Who’s the best angler you know? Is it an older relative who keeps his secrets close to the vest and always seems to catch the big one? Is it a guide or fly shop pro from whom you’ve gleaned some tips? Or is it that lucky neighbor who always seems to have new fishing pictures at the ready?
Fishing is one of Idaho’s favorite pastimes, so you don’t have to look hard to find an awesome angler. Here are five Idaho names worth knowing — and there are hundreds more to choose from, so never turn down an opportunity to go fishing with someone new!
1. Brandon Palaniuk
Favorite Spot: Coeur d’Alene Lake
Favorite Species: Largemouth or smallmouth bass
Go-To Lure: Molix Kento Jig
The Scoop: Palaniuk is a fierce competitor. The Hayden product was a two-time state champion wrestler at Lakeland High, and his sporting success has carried over to professional angling on the Bassmaster Elite Series. At the age of 30, he already has three Elite Series tournament wins, 15 top-10 finishes and more than $1 million in career winnings to his name. He’s also fished the Bassmaster Classic — the Super Bowl of fishing — seven times, finishing a career-best second in 2013. Considered a rising star on the professional circuit, Palaniuk’s sponsors include Huk, Skeeter, Rigid, Yamaha, Alpha Angler and many more. When the stakes are at their highest, he is known for taking big risks in competition — some of which have led to his biggest triumphs. “I love the ever-changing challenge fishing presents,” Palaniuk said. “The fishes’ lives are dictated by Mother Nature and not a time clock as ours are. Crossing those paths is the fun part to figure out.”
2. Shauna Williams
Favorite Spot: Owyhee River
Favorite Species: Brown trout (freshwater); bonefish (saltwater)
Go-To Lure: Prince Nymph (wet fly); Pale Morning Dun (dry fly)
The Scoop: Fishing line is woven through virtually every part of Williams’ life. From her involvement in Fly Fishers International as a Certified Casting Instructor to her membership in Women Fly Fishers of Idaho to her role as an owner of The Idaho Angler fly shop, Williams never strays far from her favorite hobby.
A surgeon by trade, Williams combines her medical knowledge and fishing expertise through the Casting for Recovery program, which sponsors a weekend retreat for women with breast cancer. “The joy on their faces when they catch a fish with a fly they tied is priceless,” Williams said.
Along with her husband, Rick, Williams has traveled the world with a fly rod in hand. Whether pursuing Caribbean bonefish, Amazon peacock bass or Owyhee River brown trout, she never tires of the chase.
“Nothing is more satisfying than casting to a specific fish, figuring out which fly it will take, hooking and landing the fish, and watching it swim away as I let it go,” Williams said.
3. Eyston Kunz
Favorite Spot: Owyhee Reservoir
Favorite Species: Largemouth bass
Go-To Lure: Jig with craw trailer
The Scoop: Kunz is an angler beyond his years. The Mountain View High student made a name for himself by winning two high school state qualifying tournaments at C.J. Strike Reservoir in 2017. Along with teammate Kyle Nicholson, Kunz posted a whopping 23.28-pound limit at the B.A.S.S. qualifier to earn a trip to 2018 nationals at Kentucky Lake, Tennessee. Kunz came through in the clutch, boating the two biggest bass of his life — 8.84- and 7.5-pound whoppers — to help win the day. He and Nicholson also won the 2017 FLW qualifier, which sent them to Alabama’s Pickwick Lake last summer. Competing against 320 teams from around the country, the Idaho boys finished 38th, narrowly missing the final cut. After high school, Kunz hopes to earn a scholarship, compete on the collegiate tour and, one day, earn a living as a pro tournament angler.
“I love to fish because of the different variables you have to figure out,” Kunz said. “The weather, what the fish are eating, what the water temperature is, where the fish might be and which lure you think will work best.”
4. Andy Fiolka
Favorite Spot: Missouri River; Salmon Falls Creek Reservoir (Idaho)
Favorite Species: Walleye
Go-To Lure: Anything Rapala — specifically the Shad Rap
The Scoop: For many anglers, fishing is a hobby. But for Fiolka, it’s a way of life.
“Fishing is my passion,” Fiolka said. “It’s something unexplainable that I honestly can’t get enough of. It’s my life.”
Fiolka is originally from South Dakota, where he developed a deep love for walleye fishing. Opportunities to hunt his favorite species are rarer here in Idaho, but he makes as many trips as possible to pursue the toothy predators at Salmon Falls Creek Reservoir near Twin Falls, or on the Columbia River in eastern Washington.
“I think walleyes mentally challenge you as an angler more than any other fish,” Fiolka said. “They can also humble you like no other fish. I think it’s that aspect that keeps me coming back for more.”
When he’s not chasing walleyes, Fiolka often can be found fishing for trout and jumbo perch at Lake Cascade. He is sponsored by Rapala and contributes fishing content to several national publications, including In-Depth Outdoors TV and In-Fisherman magazine.
5. Jocelyn Allen
Favorite Spot: Henry’s Fork of the Snake River
Favorite Species: Brown trout
Go-To Lure: Elk-hair caddis
The Scoop: Jocelyn Allen is a born angler. Some of her earliest memories are of fishing with her grandfather. From that moment, she fell in love with being on a river.
“Fishing taught me the value of slowing down in a moving world,” Allen said. “The river allows me to take a minute to pause, take a breath of air and see things clearer.”
Allen grew up in Ashton, a small eastern Idaho town where fishing is a way of life. She spent her college summers working at a fly-fishing lodge in nearby Island Park — an experience that deepened both her knowledge of and love for the sport.
“I’ve learned that fishing isn’t about the reward of catching a fish, although the tug of a fish on your line is a fantastic feeling,” Allen said. “It’s about the process.”
That process — being in tune with nature, wading into a majestic mountain stream, spying a rising trout and getting him to take a well-presented fly — is something Allen can’t get enough of.
“It’s truly one of my first loves of this life,” she said. “And something I hope to continue on doing, forever.”