Palaniuk leads for third day in a row at Bassmaster Elite Series event on Lay Lake

When Brandon Palaniuk began his research for the Whataburger Bassmaster Elite at Lay Lake, he knew the 2010 Bassmaster Classic had been won in Beeswax Creek where the field launched from this week.

What he didn’t know, however, is that the water he has focused on this week is the exact area Kevin VanDam used to win his third Classic trophy. Now, Palaniuk is just one day away from etching more history into the Beeswax Creek record book.

With a 15-pound, 11-ounce bag on Day 3, “The Prodigy” maintained his lead on the Coosa River impoundment with a three-day total of 51-7. After opening with a 19-7 limit and a 16-5 Day 2 bag, Palaniuk leads Oklahoma's Jason Christie by 2-5 after Christie rocketed up the leaderboard with a Day 3 megabag of 23-0.

“I knew this creek is where (the Classic) was won. I did not know it was behind that bridge,” Palaniuk said. “It blows my mind every day when I come back. Like, how did I catch this much weight? What blows my mind the most is, I feel like I have exhausted everything, like I have caught every bass I can. And then I’ll see a 5-pounder swimming down the bank. It’s like, there is still at least one big one left in here.”

During his 13-year career with B.A.S.S., Palaniuk has six victories, including two that came in wire-to-wire fashion — his first win ever at Bull Shoals in 2012 and his 2013 victory at the St. Lawrence River. Now he’s vying for a seventh overall win and a third in the wire-to-wire category.

Each day, Palaniuk has been unsure of what he would be able to catch in the back of Beeswax. But each day has produced its own pattern.

The first day, he mostly sight fished for bedding bass. Then on the second day, he targeted cruisers and used his Humminbird MEGA 360 to find bream beds where bass were feeding on spawning bluegill.

On Saturday, the late morning and afternoon hours provided the most sunshine of any point in the tournament, and Palaniuk could see more bass cruising around.

“I feel like they were a little more accessible compared to yesterday where I caught more off the 360,” he said. “It positions them some, but it really allows me to see them before they see me.”

Palaniuk has caught all largemouth thus far in less than 3 feet of water. An X Zone Lures Deception Worm continues to generate most of his bites. The lake level fluctuated the first two days, so much so that Palaniuk compared Lay Lake to a tidal fishery. On Day 3, however, the water stayed stable and on the lower side while water temperatures rose to the 80-degree mark.

“As soon as I feel like I know what they are trying to do, it’s like they change a little bit or they change the water level,” he said. “I feel like I understand a couple of things that they are trying to do and how they are trying to move through that area.”

After a 45-minute fog delay on Semifinal Saturday, Palaniuk started his day targeting offshore cover in his primary area and caught a small limit by 9:30 a.m. As he made his way back, he was surprised to find two spawning largemouth. After figuring out where the bed actually was, Palaniuk caught both bass before 11:15 a.m., the second coming just six or seven casts after the first.

After going a couple of hours without a bite, Palaniuk keyed back in on the bream bed and fry guarder pattern and was able to upgrade a couple of times, including his second-biggest bass with 20 minutes to go.

Now that he has been able to hold the lead for three days, Palaniuk is starting to believe he can make his strategy work for one more.

“But nobody knows,” he said. “I lost one big one today and two big ones yesterday. I saw two big ones cruising that I didn't catch. I feel like there are still fish around. It is just whether or not you make the right moves in the right places.”

With bags of 16-5 on Day 1 and a disappointing 9-13 Day 2 performance, Christie ripped the VMC Monster Bag of the Tournament away from Palaniuk with his giant Day 3 bag, which also lifted him into second with a three-day total of 49-2.

That bag was anchored by a 9-4 kicker largemouth that not only leads the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the Tournament standings but also became the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the Year. The daily award was worth $1,000 — and if it holds, it will pay $2,000 for Big Bass of the Tournament and $10,000 for Big Bass of the Year.

“I’m kind of speechless. That was a surprise. I looked out there and I saw one swimming,” he said. “I told my marshal, ‘That’s a 4- or 5-pounder.’ I threw my frog over there and she didn’t like that. She just kind of turned. I picked up a spinning rod and fired out in front of her and sat there and shook it. She ate it, and the rodeo started. There was stuff all around me.”

Christie’s season to this point has been a rollercoaster and that has continued at Lay. He opened this tournament in fourth place on the first day before falling to 17th after Day 2. Semifinal Saturday didn’t begin particularly well either, as Christie lost two 4-pounders before his good fortune began.

“I’m fishing objects. I’m just going down the bank and if I see one swimming, I’ll stop and throw at it,” Christie said. “It was a great day. I have burned up everything that I have so tomorrow I just have to go fishing somewhere.”

After landing in second yesterday, Sylacauga, Ala., native Will Davis Jr. dropped to third with a three-day total of 48-10. The hometown angler has spent most of the week targeting spawning spotted bass in 2 feet of water. He started the tournament in seventh with 15-14 and moved into second on Day 2 with an 18-5 limit.

Davis spent most of Day 3 within sight of the Logan Martin Dam and has discovered the bigger bass have moved deeper. The fog also hurt him, particularly when he arrived at his starting spot.

“I stopped on one place and had the perfect lineup with the waypoint and a tree, and I couldn’t see my tree,” Davis said.

The day was slow overall for the Elite Series rookie. He got just six bites total, but three of those bass were over 3 pounds. He ended the day with four spotted bass and a largemouth.

“It was tough today,” he said. “I couldn’t get dialed in to what rock they were on and all that stuff. I stayed up there and pulled up on another deal I hadn’t practiced on, and on my second cast, I caught my biggest fish. Then I moved a little deeper and caught another big one.”

Davis said he plans on starting Championship Sunday by fishing around some grass closer to takeoff and hopes a shad spawn will carry him to a quick start.

South Carolina's Brandon Cobb leads the Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year race with 487 points. Georgia pro Drew Cook is second with 436 points, followed by Louisiana’s Tyler Rivet in third with 415, Florida’s John Cox in fourth with 414 and Alabama’s Kyle Welcher in fifth with 413.

Davis leads the Dakota Lithium Bassmaster Rookie of the Year race with 381 points followed by Alabama pro David Gaston in second with 369 and California pro Bryant Smith in third, also with 369.

The Top 10 remaining anglers will launch from Beeswax Creek Park at 6:30 a.m. CT and return for weigh-in beginning at 3 p.m. The winner will take home $100,000 and a blue trophy.

Bassmaster LIVE will start at 7 a.m. CT on FS1 and move to at 12:30 p.m.

Discover Shelby is hosting the tournament.