Brandon Palaniuk of Hayden, Idaho, takes the lead on the third day of the 2017 Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest benefiting Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, bringing 24 pounds, 7 ounces to the scales on Friday for a three-day total weight of 72 pounds.
LUFKIN, Texas — Brent Ehrler hasn’t won a tournament since joining the Bassmaster Elite Series in 2015.
Brandon Palaniuk hasn’t hoisted an Elite Series trophy since 2013.
But after three rounds of the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest benefiting Texas Parks and Wildlife Department on Sam Rayburn Reservoir, both anglers are in good position to end those droughts.
Palaniuk, a seven-year Elite Series veteran from Idaho, caught 24 pounds, 7 ounces of bass duringFriday’s semifinals to vault himself from second place into the lead with 72-0. Ehrler, the California pro who led the tournament the first two days, caught 24-3 Friday and slipped into second place, just 2 ounces behind Palaniuk with 71-14.
Palaniuk’s lead might be much bigger if it hadn’t been for several giant fish he lost right at the boat.
“It was not a very good day of execution,” he said. “I’ve lost fish every day. But today was just the day that I got them all the way to the boat, and they broke off or came off for whatever reason.”
One fish, in particular, haunted Palaniuk the most.
“I don’t know how big that fish was,” he said. “But it was quite larger than the 8-4 I caught the first day.
“It was just heartbreaking.”
Due to the catch/weigh/release format being used for the tournament, anglers are only allowed to bring one fish to the scales that measures 21 inches or longer. The others are weighed on the water by judges and immediately released.
Palaniuk brought a 6-pounder to the scales Friday — and while he hasn’t been specific about how he’s fishing, he said he’s gone into every day knowing there was a chance he wouldn’t be able to land every fish he stuck. That knowledge hasn’t made the missed opportunities any easier.
“It is brutally hard to swallow,” he said. “I will not forget that biggest fish from today until the tournament is over. It could end up costing me Sunday, but I’m not going to worry about that now.
“I’ll go out, and I’ll hammer down on Sunday, catch as much as I possibly can and see what happens.”
Though Ehrler slipped from the lead, he’s still within easy striking distance after catching 25-6, 22-5 and 24-3 the first three days.
“This is such a good fishery that I know I could go out and catch 24 pounds Sunday and still lose the tournament,” Ehrler said. “It’s just so easy for things to swing either way here. You can go out and have that kind of day, and you still don’t have enough.
“It’s just that kind of place.”
The Top 12 anglers will advance to Championship Sunday. But before that, the competitors will take a day off Saturday for a special event that will feature seminars by the pros, boat demonstrations and an outdoors expo with vendors from all facets of the fishing industry.
Palaniuk will actually spend his off day fishing with one of 12 Bassmaster High School All-Americans in a special exhibition tournament.
Ehrler said he wasn’t sure how the off day will affect the fishing Sunday.
“It’s good and it’s bad,” he said. “The break for the fishery will be unbelievable. We’re fishing a lot of spots, and we’re really beating up the fish. If they relax, we’ll go out there on Sunday and they will really bite.”
Local fishing pressure, however, could play a role in Sunday’s outcome.
“You just don’t know how hard they’re going to get hit on Saturday,” Ehrler said. “So the off day could help or hurt.
“The one thing we can’t afford to do is get lazy and start making the wrong decisions because we have this little break. We need to keep our momentum going.”
While it seems to be a two-man race at the top of the leaderboard between Palaniuk and Ehrler, third-place angler Hank Cherry believes he’s in a good spot after catching 19-9 Friday to push his three-day total to 61-12.
Though he’s more than 10 pounds back of the leader, he said he’ll be able to fish Sunday with almost no pressure.
“I’ve seen two double-digit fish out there — and who’s to say that I don’t catch them bothtomorrow to have 23 pounds with two fish,” Cherry said. “The thing about being 10 pounds back is that all of the pressure is on those guys in front of me.
“If I go and catch 23 and they have an off day, you never know what might happen.”
Saturday’s festivities will begin at 10 a.m. CT at the George H. Henderson Jr. Expo Center in Lufkin. Then the tournament will resume Sunday with takeoff at 7 a.m. from Cassels-Boykin Park in Zavalla. The weigh-in will be held at 4:30 p.m. at the George H. Henderson Jr. Expo Center in Lufkin.
The winning angler will receive a $100,000 first-place prize, with the rest of the field splitting a total $1 million payout. The winner of the Toyota Big Bass award will take home a Toyota Tundra pickup valued at $50,000.
Ehrler still leads the Toyota Big Bass race with a 9-1 he caught during Wednesday’s opening round.
The event is hosted by the Lufkin Convention and Visitors Bureau.
2017 Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest Platinum and Title Sponsor: Toyota
2017 Bassmaster Elite Series Premier Sponsors: Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Power-Pole, Shell
2017 Bassmaster Elite Series Supporting Sponsors: Shimano, T-H Marine, Advance Auto Parts, Academy Sports + Outdoors, Carhartt, Dick Cepek Tires & Wheels, Livingston Lures, Lowrance, Phoenix Boats
2017 Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest Beneficiary: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
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