Daunting. Intimidating. Downright scary.
Those were some of the words the Bassmaster Elite Series anglers were muttering as they headed into stop number seven of the 2020 campaign at Santee Cooper. Many of the competing anglers had little experience on the two lakes (Marion and Moultrie) and the practice they did have was early in the year with little knowledge gained other than a healthy respect for the boating hazards created by vast stump fields and other navigational challenges. Add in a fall transition that can be difficult to adapt to in a short practice period and the chips were stacked in favor of the bass.
From day number one to when the dust settled on Championship Sunday, two of members of the Humminbird® and Minn Kota® pro team duked it out for a 1st and 2nd place finish, combining the technology of the One-Boat Network™ and with some gritty, clutch performances and solid decision-making.
After battling his good friend Carl Jocumsen and navigating a tough bite, Brandon Palaniuk took home his second blue trophy of the 2020 season and fifth of his career, a win that even he wouldn’t have predicted after his practice.
“I had come to Santee Cooper after the Classic and poked around a little bit. But the mapping I had wasn’t really detailed so I spent most of my time just trying to figure out how to navigate safely,” explained the Rathdum, Idaho-based pro. “But I was fortunate enough to get the new Lakemaster® map of the fishery just before our official practice period, so I came into it with a whole new level of confidence.”
Many of the pros fishing the event pointed out the challenges of getting around on Santee Cooper. Luckily for team Humminbird, the LakeMaster survey crews had been on the Santee Cooper lakes recently, creating the most detailed chart available of the two lakes. With the newly-released Lakemaster maps for Santee Cooper in their Humminbird units, Palaniuk and the rest of the pro team had a serious leg up on the competition.
Anglers across the country can now find the newly mapped Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie on the Humminbird FishSmart™ app through ChartSelect.
“Armed with the new map, not only was I able to be much more productive in my practice time, it actually helped me identify key contour points that I believed would hold bigger fish,” shared Palaniuk. “During practice, I would hit spots that had the right contours. If the right matted grass was set up on it, it had a tendency to be a big fish spot. Other anglers didn’t have that information so they were hitting lots of mats without knowing what lay underneath and they were just less productive.”
Following a relatively tough practice period, Palaniuk focused not on one particular pattern but on fishing what was in front of him and using the knowledge gained each day to try to keep himself in the hunt. After a fun back-and-forth battle with his good friend Jocumsen for three days, Palaniuk’s defining moment happened on, when else but Championship Sunday.
“I was fishing an area with really short submerged grass and I could use MEGA 360 Imaging™ to pick apart the area. There were also active fish in there each morning and I saw a big one rise on some shad about fifty yards away. So I pinned my Minn Kota Ultrex™ and headed towards the fish. On the way, I looked down at my Humminbird MEGA 360 and saw a brush pile with two fish on it. So, I swung around and rigged up a dropshot,” said Brandon.
“My first cast was just to the left and I didn’t get bit. The next one I fired to the right and as soon as the bait hit bottom, it started moving with a fish. I didn’t think it was a bass at first, but then I saw her.”
The 7-pound, 12-ounce largemouth anchored Palaniuk’s final day bag and put him solidly atop the podium. Watch the moment unfold here – LIVE: Brandon Palaniuk’s 7 Pounder
“There’s no way I catch that fish without MEGA 360. I wasn’t heading towards it. I didn’t know that brushpile was there. And I doubt many people do. But with these Humminbird electronics, fish just can’t hide.”
Brandon was also quick to credit his Minn Kota Talons™ Shallow Water Anchors for helping him with a stealthy approach to flipping the matted grass where he did a good part of his damage throughout the week.
“These fish were super skittish so being stealthy was key. Thankfully my Minn Kota Ultrex is super quiet but a lot of times I would just drift along with the wind and quickly stop myself by dropping my Talons and quietly pick an area apart. There’s no doubt I connected on more fish because of that approach.”
Palaniuk’s good friend and cousin-in-law Carl Jocumsen gave him a run for his money all week, which made for a fun week for both anglers and their families and friends.
“I would love to have won it,” said the Australian-born angler. “But it’s great to see a teammate win and I have no doubt that he benefited from the same Humminbird and Minn Kota technologies I did.”
Jocumsen also called Santee Cooper one of the most challenging lakes he’s been on in terms of navigation and breaking it down.
“I had so much confidence going into our practice period, knowing that I had the best mapping available thanks to Lakemaster,” he explained. “So I spent less time worrying about where I could get up on pad or run and more time using my electronics to find an area where I could catch big ones.”
Jocumsen found what he believes is a spot that most locals may not even know about and it was all thanks to his Humminbird MEGA 360.
“I know that 90% of the fish I’ve weighed this year have been thanks to this technology,” he added. “At Santee Cooper, I found this area the size of a football field where I had a number of big bites in practice. I decided to really learn it on day one of the tournament and after spending a few hours there, running MEGA 360, I could have drawn you a map of every detail of this football field-sized area.”
Jocumsen leaned on this area and a few areas of grass mats to put together enough weight to finish second to his good friend and get himself further up the AOY rankings in an effort to make yet another Bassmaster Classic.
“I’m so amazed at the technology available to us today as professional anglers. More than anything, it honestly makes fishing tournaments more fun. A deeper understanding of what you’re fishing helps me learn so much more. And things like Spot-Lock™ on my Ultrex allow me to focus on fishing, rigging, culling and all the other parts of tournament fishing other than boat control. My Ultrex pretty much takes care of that for me.” added Carl.
Also competing on Championship Sunday and notching solid finishes were fellow Humminbird and Minn Kota teammates, Bill Lowen (6th) and Jeff Gustafson (9th).
With a first and second place finish under their belts, the Humminbird and Minn Kota One-Boat Network on their side and two more tournaments on the Bassmaster Elite Series schedule in front of them, the good money is on these anglers to continue to be a threat to win. Seems like the fun has just begun.