Elite

Big bass of Pickwick Lake

Brandon Lester caught big bass, big bags and the big total in winning the Whataburger Bassmaster Elite at Pickwick Lake. Lester, who won daily bass honors on two days, topped 20 pounds all four days to win his first blue trophy with 86 pounds, 1 ounce. Check out the following images in Jack Link’s Hook the Beast gallery of the big bass of Pickwick Lake.
Jason Christie was back at hooking beasts. The winner of the 2022 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk and the Elite at Chickamauga had a 5-1 best in his Day 1 bag of 22-2 that put him second. Big drops to 12-10 on Day 2 then 11-4 left him 25th, but he moved up to 28th in the Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings and is in position to double qualify for next year’s Classic, which would add to the 39 automatic berths awarded Elite pros.
Takumi Ito of Japan entered three 5-pounders on his BassTrakk estimates, which on the scale weighed 22-1 and put him third. Ito, who won last year at the next Elite venue of the St. Lawrence River, had slower days of 16-9 and 11-4 to end up 17th at Pickwick.
Maryland’s Bryan Schmitt stood sixth after Day 1 with 20-6. Schmitt, like Ito an Elite winner last year, reached the two-day cut with 17-12 then caught 18-13 to stand fourth heading into Championship Sunday, when 12-2 dropped him to sixth. Schmitt gained 19 spots in the AOY standings to 60th, where he has shot to climb inside the Classic bubble in the remaining three tournaments.
Kenta Kimura started Pickwick outside that bubble at 49th in points, but this 6-1 got him off to a decent start in 17th with 17-5. With 17-13 and 18-3, Kimura was consistent before bringing in only three fish for 7-8. Taking 10th moved him to 32nd in AOY, and with his St. Croix Opens win on the James River in April, Kimura could double qualify to the Classic.
Brandon Palaniuk seemed relaxed throughout the Pickwick event, this despite being on baby watch. Wife Tiffanie was 2,100 miles away in Idaho with the due date of their first child of May 30 already passed.  Despite her wishes that he stay and fish, Palaniuk vowed he would leave the event to be there. He never got the call, but if he had it might have cost the AOY lead. John Cox did gain two points on him at Pickwick, but Palaniuk, behind bass like this 6-2 in his Day 1 bag of 21-13, finished seventh to maintain an 18-point lead as he tries to double up on his 2017 AOY title.
Lester lit up BassTrakk early on Day 1 and held the lead from 8:13 a.m. on with 19-10. On the scales, his 6-0 actually weighed 6-9 and took the day’s Phoenix Boats Big Bass bonus. That big helped him to fifth place with 21-6 on Day 1, which saw him quickly vacate what ended up being his winning spot as it produced all four days.
Not registering on BassTrakk, Matt Robertson took the surprise Day 1 lead with 22-6. Well-versed at fishing Tennessee River ledges one dam downstream on Kentucky Lake, Robertson entered among those expected to be a factor on Pickwick. However, Robertson said he made a mistake in how to fish Day 2 and only caught four for 10-11. He rebounded with 20-7 on Semifinal Saturday to reach the Top 10 before finishing ninth. Oh, what might have been.
Greg DiPalma had one of the bigger bass on Day 2, a 6-2 that helped him climb into contention. The fish was a third of his 18-2 that put him in 10th, but 16-2 on Day 2 left him outside the final cut. DiPalma did make a nice jump of 13 spots in the AOY standings to 38th.
Tyler Rivet, who posted a Top 10 on Pickwick in 2021, had the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of Day 2 fishing in Bay Springs. Starting 63rd, Rivet’s 7-15 was the bulk of his 17-7 that propelled him inside the cut to 33rd. Rivet made his first Classic last year by the skin of his teeth but isn’t taking any chances this year. He’s 18th in the standings.
Cox made a bigger move on Friday, when his heaviest fish went 5-12. Also among the few fishing in Bay Springs, Cox tied for the biggest bag of the day at 22-3, jumping from 33rd to fifth. Cox, who led the AOY standings until Lake Fork, had fallen 49 points behind Palaniuk after Day 1 but finished fifth to leave Pickwick just 18 back.
Rookie Cody Huff, who attended Bethel University and has experience on Pickwick, followed a nice 18-5 start with 22-3 to tie Cox for the day’s best. Huff’s two-day total of 40-8 had him 1-5 out of the lead and looking to win. With a top finish, Huff would also make up ground for a Classic berth and the Falcon Rods Bassmaster Rookie of the Year race.
Lester weighed 20-7 on Day 2 and held the lead with 41-13. The pro from Fayetteville, Tenn., about two hours east of host city Counce, Tenn., continued his solid season, which began with an Opens win on the Kissimmee Chain — making him another potential double qualifier for the Classic — and a fifth in the Elite on Harris Chain.
David Mullins, a pundit pick for his cranking prowess, came into Pickwick 41 points back of the AOY lead in third, but taking 47th with 13-12 on Day 1 increased his deficit to 84 points. Mullins made the cut with 14-13, and then he moved up with the help of these two dandies. They came in his 21-6 limit, tying for second on the day, to finish 16th and salvage enough points to return to where he started in the AOY standings.
Jacob Foutz, another rookie, landed a 5-9, one of the bigger bass of Day 3, to weigh a 21-4 bag and head into the final in third. Foutz, who attended Bryan College upstream on Chickamauga Lake, had scored a third-place finish there in April. Foutz finished fourth at Pickwick, moving 11 spots up the AOY standings to 31st. He also took over second in the ROY race just three points back of Joseph Webster, a local to Pickwick who finished 26th. They pushed Jay Przekurat, ROY leader since the Harris Chain, to third, but they are all separated by 18 points.
Chris Zaldain stayed in contention with 17-8 then 16-2 before making his move on Day 3 with 22-8, which took over the lead for the VMC Monster Bag and its $2,000 bonus. The bag catapulted Zaldain into the Top 10 in sixth.
As a local favorite living on Pickwick, Justin Atkins hoped for some good home-water fortunes after suffering through some uncharacteristically poor finishes the past two years. Atkins made the cut at 22nd before weighing 20-14 to make Championship Sunday as the 10th and final qualifier and went on to finish eighth.
Lester’s spot kept reloading and he kept bagging good limits. On Day 3, Lester had his second daily big bass with a 6-13, and his second 21-6 gave him 63-3, sending him into Championship Sunday in first place, 3-6 ahead of Huff.
On Sunday, Zaldain continued throwing his big baits and landed the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the day at 6-1. That came in the day’s second biggest bag of 21-13, helping Zaldain post a third-place finish and draw a $31,000 check.
Nobody on the final two days could top Rivet’s 7-15, which earned the Louisiana angler the daily and overall bonuses adding $2,000 to his $10,000 check for finishing 40th.
Huff, who had an impressive late-day flurry in the event with a giant spoon, caught his second 20-pound bag at 20-8 but couldn’t catch Lester. Huff finished with 80-5, good for second and his best Bassmaster payday at $35,000. He jumped to 43rd in the AOY standings, in good position to qualify for the Classic.
Lester had wondered how long his spot — about the size of three boats — would hold up. On Championship Sunday, that was answered quickly with a first fish near 5 pounds. He banged out another quick limit and culled to 22-14, the VMC Monster Bag of Pickwick.
Just nine events after winning his Open, which erased his name from the best-to-never-win list, Lester earned his first big blue trophy with 86-1. The $104,000 winner’s check included $2,000 bonuses from VMC and Phoenix Boats and put Lester in the Bassmaster Millionaire Club with $1,019,426 in earnings in 122 events.