What’s Been Working for Palaniuk This Year
We’re now well into the professional bass fishing season and Idaho pro Brandon Palanuk is having another solid season on the Bassmaster Elite Series. He’s fished from Florida to Tennessee and Texas. Each has presented unique fishing challenges and he’s fished all phases of the spawn already. So far, he’s mixed in various techniques, including fishing a wacky rig, Neko Rig, and cranking.
Wacky and Neko Rigs
For the most part, Palaniuk will have both a wacky and Neko-rigged soft plastic ready to go anywhere he finds himself during the spring and summer months.
“I generally like the wacky rig more right around the spawn and afterward when the fish are not very aggressive,” he said. “That slow or neutral fall works great when the fish are shallow or higher up in the water column.”
He’ll switch to the Neko Rig for deeper cover and in the same places, most anglers would fish a big worm, football jig, and a Carolina-rig.
“I’ll fish the Neko anytime I want to fish right on the bottom,” he said. “It has such a unique action on the bottom and you can still fish it fairly fast to cover water. I’ve also learned that it is one of the best bed fishing rigs you can throw, and I used it a bunch at the Lake Fork tournament.”
This year, he has switched to the new VMC Crossover Rings and Crossover Pliers to make his rigging easier.
“It was always hard to find a way to rig your hook effectively, so the hook is in the right position,” said the Idaho pro. “You want the hook to be inline with the bait for a Neko rig and perpendicular with the bait for a wacky-rig to get the best hook up percentage. The Crossover Rings make it much easier to rig it right. Without them, your bait tends to foul and get bunched up or slide right off of other types of rings.”
The pliers themselves make it simple to affix one of the specialty rings to your soft plastic of choice.
“They are really easy to use and the fact that you can store rings inside of them is really cool,” he said. “I can store more than enough for a day in there, and I’ll also add a couple of VMC Half Moon Neko weights in there. That makes them easy to access without having to go into my compartments.”
One of the hottest new crankbaits on the market is the Rapala OG Slim 6, a bait that has been very hard to keep in stock at retailers across the country. The “OG” stands for Ott’s DeFoe and Palaniuk said that he has been fishing the bait for several years now.
“I was lucky enough to have the ‘OG’ OG Slim that Ott built in his garage,” Palaniuk shared. “He gave me some at the 2016 Bassmaster Classic and now I weighed fish on Grand Lake with the bait back then. Now, the Rapala version is just as good and it was how I was catching my fish at this year’s Tennessee River tournament in Knoxville.”
Most anglers associate flat-sided crankbaits like this with cold water fishing and they work great for that, but Palaniuk keeps using them later into the year.
“Everyone thinks cold water because they have a tight wobble,” he said. “They also work great for pressured fish later in the year. That same subtle vibration that makes it work when the fish aren’t very active in cold water makes them good when everyone else is throwing crankbaits with a wider wobble in warmer months.”
The one change he makes as the season wears on is to switch from crawfish colors in the spring to shad patterns as the water warms. He’ll generally still fish them in the same locations no matter the season as the bait will dive to six-feet deep on ten-pound test and four to five feet deep on 15-pound test fluorocarbon.
“I always look for some type of hard structure,” he said. “I like to fish it around rocks, riprap, pea gravel, and bluff ends. They really did a great job with the bait when Ott made subtle changes to the body of an old Rapala bait. It is cool to see how those little changes like the bill and line tie made such a difference.”
Brandon Palaniuk is off to another stellar start to a season and should be in contention for another Angler of the Year title at the end of the year. He’s had success by adapting to the conditions, fishing his strengths, and mixing in some new favorite lures and accessories.