But he started Day 1 with some trepidation.
"Being the last boat out, I was a little bit nervous about where I was going to start," Palaniuk said. "I ran to the first place, and I didn't really have anything going. I started jumping around. The next spot I went to, I caught one about 3 pounds.
"I was still thinking and deciding if I was doing the right thing and then at the next spot, I pulled up and caught that 5-11 and then a 5 ½-pounder. Then I knew I was doing the right deal, and just ground it out all day."
Cliff Pace is in third place, less than 2 pounds out of the lead.
Click here for full standings.
Using a technique he found in practice fishing, Palaniuk boated the five bass that put him in the lead, including mostly fat prespawners.
"I'm running around, covering a lot of water, fishing a lot of different stuff. Just kind of junk fishing so far, which is kind of a scary deal but I'm hoping it will hold up," Palaniuk said.
In taking the first day lead, Palaniuk hopes that momentum will carry through the tournament.
"It's huge, it's everything," Palaniuk said. "In this sport it's so mental. Once you catch that first big one, it lets you know you're kind of doing the right thing. Then you catch another big one, and it kind of compounds. It gives you that much more confidence to keep doing the same thing throughout the day."
Palaniuk said the second round Friday may require a different approach. Conditions were sunny and calm today, and he saw improved water clarity from practice days. But with rain coming in and temperatures dropping overnight, he plans to make adjustments as he goes.
"When I caught that big one today, I wasn't real calm, I was jacked up," Palaniuk said. "But it's important to stay calm so you can make those adjustments. You can't be really bull headed and stubborn and try to make something work when it's not."
Matt Herren of Trussville, Ala., took the second spot on Day 1 with 20 pounds, 13 ounces. Cliff Pace of Petal, Miss., is in third with a catch of 19 pounds, 10 ounces.
"I had a heck of a day," Herren said. "I probably caught about 25 keepers. I've been on a pretty good bite all week, but everything started coming together this morning. I settled down in one area and found another area that seemed to hold up just as well. I wish it would stay hot and sunny like it was today. We might have rain tomorrow, and it might be all right or it might not."
Pace, who reeled in about 30 fish throughout the day, said he exceeded his expectations today in a tournament that's all about "getting good quality bites." He got a couple of bonus bites that helped him inch closer to the 20-pound mark and has plenty of water he tried out in practice that he didn't have time to get to today.
"If you catch two 5-pounders here, that gets you well quick," Pace said. "It's a pattern deal. One thing about fishing a pattern you've got to keep hustling and keep going and hope you come across those bigger fish. There's guys who did what I did today and weren't catching quality bites. But I got fortunate and got some of them."
First prize in the tournament is $100,000 and a qualification for the 2013 Bassmaster Classic. Pros are also fishing to rack up points that count toward postseason entry, Classic qualification and the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year award.