When Brandon Lester arrives at the 2020 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk, the 50th occurrence of the sport’s greatest tournament, he’ll bring with him an insightful perspective born of previous experience. With four previous Classic berths — 2015, 2016, 2018, 2019 — to his credit, the Elite angler from Fayetteville, Tenn., said a successful performance starts with well-framed anticipation.
“There will be a lot of guys this year who will be fishing their first Classic, and I’ll always remember my first one,” Lester said. “Not to say that one of the guys making their first appearance couldn’t win, because definitely, they could. But there’s so much glitz and glamour going on, there’s so much media stuff that you have to do; it’s a week-long affair, both on and off the water.
“It’s easy to get caught up in the off-the-water stuff, but with this being my fifth time, I know what to expect now. I know to take it in stride, take care of what you have to take care of off the water, but take care of what you have to take care off on the water, as well.”
Perspective is key, and Lester knows the necessary balance of all things Bassmaster Classic. The week is, no doubt, grueling, but developing an appreciation for the big picture has helped him navigate the often challenging marathon.
“I don’t know how I got through it my first year; it was all just kind of a whirlwind. But after a couple of them, you learn to take it in stride,” Lester said. “On media day, you’ll have so many people coming up to your boat wanting to do so many interviews, by the end of the day, you’re in robot mode; you’re just going through the motions.
“All that is a very important part of our job, and it’s part of the reason you can even make a living fishing. It’s important to remember to do your sponsors justice and do your brand justice by taking care of all that media stuff.”
And after the cameras and microphones?
“We all just love fishing, so when I get out there and make that first cast, all that other stuff is not in my mind,” he said. “The only thing I worry about is catching a bass.”
A time to shine
Looking ahead to his participation in the 50th Classic, Lester said this milestone event will find him with a firmly established intuition.
“I don’t know that it feels any differently, but I fully understand now what winning the Bassmaster Classic means to a person’s career,” he said. “You hear guys throw around the term ‘career-making accomplishment,’ and it truly is. It’s something that can never be taken away from you.
“It’s not only something that changes a person’s career, it changes a person’s life. I mean $300,000 just like that — yeah, that’s a lot of money, but being able to carry that title of Bassmaster Classic champion throughout the rest of your tournament fishing career automatically makes you more worthy to your sponsors.”
Going into the event, Lester said the companies that sponsor him have placed no expectations or pressures on him; they’ve only expressed support and encouragement. Nevertheless, he’s still keenly aware of the opportunity to advance his marketability — even if it does come with a different kind of pressure.
“Everybody has been asking me if I’m going to be a pre-tournament favorite this time because I only live about an hour and a half from Guntersville,” he said. “I’m sure I’ll have some eyes on me, and I’m okay with that. My sponsors definitely want me to do well, and I’m definitely going to give it 110 percent. I’ll have a lot of friends and family there, and all my sponsors will be there, so I’ll be shooting for it, for sure.”
As far as fishing strategy, Lester said he fully understands the notion of fishing for the win. No points — just fish for big 'uns and leave it all on the water. However, he notes another significant difference from a regular-season Elite event that’ll require a separate level of calculation.
“Something that is totally different about the Classic is we are practicing a week in advance,” he said. “We will practice the Friday, Saturday and Sunday before the actual event, the following Friday, Saturday and Sunday. You’ll have to keep that in mind, especially with the fact that it’s in the month of March and so much can change from day to day.