Brandon Lester doesn’t let things get to him. Very seldom will you encounter the young Tennessee angler with anything other than a smile on his face. He’s a happy dude that keeps a logical perspective on all things about life. Well grounded is a great way to explain him.
He’ll be the first to tell you how blessed his career has been, how blessed he is to have such a supportive family, and how making paychecks at tournaments is the goal to help keep his family fed — more important than winning.
But don’t kid yourself, he’s competitive as hell.
In fact, the only time I saw what I perceived to be rage in his eyes is when he fell just short of a dominating victory at St. Lawrence River in 2018. He was so close to his first win, falling just shy was painful. He was upset.
He wants another shot. And he's going to have it.
Rest assured, Lester will win, and win big. Why not at St. Lawrence where he was so close the time before?
Between he and Seth Feider, this event just sets up perfectly for both young pros. I’m going out on a limb here and I predict one of these two dudes — if not both — will be vying for the title on Championship Sunday.
Keep them both in mind when making your selections, but do not neglect the Canada factor either. Between Jeff Gustafson, and the Johnston brothers, you can bet a large sum of cash will be won among those three pros.
All that aside, look at the current Toyota Bassmater Angler of the Year standings, and keep momentum in mind. It’s that time of year where the points begin to define a likely few to hoist the AOY trophy in September.
But in the buckets D and E, there are a bunch of guys who are struggling and need a big tournament to turn things around. Sometimes a hungry angler is a very dangerous angler. Choose from those buckets the anglers with the tenacity to overcome a tough season to finish strong — with or without a Classic berth.
In looking at Pete Robbins’ and Coy Greathouse’s pundit picks, I wonder if they conspired together to align their opinions? They are seemingly on the same wavelength, but they are higher in the Fantasy standings than I am, so maybe consider what they are saying.
Both did a ton of research regarding previous events and how certain anglers finished, all good info, too. But beyond that, I suggest looking at who has the most to lose. Bet big on those anglers.
There’s no doubt, this will be one of the most exciting Elites of the season.
Let’s dig in:
BUCKET A: LESTER
Brandon Lester is way under-valued in this bucket for some reason, but when you look at the other names it begins to come clear as to why. There are a lot of smallmouth studs sitting near the top. Seth Feider is an obvious favorite, and he’ll do well, but so will Lester, and I need points.
Dark horse: Matt Herren is having a tremendous year, and he’s been slowly climbing the AOY leaderboard, beginning this event in ninth place. That’s within striking distance of the coveted title. And he’s hungry. If either Johnston bro or Feider aren’t your flavor, Herren is coming to New York with a simple objective: Win.
BUCKET B: PIRCH
Arizona’s Clifford Pirch is a very talented finesse angler, and like Lester he’s way over due for a big win. He had a tough finish last year, and knowing him like I do I can assure you he’s looking to get back at the St. Lawrence River in a big way.
Dark horse: Another tough bucket to pick from, no doubt. If Pirch doesn't fit the bill, look for John Crews or Matt Arey to have strong finishes. Both guys know the game, and both are having strong seasons. That'll continue at St. Lawrence.
BUCKET C: SHRYOCK
Hunter Shryock finished in 60th last year at St. Lawrence, and while that was a different time, he’s been growing as an angler this year a bunch. I see it in his eyes at take off and during weigh-in. He’s hungry for a big finish, and he’s known for being very strong with a spinning rod in his hands. His time to break free is absolutely near, and I think you’ll see a solid finish from the Ohio pro out of this renowned smallmouth factory.
Dark horse: Paul Mueller is dominating the ownership in this bucket, and for good reason. But for other reasons he’s not done as well on St. Lawrence in past years as an Elite pro. What makes that weird is he’s a finesse specialist, especially with cold-water smallmouth. He needs a good tournament to get comfortable inside the AOY and Classic cut, and this is the right kind of event for him to move up.
BUCKET D: GUSTAFSON
Jeff Gustafson knows big smallmouth bass. He’s currently controlling the bulk of the ownership in this bucket, but that’s for good reason I think. I’m not going to risk taking a shot in the dark here, because he’s a safe bet at someone making a solid check — maybe even a Top 10. He needs a big finish here, and he knows it.
Dark horse: Nobody is more anxious to get back to St. Lawrence than Bernie Schultz. Last year he managed a very uncharacteristic 104th-place finish at a fishery that he’s known for doing very well at. Mechanical issues were to blame, but this year you can bet that won’t slow him down. Schultz needs a big finish to stay in contention for a Classic berth, and you can bet returning to Waddington is exactly the way he’d have that play out.
BUCKET E: GROH
Chris Groh has been struggling this year. He knows it, and I know that eats at him. But he’s good with finesse gear, and with this being his second trip to St. Lawrence as an Elite, you can bet he’s going to put everything into a solid finish. He needs it, if not for points, but to prove to himself that he is where he belongs. I believe in him, you should too.
Dark horse: It’s a toss up between Rick Morris and Steve Kennedy. Both are in position to needing a big event, and both pros have garnered a Top 12 in years past. With pride on the line, you can be these two veterans are looking to surprise everyone.