Posted by Z3 MEDIA STAFF on 09/17/2017

Palaniuk Wins TAOY
Heading into the Toyota Angler Of the Year Championship this past week on Mille Lacs, Brandon Palaniuk held a comfortable yet catchable lead in the TAOY race over Jason Christie, who put himself in position to catch Palaniuk with a win at the regular season finale on Lake St. Clair last month.  

Both Christie and Palaniuk turned in strong performances at Mille Lacs, finishing with identical weights (62-3) for three days of competition.  It was more than enough for Palaniuk to claim the first Toyota Angler Of the Year trophy of his career – he beat Christie by 14 points.  

The TAOY victory is made even more impressive with the fact that Palaniuk finished in 105th place in the second Elite Series stop of the season on Lake Okeechobee.  Had it not been for the bomb, he would have walked away with the title.   His Angler Of the Year season also included six Top 12 finishes and a victory on Sam Rayburn.  

Combs Wins on Mille Lacs  
The seed for Keith Combs’ win this week at Mille Lacs was planted last year at the TAOY Championship on Mille Lacs when he finished in 30th place.   Taking what he learned last September, the Texas pro went to work at the smallmouth factory and led wire-to-wire.  His total weight of 72-5 was less than 2-pounds heavier than 2nd place finisher, James Elam.  

Throughout the week, relied on a football jig that he drug across the bottom to tempt the Mille Lacs smallmouth into biting.  He caught a limit weighing 24-15 on both Day One and Day Two, and closed out the tournament with a 22-7 limit.  

He earned $25,0000 for the win and jumped to 9th place in the final TAOY standings.  

Connell Wins Rookie Of the Year
Alabama’s Dustin Connell wasn’t pegged by many to win the Rookie Of the Year title heading into the 2017 Elite Series season.  While a lot of the attention went to Mark Daniels, Jr. and Alton Jones, Jr., Connell remained near the top of the ROY point standings after notching a victory in the third Elite Series tournament of his career on Ross Barnett.  

Outside of the victory, Connell never finished inside the Top 20 during the 2017 Elite Series season.   He relied on consistency, finishing inside the Top 40 in seven tournaments.   

At the TAOY Championship on Mille Lacs, the battle for Rookie Of the year came down to Connell and smallmouth guru, Jamie Hartman.   Hartman, who lives in New York, had an incredible rookie season that included five Top 12 finishes.  However, he was unable to overcome two sub-80th place finishes and lost the ROY title to Connell by a single TAOY point. 

Williamson Last Man in Classic through TAOY Points  
Jason Williamson was a contender in the Angler Of the Year race for the first part of the season.  In the end, his strong start was enough to finish in 39th place in the TAOY standings and earn the last qualifying spot through the Elite Series for the 2018 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Hartwell next March.  

He started the year with three consecutive Top 25 finishes and was able to overcome four finishes of 70th or lower to qualify for the third Classic of his career.

Classic Bracket Begins Tuesday
New this season, the Classic Bracket consists of the first eight anglers outside of Classic qualification (40th – 47th place in the final TAOY standings).  The eight anglers will fish Pokegama Lake in Grand Rapids, Minnesota in a head-to-head elimination format.  

Tuesday’s matches include Kelley Jaye vs. Dave Lefebre, Jonathon VanDam vs. Ish Monroe, Mike Iaconelli vs. Adrian Avena, and Steve Kennedy vs. Jacob Powroznik.  

By the end of the bracket, one angler will earn a spot in the 2018 Bassmaster Classic.  Mike Iaconelli finished in 41st place in the TAOY standings and must navigate through the bracket challenge to qualify for the 17th consecutive Classic of his career.