My Classic with Brandon Lester

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James Overstreet

Brandon Lester and cameraman Eric Kaffka prepare to head out on Championship Sunday.

Editor’s note: Author Eric Kaffka has worked as a cameraman for Bassmaster TV productions since 2015.

The 10 anglers featured on Bassmaster LIVE for Day 1 of the 2020 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk were selected by committee, one that operates in a different tax bracket than yours truly. But JM Associates and B.A.S.S. coordinating producer Tim Schick sent me the list and asked, “Who do you want to cover on Day 1?” With a brief glance at the list, I immediately zeroed in on one name.

Brandon Lester is currently one of the most dangerous anglers on planet Earth, but you wouldn’t know it if you met him at the grocery store or his church. The Fayetteville, Tenn., Elite Series pro is one of the most laid-back people I’ve ever met. I’ve covered Lester dozens of times over the last six seasons, and I’ve never witnessed him — to use an over-used term in our sport — “spin out.” He stayed calm even when “spinning out” would have been the absolute proper reaction to the situation. 

Take the Elite Series tournament at the St. Lawrence River in 2016. Lester had moved to the top of the leaderboard early on Championship Sunday. He didn’t know it for sure, but I did. He was working on a mega-bag, so he had a good idea he was going to be near the lead. And with a sharp crack of a hook set, Lester leaned into one the biggest smallmouth bass of his life. A game-changer, the winning fish, and he knew it.

“It’s a big one. And I mean a great big one,” he said. After a long battle on light line, this 6-pound-plus smallmouth was probably going to make Lester an Elite Series Champion. Then it happened.

Just as the bass touched Brandon’s hand, the little drop-shot hook came loose. A desperate swipe at the water … and nothing. We would learn later that was probably an $80,000 fish that slipped through Lester’s hands.