-lb Seaguar Smackdown Flash Green Braid to 10-lb Seaguar Gold Label fluoro, 1/4-oz VMC tungsten teardrop weight, #1 VMC Finesse Neko Hook, 6″ XZone Deception Worm (gp blue finesse worm).

> “The brushpile [for that big day 4 fish] was in 6-7′ and I was probably only like 40′ off the brushpile. I thought I could see 2 fish sitting in the brushpile. I flipped to the left side, fished it, nothing. I flipped to the right side, it hits bottom and starts swimming off.

> “When I set the hook, the head shakes were so big I thought it was a catfish rolling…then peeled off sideways and ran back into the brushpile…thought it might not be a catfish. Then it got me in the brushpile and I just had to hold it — just held my rod tight. She was just down there head-shaking. I actually think the bigger ones area easier to get out — the head shakes are big enough where as long as you don’t break the line…it broke a branch and I brought the branch and the fish up.”

> Soft swimbait: 5.5″ XZone Mega Swammer (bream), 1/2-oz VMC Swimbait Head, 17-lb Seaguar InvizX fluoro, Daiwa Tatula Elite Reel (7.1), 7′ 6″ H F Alpha Angler Hitter Rod.

> “…deep hole there. I think they used it to sit in, then pushed up on the flat when they wanted to feed…couple hard spots and some stumps. One day they’d be sitting on a stump, the next day they’d be sitting on a little hard spot…just seemed to transition and move.

> “…4-6′, casting it out and letting it hit the bottom. I was able to reel it at a fairly decent pace because it was so shallow. I was trying to keep it right there on the bottom and bounce it off a little bit of shell or stumps. It seemed like when it deflected off something I’d get bites.”


> “Lakemaster got [Santee] cards done for us in time for this event. They’d never had mapping on Santee before and that made navigation and everything much easier.

> “Mega 360 because that’s how I found that brushpile the last day.”

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