BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Brandon Palaniuk of Rathdrum, Idaho, knows he’s leading the race for the Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year title. He insists that he doesn’t know by how much. His mindset is simply, “I’ve got a one-point lead — one point.”
In reality, despite turning in his second-worst event of the season, Palaniuk’s lead over second place grew from 18 points to 41 after the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence River. When your worst performance is 26th at Florida’s Harris Chain and your second-worst is 25th at the St. Lawrence, clearly you’re having a remarkable season.
However, 25th place marked Palaniuk’s worst finish at the St. Lawrence, where he won in 2013 and has amassed four other Top 10s.
“It’s all about perspective,” he said. “I finished 26th at Florida, and I was ecstatic about it. I finished 25th at the St. Lawrence, and I feel like I got gut punched. But that’s because of the expectations I set for myself.”
After seven tournaments in the nine-tournament 2022 season, David Mullins of Mt. Carmel, Tenn., has moved into second place and shaved a few points off his deficit with a 16th-place finish at St. Lawrence. John Cox of DeBary, Fla., stumbled in New York, dropping to third place in the AOY standings after missing the Top 47 cut for the first time this season. Brandon Lester of Fayetteville, Tenn., and Drew Benton of Blakely, Ga., round out the Top 5.
The drama is more intense at the Bassmaster Classic cutline. Currently, four Elite Series pros are double qualifiers for the 2023 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk, including three winners from the St. Croix Bassmaster Opens Series presented by Mossy Oak Fishing: Lester, fourth in AOY and winner of the Kissimmee Chain Southern Open; Japan’s Kenta Kimura, 14th in AOY and the James River Northern Open winner; Oklahoma pro Jason Christie, 21st in AOY and reigning Bassmaster Classic champion; and Texas angler Lee Livesay, 38th in AOY and the Ross Barnett Central Open winner.
With those double qualifiers, the list of Elite Series qualifiers for the 2023 Classic, which starts with the Top 39 in the final 2022 AOY standings, now extends to the Top 43. That could change if Livesay drops below 42nd in the final standings. But no matter what happens with Livesay, there are a dozen anglers separated by only 30 points around that qualifying number — from 37th-place Carl Jocumsen of Australia with 411 points to 48th-place Bill Lowen of Indiana with 381 points.
That also doesn’t preclude anglers above or below those rankings from making dramatic rises or falls in the last two tournaments of the year. Even this late in the season there are significant movements in the AOY standings after every event. Wisconsin rookie Jay Przekurat made a big move after his win at St. Lawrence, jumping from 36th to 20th in the AOY standings. Fellow Elite Series rookie Joseph Webster of Alabama experienced the other side of the coin, dropping from 29th to 47th after his 88th-place finish at St. Lawrence.
The Elite Series field takes to the water again August 18-21 at the Guaranteed Rate Bassmaster Elite at Lake Oahe in South Dakota.