From a very early age, this kid from Tennessee had a dream to be a professional bass fisherman. He just knew it was his destiny — it wasn't a matter of if, but when.
It shouldn’t be any surprise that he made it happen.
His list of accomplishments during six years on the Bassmaster Elite Series is impressive including four Classic appearances. But there’s more to Brandon Lester than competing in top-tier bass tournaments.
It’s a lifestyle he loves, and he’s very grateful for, but it certainly comes with its own set of unique circumstances and challenges.
His drive to succeed and his passion for the outdoors have never wavered, in fact they’ve grown, he said.
“Some people have said that making your passion your career makes your passion just a job, and the excitement is gone,” he said. “Not for me. If anything, it’s made me love tournament fishing even more.”
The 31-year-old is always smiling, and you won’t hear him complain about anything. Ever. His positivity is contagious, and after a few minutes hearing him speak, you’ll know his passion is as genuine as it comes.
However, even he won’t deny that this career path requires certain sacrifices, which includes time away from home and his lovely bride Kimberly, his step daughter Leann and their baby girl Shiloh. But the support he receives from his “pit crew manager” (Kimberly) keeps the wheels on the bus — and that’s something he’ll never take for granted.
“Bass fishing is what pays the bills,” he said “When I’m on the road, I take it as serious as anyone who is career driven. I’ve got a family depending on me to provide, and that’s my No. 1 priority with each cast I make. Yes, it’s a job, but when it’s a job supported by an amazing family and a love for the sport it hardly seems like work.
“My busiest time of the year is March through May, and then the schedule tends to loosen up some during the summer. My falls free up substantially, and I can pursue my other purpose in life — hunting.”
Lester is an admitted deer- and turkey-hunting fanatic. The latter pursuit, however, takes a hit in the spring because he’s usually on the road following the Elite Series across the country.
“Don’t get me wrong, I still have opportunities to turkey hunt at home each spring, but I’d sure like to go more often if time would allow,” he said. “I’m a husband and a father first, and I truly enjoy investing in those relationships because my wife and daughters are the most important people in my life.
“I’m a blessed man to have a wonderful home and family, and still have the flexibility to pursue my passions.
“But sometimes, I just need to get out and recharge my soul,” he explained. “And turkey hunting is that escape for me. There aren’t many experiences in this life that compare to listening to the woods come alive on a cool spring morning filled with gobbles as the sun comes up. Even in the middle of a springtime tournament, if I hear a gobbler sounding off on the shore somewhere, it breaks my concentration momentarily. I just love it!”
Late in the 2018 season, he mentioned that getting outside of his home state of Tennessee to hunt a turkey is high on his list — schedule permitting of course.
Course of action
As the writer of this piece, it’s typically not cool to break the narration and jump into the story, because it’s not about me. But as a spring-turkey addict myself; I had to interject some personal experience here.
Back in 2016, the Bassmaster Elite Series kicked off the season at the St. Johns River. Rick Clunn went on to win that event. But on Day 1, I was with “Content Boss” Steve Bowman covering a big group of anglers in Lake George — a popular area of the St. Johns River to target and catch spawning bass.
While we were there, a turkey started gobbling heartily on the shore, and Bowman — also a grizzled turkey veteran in his own right — happened to have a mouth call handy for just an encounter. Bowman went to work on this turkey from well over 100 yards on the deck of a bass boat, and this turkey just went bonkers. He likely gobbled over 100 times.
At weigh-in that afternoon, I bumped into Lester, who had a funny grin on his face.
“Man, you guys had that turkey worked into a lather,” he said. “I had a hard time concentrating on the fishing. That was great.”
Lester went on to finish in 13th place. Clearly, he can handle both at the same time.
Fast forward to late 2018.
After a brief conversation with Lester about piggybacking a turkey hunt onto a spring Elite event, I decided to put together a hunt that the two of us could enjoy together. Little did I know what awaited us.
Part of my job as Senior Editor includes day-to-day coverage at each of our Elite tournaments, and a few other events along the way. During my near four years at B.A.S.S. I’ve found economical ways to hunt turkeys while on the road at these tournaments. I guess setting up hunts and pulling them off is something I love to do.
Once in a while I get lucky and shoot one.
