NEW ORLEANS, La. — Despite their lack of experience on the biggest stage in bass fishing, most years, one or two Federation Nation anglers will make a run at the Classic title.
After dreaming of fishing in this even since he was 8, Brandon Palaniuk had made a major statement leading up to his rookie year on the Elite Series by finishing in fourth place after Day Two, close on the heels of bass big shots Kevin VanDam, Brent Chapman and Aaron Martens.
"I'm living in a dream world right now," Palaniuk said. "I've dreamed about fishing against these guys all my life. I've also wanted to win the Classic, but I'm fishing against the best of the best. Is it possible to win? Yes. But everything would have to go perfectly."
Regardless of the outcome Sunday, Palaniuk has gained the respect of his peers and the cheers of the thousands of Federation anglers behind him. With his family here to cheer him on, Palaniuk has had a special week and looks to keep it going heading down to Florida for the start of the season.
"It's a confidence booster for me," Palaniuk said. "Anytime you do well in a big event it definitely helps your confidence. The Elite Series is a whole different deal with eight events. You have to perform like this every day."
Dale Hightower also made the top 25 cut in 13th place after making two consecutive long runs to Venice. Hightower was in sixth place after Day One, but struggled Saturday with the shortened fishing time and foggy run South.
"I wish I could fish more than three house in this whole Classic," Hightower said. "It would be nice to have a normal day where we could fish down there. If the fish move from one area to another, by the time you figure it out, it's time to head back in."
That was the problem he encountered on Day Two, with less than two hours of fishing time. With the potential for fog again Sunday, Hightower wasn't sure what his plan would be, but he is against making that run again.
"I wish I hadn't done it today with as bad as the fog was," Hightower said. "If there is fog tomorrow, I'm not going to go out there. I can't second-guess the decisions I've made — I just didn't have much time to get it done."
Like Palaniuk and the rest of the Federation Nation qualifiers, Hightower has loved taking part in his first Classic.
"I've had a wonderful experience, just a great time," Hightower said. "I'm living a dream. Fishing the Bassmaster Classic is saying a lot right there."
Between the rest of the Federation Nation anglers, George Crain had the best Day Two with 15 pounds, 9 ounces and finished 32nd. In 38th was Brian LaClair with 16-5. Dave Watson finished 41st with 15-5 and Sean Alvarez finished 44th with 14-14.