Watch out! After claiming a second tournament title in his past nine B.A.S.S. entries, Brandon Lester thinks he might have unlocked the mystery of how to win.
In the first Bassmaster event of 2022, the 34-year-old pro from Fayetteville, Tenn., crossed his name off the best-to-never-win list at the St. Croix Bassmaster Open on Kissimmee Chain. Four months later, Lester won the Whataburger Bassmaster Elite at Pickwick Lake in his home state.
“The Opens win was great, but it feels like a gorilla has jumped off my back,” Lester said. “To get it done, it feels dang good for sure.
“You want to win. Any competitor wants to win. That’s why you do it. There’s guys who have went years and years and had great careers and never won a blue trophy. I didn’t want to be that guy — not that there’s anything wrong with it — but we compete to win.”
Lester has been a steady force since first wetting a line in Opens a decade ago. He quickly reached the Elites in 2014 and came close to winning several times, including two second places and four thirds. He finally took first in his 115th Bassmaster derby in February. Perhaps figuring some things out, and having things once again go his way, Lester won his second title eight events later at Pickwick.
Contacted on a family vacation to the Gulf Coast beaches, Lester was asked for his take on the oft-heard phrase “learning how to win.”
“I’ve thought a little bit about that lately,” the low-keyed Lester said. “You hear people say that throughout your career — some guys just show up and start winning — but you see a lot of guys who kind of have to learn how to win. I feel like I’m starting to understand what that means a little bit.”
Although Lester had a magical starting spot that held out longer than expected, he knew he needed more fish. Having backup spots, as well as knowing when to zig or zag, are usually keys to success, Lester said.
“In order to win tournaments, typically you can’t do the same thing for four days in a row,” said Lester, admitting he kind of did on Pickwick. “You’re going to have to change baits through the tournament. You’re going to have to make some adjustments here and there with the different weather conditions and things like that.
“I think as you go along in your career, you learn to pick up on those changes quicker and you get more comfortable making those changes because you have more confidence in your fishing. At least for me, that’s how I feel.”
Lester said winning requires processing a lot of information, which starts way before the first practice launch. Previous knowledge and experience on a fishery certainly lay out pieces of the puzzle. Knowing Pickwick was in a summertime ledge pattern, Lester picked his starting spot purposefully because he didn’t want to be stuck sharing fish on a community hole.
“My initial plan, I thought it was a spot I would maybe have to myself,” he said. “As I was running down the river, boat 80, I was taking note, ‘That spot has a boat, that has two.’ That was all part of the game plan.”
Managing his spot, which he said was a 4- to 8-feet deep hard patch about the size of three boats, would prove critical. The first morning, Lester boated his fifth-place limit of 21-6 by 8:15 a.m. It included a 6-9, his first of two Phoenix Boats Big Bass daily winners. Not wanting anyone to see him there, Lester exited promptly and spent the rest of the day looking.
On Day 2, the area produced with a 20-7 limit, giving him the tournament lead. Again worried he or others had emptied the area, Lester was pleased to pluck his second Phoenix Boats Big Bass from it on Day 3. The 6-13 gave him a great start, but he had to expand for his second 21-6 limit, which extended his lead heading into Championship Sunday.
“At the Open, I caught them sight fishing the first two days, then the third day it was cloudy and raining, and I couldn’t see anything so I had to catch them all chunking and winding,” Lester said. “Last week, I had that one starting spot that was really good to me. No doubt, that starting spot was a big, big deal in winning that tournament, but I also caught some really key fish the third and fourth days off a place they just really showed up on Day 3.”
With his early limits, Lester had time to check a number of spots. Where he ended up catching those key fish was a productive area from an Open a few years back.
“I checked it the first two days. There was nothing there, and they showed up on Day 3,” he said. “Taking that time, and looking for that new water and looking for new stuff as the tournament progresses, that’s how to win tournaments.”
With more than a 3-pound lead heading into the final day, Lester put his foot on the throttle and caught his fourth bag topping 20 pounds. Using his 1-2 punch, Lester caught the VMC Monster Bag at 22-14 to total 86-1 and win by almost 5 pounds. It came exactly 120 days after his first victory, put him over $1 million in B.A.S.S. earnings, and begged the question if there’s momentum in bass fishing.
“Absolutely, for sure,” Lester said. “It’s momentum. It’s confidence. It’s trusting your abilities, trusting your instincts. Fishing is so much about instincts. Every day is different. Some days I caught them really good on the Neko worm. The first two days of the tournament I caught them really good on the big squarebill crankbait.
“Those fish, they’ll tell you a lot of their mood if you learn to pick up on those things. When you get this good momentum going and you’re trusting everything that’s going on, you pick up on that stuff easier. We call it momentum, but it’s just getting in a good rhythm, being in a good pace, not getting in too big of hurry, fishing free and doing your job.”
Job well done, Mr. Lester.