The old adage, “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life,” is accurate when it comes to 31-year-old angling ace Brandon Lester. With 81 tournaments under his belt, four classic appearances, 38 Top 30 finishes (including two second-place finishes and four third-place finishes), and a little over a cool half-million dollars in career winnings, Lester has managed to parlay a love of fishing that dates back to docks and banks with his grandfathers and father into a career where every bass caught means money in the bank.
His troll to the top of the professional fishing world came out of a childhood spent casting for “whatever bit” with his grandads and father. “We weren’t necessarily a bass-fishing family,” Lester said. “We caught crappie, catfish, and did a lot of live bait fishing and bobber fishing. It was just like whatever we caught was great.”
But just how does one go from creek banks and crappie to $504,861 in career winnings?
According to Lester, being a pro fisherman was just always in the cards. “By the time I was around 9 or 10 years old — about the time you start understanding that what you have to do when you grow up is get a job — I decided I’d be a pro fisherman,” he said. “I had no idea about what that actually meant, but I had watched Bassmaster TV shows and grown up watching guys like Roland Martin and Bill Dance. I looked up to them so much and thought, ‘There ain’t no doubt about it. That’s what I want to do.’”
After a buddy with a boat introduced him to tournament fishing at 16, Lester found himself dedicated to getting into every tournament he could, even continuing to fish competitively while in college at UT Chattanooga. “Even at college, I always had fishing in mind,” he said.
College left something to be desired for Lester, though, so after a stint studying business marketing, he decided to return to his hometown and get to work.
“I decided to come home and started working injections molding at a plastic factory and drove a forklift every day. I knew I didn’t want to work in a factory for the rest of my life, but it was just something to do as I was getting my fishing career going,” he said.
The process of getting out of the factory and onto the water didn’t take long. After finishing 24th overall in his first Bassmaster Open in 2012, Lester knew he could do better and began putting the pressure on himself to take his fishing to the next level.
“I told myself I was going to give it one more year with the fishing thing. I told myself I was going to ‘put up or shut up’ because it was just time to get my life started,” he said.
That next year, in 2013, Lester fished the Southern Opens and finished first in points, clinching an Elite Series bid.
“The whole time I was getting started, I never worried about the sponsor aspect or the business aspect of fishing. I made it completely about fishing,” he explained. That, he adds, was the best decision he could’ve possibly made. “From a business standpoint, that worked for me because when I qualified for the Elite Series, I was a blank slate. I didn’t have any prior commitments and nothing holding me back. Looking back, that worked for me.”
Of course, after seeing his heroes surround him in the tournament that first year on the Classic tour, the nerves were real while the experience itself was surreal.
“I remember being pretty darn nervous. I mean, I looked up to all these guys for so long, and now I’m out here fishing against them,” he said. “It’s taken a couple of years to get comfortable, but at the end of the day we’re just guys who all love to bass fish. It’s really not that different than a club tournament; there’s just a lot more money on the line.”
As he keeps pushing to be the best on the bass fishing front, Lester says he’s fortunate to have an incredible support system on the home front thanks to his wife, daughter, and stepdaughter. “That’s huge — knowing that they support me. You definitely have to have that.”
Six years in and Brandon Lester is showing no signs of slowing down. Despite some significant finishes in his 80-plus tournament appearances and earning the cover of Bassmaster Magazine, he says he’s still waiting on his defining moment. “I feel like I’ve been close so many times, but I haven’t had that one moment yet,” he explained.