Last Men In – Finally

Bucks Skeeter Yamaha

6/27/2011 – By Dan O’Sullivan

Midway through the 2011 Bassmaster Elite Series schedule, Advanced Angler did a story and some mathematics to identify who had a chance at getting into the Bassmaster Classic. That article; entitled “Comeback Kids” showed who was in because of wins; who had likely cemented their trip to Shreveport, who had their work cut out for them and who had been all but mathematically eliminated.

At that point, two anglers that hovered around the bubble; Brent Chapman and Brandon Palaniuk, began a gut wrenching ride that culminated with both of them earning a trip to Shreveport. Chapman, who was vying for his 11th trip to the Bassmaster Classic sat inside the bubble in 33rd place, while Palaniuk; a true Elite Series rookie, sat in 39th place trying to make his second trip to the sport’s grandest stage.

Chapman needed only to average a 32nd place finish for the remaining four tournaments to almost assure he qualify, while Palaniuk needed to average a 30th place finish to all but guarantee. Those numbers were of course estimated based on the points breakdown at the time, but they were going to wind up being close no matter what.

Chapman would finish 67th at West Point Lake, 63rd at Lake Murray, 14th at the Arkansas River and 23rd at the finale on Lake Wheeler. Palaniuk did slightly better overall, he finished 45th at West point, 22nd at Lake Murray, 32nd at the Arkansas River and 58th at Wheeler.

Their efforts found them sitting on the dock at Lake Wheeler; Palaniuk after day two, and Chapman after day three waiting for the rest of the anglers to finish the event.

Chapman needed only for a double qualifier (someone who won a regular season event and had finished in the top 28 in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings) to win the event. Palaniuk’s scenario was a little more complex. As the angler took off for the final 12, he needed a double qualifier to win, and the lone man near the bubble who remained in the field; Texan Kelly Jordon, to finish 9th or worse.

All scenarios were in peril at the end of day three; Jordon had posted a 16-pound 13-ounce limit to move into seventh place, and Bradley Roy; the 2010 Bassmaster Rookie of the Year took the lead, but he was not in position to be a double qualifier.

In the end, both Jordon and Roy struggled; Roy claimed a 10-pound, 1-ounce limit and fell to third overall, and Jordon managed to catch 9 pounds, 13 ounces and fell to ninth. David Walker, from Tenn. won the event, and by virtue of his win moved into 28th place – a double qualifier.

The stars aligned for Chapman and Palaniuk; both had made the 2012 Bassmaster Classic field by slim margins. Chapman made it by three points over Palaniuk, who made it by one point over Jordon. Both anglers felt a sense of relief, and talked about what it meant to get into the Classic.

“This was one of the most stressful weeks I can remember having in a while,” said Chapman. I’m still a little shocked that I got in. I didn’t have a great year, and I’m disappointed in the way that I fished overall, but I’ll certainly take a trip to the Classic.”

For Chapman, the qualification meant that he would be able to back out of a contingency plan that he had established at the beginning of the season. Along with the Elite Series “win and you’re in” policy; the Bassmaster Open winners also earn a berth into the Classic if they fished each of the three events in that division.

Chapman could withdraw from the Northern Opens, which he had already made deposits on. “I am going to back out of the Northern Opens now that I’m already qualified,’ said Chapman. “That will allow me to focus on getting ready for ICAST where I’ll work for my sponsors Tightlines UV Tackle, Wright & McGill Co. and TroKar. I’m also probably going to go to Falcon Lake with my dad and catch some bass that really pull. It’s been a tough year and I need to battle some big ones.”

While he’ll certainly accept the invitation, he has some misgivings about the way things are done, and how things could have turned out. “I only cashed checks in four of the eight tournaments this year, and Brandon (Palaniuk) did in six of seven; there’s no way he should be behind me in points,” Chapman said. “I’m glad it worked out for him, but I still think we need to look at how the point system is structured.

“Other than that, I’m just really glad that I’m going back to the Bassmaster Classic,” he said in conclusion.

Although he is young, Palaniuk knows the power of the Bassmaster Classic. In his first trip to the Classic after earning a berth as the Federation Nation National Champion, Palaniuk wowed the crowd with not only his fishing skills, but also his maturity level and sense of the moment. His fourth place finish at the 2011 Classic was memorable, and set the stage for an anticipated rookie season.

He said times in several events that he made decisions that he wished he could make over. “I lost some fish that I think were my fault, and I made decisions that ended up costing me positions in the standings,” he said. “I found winning areas and didn’t judge them properly. One example was at the Arkansas River; I found the fish Denny Brauer won on, and I chose to go somewhere else not realizing what was there.”

Despite those learning opportunities, Palaniuk finished the highest among the true tour level rookies, and he has earned his chance to take his second crack at the big stage. “This year was everything I could have dreamed it would be and more,” said Palaniuk. “I know that I made it in by the skinniest margin; but, by an inch, or by a mile – I’m in the Classic. That was my goal to start the year anyway.”

Maintaining his perspective on the sport, Palaniuk said he feels bad for those who came close, only to fall in the end. “I feel for Kelly (Jordon),” Palaniuk said. “I can’t imagine what it feels like to miss the Classic by one point. Hopefully he’ll have a chance again with someone who is double qualified winning an Open.”

As for the rest of his year, Palaniuk will have some appearances for sponsors and attend ICAST. While he will take a break at some point and head home, his competitive maturity shines through. “I’m probably going to fish a couple of the Northern Opens still,” he said. “I can use the tournaments to get some experience in the North and work on some of the things I think I need to improve on.”