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Lester previews Pickwick ahead of Toyota Owners Tournament

With the 12th annual Toyota Bonus Bucks Owners Tournament returning to Pickwick Lake next month, we caught up with Tennessee River expert Brandon Lester to pick his brain on what anglers attending the event should expect from a fishing and fellowship standpoint.

Lester took home his first blue trophy the last time the Elite Series visited Pickwick in June of 2022, and he was loading up his family to go camping and crappie fishing on another TVA impoundment, Lake Guntersville, when I called. Few professional anglers spend more time on the water during the offseason than Lester, and a large majority of his fall trips find the Team Toyota pro traveling to one of the famous fisheries on the Tennessee River chain. 

Lester is the perfect person to preview Pickwick ahead of the Toyota Owners Tournament, and he was happy to provide a few useful suggestions.

“My first tip, honestly, is to register and to do everything you can to make it to this event,” Lester said sincerely. “If you own a 2019 or newer Toyota tow-vehicle, or you have a buddy that does, you really ought to get to Pickwick next month. That weekend is more about fun and camaraderie than it is a hardcore tournament, and it’s something my whole family looks forward to every year. It’s like a mini vacation. It’s free to enter, competitors get piles of free gear, plus we all get to hang out and talk fishing. It’s a win-win.”

Lester nailed it. While there is a $5,000 guaranteed first-place prize on the line and payouts to the top 31 teams, this no-entry-fee tournament is far more about community than cutthroat competition. It’s the perfect event to fish as a husband-and-wife team, to take your young kids or parents to, or to register and fish with an old friend while you catch up.

Registration will be held at McFarland Park in Florence, Ala., on Saturday, October 21, and the tournament takes place Sunday the 22. From a fishing perspective, if Lester was fishing this event he’d be focused on one of two predominant patterns: the tailrace or grass.

“You can’t overlook the Wilson Dam tailrace on Pickwick right near where you’ll launch,” Lester explained. “The tailrace is always a player with both smallmouth and largemouth, even though it gets a lot of pressure. You can bet you’ll be fishing around a lot of boats, but you just have to commit to the area if you have confidence. The key is doing something a little different. Whether that’s a unique bait, using something lighter or heavier than the norm, or finding a special drift. You want to do something different than the crowd.”

Historically, there have been a lot of tournaments won in the few-mile stretch of river near the tailrace. If fishing current and staying close to the ramp isn’t your cup of tea, Lester advises targeting aquatic vegetation on Pickwick. 

“The other thing I’d be thinking about and trying to key in on is fishing grass,” Lester offered. “I think the grass is really healthy right now down around Kogers Island and the Natchez Trace Bridge. There should be some hydrilla and other species of grass mixed in which is always a good place to catch bass, especially in the fall. It’s a great place to start your search anyway.”

The Tennessee native said without any pre-practice he’d be logging onto MidwayUSA’s website to stock up on topwater walking baits, soft plastic jerkbaits and some 1/4- to 3/8-ounce jigheads to outfit with small 3- or 4-inch swimbaits for Pickwick in late October.

Registration closes October 13, so there is still time to register for this yearly celebration of all things Toyota and bass fishing. To learn more and get signed up, follow this link: https://ownersevent.toyotatrucksbonusbucks.com/ or send an email to bonusbucks@dynamicsponsorships.com.