While keeping budget and travel requirements in mind, I was able to rely on a few friends I had in Oklahoma to help procure land access for Brandon and I over a three-day period. Our hunt was scheduled just prior to the official practice days for the 2019 Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest benefiting Texas Parks & Wildlife Department at the famed Texas fishery Lake Fork, May 2-6.
Connections to friends
Last year I visited a property and enjoyed a successful hunt before heading to an Elite event on Oklahoma’s Grand Lake.
The owner of that land happens to be former Elite Series angler Jared Miller. Miller is an experienced rancher, land manager, hunting fanatic and a talented and dedicated bass angler, which explains why he doesn’t have time to turkey hunt in the spring.
You may recall an Elite Series tournament on the Alabama River where Miller braved very rough and flood-stage water to run up to the dam to execute his pattern.
His ride back was dramatic to say the least, and a very popular video on the Bassmaster mediums.
Miller eagerly allowed me to hunt, thanks to a Norman, Okla., connection — Jeff Puckett. Puckett is a former employee of the outdoor industries who has turned detective, and he’s a good friend.
This year, I reached out to Puckett and Miller again hoping for the same permission for Lester and I. Fortunately, access was again granted, and the hunt was on the books.
Knowing we had several days, I felt like it would be wise to have another plan in the works so we wouldn’t over pressure Miller’s property.
Enter Shane Fields.
During the 2018 season when the Elites visited Grand Lake, my camera boat driver was indeed Fields, also an outdoor fanatic and Oklahoma Game Warden. He had access to a very cool property and offered to take Brandon and I out for a day while we were in Oklahoma.
Let me be up front, I had every intention of letting Brandon have the first shot, but thanks to his years of experience hunting turkeys, and his humility, our first dead bird was not by Lester’s hand, rather my own.
Our first morning in Oklahoma wasn’t very productive. But following a quick lunch break at a local Sonic, we headed back out to the timber, and found some birds in an accessible location. After making a stealthy move up a hill to a ridge, we called four or five longbeards into 12 yards, but they were behind some brush, and he couldn’t make the shot.
I had one small opening at 12 yards; one of the birds stepped into it and paused. With Lester by my side, he said, “kill him,” and I let my 12 gauge eat. After some high-fives, we celebrated the successful hunt. We both knew that in the heat of the moment, it was either I shoot one, or neither of us shoots one.
I was the lucky beneficiary of his graciousness, and I had a fine Oklahoma Rio Grande turkey flopping in the dirt.
“I just love being a part of a successful hunt, whether I pull the trigger, or not. Calling them in and killing one never gets old,” he said after I apologized for the way things played out. “Don’t think twice about it.”
As much as we tried, we couldn’t get another bird to work that day, so we met up with Shane early the next morning to hunt his property. And what a day it turned out to be.
After a roost set up that nearly came together, we moved to an open gas line. Before we could even put out a decoy, we saw a strutting tom with a single hen about 150 yards from our vantage point. And lucky for us, they didn’t see us.
With Brandon behind his 20 gauge, we began calling. After only five intense minutes of fabricated hen talk, a single hen followed by the strutting longbeard literally ran to our location. He put a perfect 20-yard shot on a beautiful Oklahoma eastern turkey — his first bird beyond the borders of Tennessee.
His smile and reaction once again reminded me why I turkey hunt. Sharing moments like that, north, south, east to west, is truly the best part of spending time with good friends in the spring turkey woods.
(I managed to get the hunt on film, but as the gobbler was approaching in the windy conditions, I had the autofocus activated on the camera with little time to switch it off, which means some of the footage is quite blurry. But it turned out all right.)
To top things off, I killed my second bird not 30 minutes after Brandon shot his. It was an epic morning.
The green fish
Sure, the beards and spurs are a key factor to a successful hunt, but the time spent with like-minded people, and enjoying the memories made on this trip put our hunt in Oklahoma above most for me.
“The time will come when I get my wife and girls out hunting with me, and I expect those memories to be my favorites,” he said. “But this hunt was just special. I won’t forget it.”
Before Brandon had to leave for Lake Fork to begin his practice, he grinned and commented on how great things played out.
“To think this entire hunt came together because of a bunch of guys who share a passion for a little green fish makes it all the better. It’s funny to me how fishing brings people together from all walks of life, but it doesn’t surprise me,” he said. “Fishermen are the best people on earth, and I’m proud to be one of ‘em.
“And a turkey hunter.”