After grabbing an early lead in a Bassmaster tournament last month, Brandon Palaniuk told the media he was keeping details of his tackle and tactics “locked down for now.” It’s time to bust out the key and set his secret free. In the heat of the summer he caught ‘em on an ice-fishing bait — a Rapala Jigging Rap®.
“It’s a little trick up my sleeve that I’ve kept secret for a long time,” says Palaniuk, the only Bassmaster Elite Series pro from Idaho. “Before I made the Elites, I had thrown them a little at home. I’ve caught open-water fish on them all the way down to 70, 80 feet.”
When fished through the ice as they were designed for, Jigging Raps work best with a vertical pump-and-swim action. A successful open-water presentation, however, requires aggressive rod snaps throughout a horizontal retrieve.
“When you snap the rod, it will dart a foot or two off to the right, and then it falls super fast,” Palaniuk explains. “And then you snap it again and it might dart two feet back over to the left — or forwards, or backwards. It’s a constant change of direction.”
After weighing a 20-pound-plus five-fish limit to lead the first day of the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament on New York’s Lake Cayuga in late August, Palaniuk told Bassmaster.com he was fishing a pattern he had all to himself. It’s likely those Empire State bass hadn’t seen anything like a Jigging Rap before — at least not in the summer.
Lead weighted and balanced to perfection, Jigging Raps inimitably simulate the erratic characteristics of a wounded baitfish. “The big thing is how erratic it is,” Palaniuk says. “For fish that are in a negative, inactive mood, it triggers a feeding response.”
The Jigging Rap’s unmistakable minnow profile features single reversed hooks on the nose and rear — so regardless of how a fish attacks, it’s running smack-dab into a hook. A center treble hook — hung from a belly eyelet — further increases your hook-up ratio.
Fishing much deeper than most other competitors on Cayuga, Palaniuk saw only one other angler during the tournament. Targeting smallmouth, he ended up catching both brown and green bass off of two small rock piles in about 25 feet of water. A shell bed extended from the rock pile area down to about 40 feet. “The fish would stay anywhere from that 25-foot to that 40-foot zone,” he says.
Palaniuk found fish in those spots in the two-and-a-half days of practice before the four-day tournament began. Despite being able to see them clearly on his depthfinder, however, he couldn’t get them to bite at first.
“There were schools of these fish, so I’d drop on them with a drop shot and they’d follow it down,” he recalls. “But I wouldn’t be able to get them to eat.”
But on the last day of practice, inspiration struck.
“I pulled out the Jigging Rap to try to get a reaction strike,” he says. “The first drop with it, I had one eat it.”
It was a No. 7 size Jigging Rap in the Glow color pattern — white with a chartreuse head. He threw it on a 7-foot, medium-action spinning rod spooled up with 8-pound-test braided line attached to an 8-foot, 8-pound-test fluorocarbon leader.
“That first drop of the Jigging Rap, a couple followed it down, and the first few snaps of the rod, I got one to eat it,” Palaniuk says. “So then I kind of got excited. I was like, ‘Man, I’ve got something figured out that they’re going to eat!”
After dropping the Jigging Rap a few more times and shaking off a few more bites, he determined he’d found a school of 4-pounders.
“So, I just always had one tied up and on the deck throughout the tournament,” he says. “And when I would see fish on my electronics I would drop on them. If there were two or more fish, I’d drop on them like that and see if I could get bit.”
Ultimately, the Jigging Rap bite did not yield enough big fish for Palaniuk to win the tournament — he ended up placing eighth — but it did account for several of the fish he weighed and helped clue him into a couple other ways to get bites. Based on the way bass had been biting the Jigging Rap in practice, Palaniuk decided on the first day of the tournament to stroke a 1-ounce Terminator Football Jig, rather than crawl it across the bottom, a more traditional presentation. That decision led to a 20-pound, 1-ounce limit and the Day 1 lead.
“The reason I started stroking it was because of the fact that I got on the Jigging Rap bite,” he explains. “I just started ripping it off the bottom, like you would a Jigging Rap, and that’s pretty much how I caught 20 pounds pretty quick.”
Most of the bass Palaniuk caught on the Terminator Football Jig hit on the fall immediately after a vertical stroke. “You’d rip it up and I think you’d catch their attention, and they’d follow it up, and then instantly, if you’d let off at all, they ate it,” Palaniuk explains. “It’s almost like you’re fishing a spoon. Once you rip it up off the bottom, they eat it as soon as it changes direction — starts to fall.”
Although many believed, going into the tournament, that shallow-grass largemouth would be the ticket to success on Cayuga, Palaniuk — true to form — opted to target deep-weedline smallies.
“I always like doing something different,” he explains. “I feel like that’s how you put yourself in contention to win and how you can separate yourself from everyone else — if you can find the quality fish doing something different, that not every else is doing. The reason I found those fish is because I was looking for smallmouth.”
As it turned out, however, he caught both smallmouth and largemouth from his deep spots. Brown and green bass were “pretty evenly mixed in the school,” he says.