Open: Palaniuk pummels the James River, nabs Day 2 lead

RICHMOND, Va. — Saving the best for last, Bassmaster Elite Series pro Brandon Palaniuk sacked up a late-day limit of 22 pounds, 6 ounces to rise 49 spots and lead Day 2 of the Basspro.com Bassmaster Northern Open at James River.

Hailing from Rathdrum, Idaho, Palaniuk claimed the event’s heaviest bag, which bolstered his Day 1 catch of 13-11 to tally 36-1. Heading into Championship Saturday, Palaniuk leads Jeff Queen by 13 ounces.

Following a slow start, Palaniuk made a key decision to relocate to a spot he identified on Day 1. The results were unquestionable.

“With an hour to go, I had three fish; then I pulled up on a spot and filled my limit and culled three times,” Palaniuk said. “I caught a 5-11 and a 5 1/2 and then I caught one that was pushing 5 in that last hour. It was just incredible.” 

Noting that he’s fishing a very specific situation in Chickahominy Creek, Palaniuk was understandably guarded with his details. He did, however, state that he accomplished most of his work on a small area where precision was as important as bait selection.

“It’s not big; it’s a one-cast deal,” Palaniuk said of his replicable scenario. “It’s hard cover, but there’s more to it.”

Traveling to Richmond directly from last week’s Whataburger Bassmaster Elite at Neely Henry Lake, Palaniuk had approximately one full day of James River practice. Given his brief period of preparation, he decided to commit to waters he’s fished during past visits.

“I’ve never fished anywhere else,” he said. “I only had a total of eight hours, coming from Neely Henry, I had to go with what’s familiar to me.”

Timing seems to be the key component to Palaniuk’s success. As he explained, the bass are positioning with obvious feeding intent, so repetitive casting to a specifically defined area is essential for keeping his bait in the strike zone.

“If you hit the timing right, you can catch (a lot of weight),” Palaniuk said. “What I saw today, there’s 25 to 30 pounds there. Those fish are there to eat, for sure. I think there are new fish coming to me.”

Feeding windows are common to tidal fisheries and that definitely contributed to Palaniuk’s big catch. However, his afternoon flurry hinged on a more complex strategy.

“I made a slight adjustment and I think that, along with timing, were the two keys,” he said. “I figured out the angle I needed to get the right bites.”

Palaniuk said he used a mix of reaction baits and slower presentations. Both techniques produced big bites.

“I hope I fish tomorrow because I don’t know what could happen,” he said. “I’ve made the Top 10 here before quite a few times, but I’ve never been able to pull off the win.” 

Hailing from Catawba, N.C., Queen is in second place with 35-4. Adding 17-11 to his eighth-place opening-round limit of 17-9, Queen demonstrated impressive consistency that belied a Day 2 challenge.

“I caught a couple of fish — including one of my big ones — on the reaction bait I fished on Day 1, but I had to go finesse fishing with a wacky-rigged green pumpkin purple flake Senko today,” Queen said. “This afternoon, they did a little better.

“I only had five by about 12 o’clock, but I made an adjustment and caught 11 in the last two hours. I caught those fish on a prototype bladed jig with a straight-tail fluke-style trailer and a squarebill.” 

Day 1 leader Greg Alexander of Hebron, Md., is in third place with 34-6. After weighing 21-2 — the event’s second-heaviest bag — on Day 1, he added 13-4 Friday.

Alexander caught a couple of his fish on the 1/2-ounce Cheeseburger Jig and chunk trailer that produced his Day 1 bag, but he caught most of his fish on an unweighted Texas-rigged Yamamoto Senko.

“Today, I had half the bites that I had yesterday,” Alexander said. “I had 30 bites yesterday and about 15 today. I had a shorter day, but the water didn’t move much today. When the water doesn’t move, they don’t bite." 

Tommy Williams of Shepherdsville, Ky., is in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with his 8-7.

Cody Stahl of Griffin, Ga., won the co-angler division with 20-14. Leading Day 1 with 11-5, he added 9-9 Friday. As Stahl explained, dialing in a particular presentation was the key to his success.

“I figured out that there were some fish still on beds and they were spawning around cypress trees,” Stahl said. “They were relating to the back sides of the trees where it was protected from the wind and boat wakes and it was in the shade.

“I caught my fish on a TrueSouth Custom Lures jig with a Big Bite Baits Swimming Craw with the (pinchers) dyed chartreuse. When I was reeling my jig up, I noticed my bait matched the river shad that were chasing it. I believe those shad and bluegill were trying to eat those bass eggs.”

On Day 2, Stahl caught his fish with a TrueSouth bladed jig and a Big Bite Baits Swimon trailer. He caught one of his keepers around spatterdock and made two late-day culls when his boater took him to a tree he spotted on Day 1.

James Johnson of Chester, Va., won the $250 Phoenix Boats Big Bass award among co-anglers with a 5-15.

Palaniuk leads the Northern Open standings with 200 points. Queen is in second with 199, followed by Alexander with 198, Jonathan Kelley of Old Forge, Pa., with 197 and Nicholas Bodsford of Richmond, Va., with 196.

Jacob Powroznik of North Prince George, Va., leads the overall Falcon Rods Opens Angler of the Year standings with 687 points. 

Saturday’s takeoff is scheduled for 6 a.m. ET from Osborne Park & Boat Landing. The weigh-in will be held at the Bass Pro Shops in Ashland, Va., at 3 p.m.

Visit Richmond and Henrico County, Va., are hosting the event.