Brandon Lester tells us what it’s going to take to win the 2016 Bassmaster Classic.
We talked to Elite Series bass fisherman Brandon Lester about what it was going to take to win this year’s Bassmaster Classic in only his second year competing in the event. We covered how he plans to fish Grand Lake specifically, and also what it takes and what it means to win the Super Bowl of bass fishing.
This is Brandon’s third year on the Elite Tour, but again, only his second Bassmaster Classic appearance. Growing up in Fayetteville, Tennessee with the hopes of making a living bass fishing, Brandon understands the magnitude of this tournament and what it means to his career to win it.
Wide Open Spaces: With the Classic being the first really big tournament of the year, what type of added difficulty does that add to this tournament?
Brandon Lester: The classic is just different. It’s got a different feel to it, not really a negative feel I guess but the way you approach the classic is a whole different ball game. During the year in the Elite Series you’re worried about getting points towards angler of the year and qualifying for next year’s Classic. The 2016 Classic, you have already made it here and you get a paycheck just for making it here, so all you’re worried about here is just winning. Second place in the Classic doesn’t matter whatsoever. It’s all about going out there trying to find the fish to win. Normally during Elite Series competition, I fish pretty conservatively. When I say that I mean I always try to make sure I have enough weight to be competitive. I’ll go try to catch five little ones first thing in the morning just to make sure I got five fish in the box at the end of the day. I’m not going to do that here at the Classic, I’m going straight to where I think the biggest fish are and I’m going to fish for the five biggest fish I can find.
As far as practice rounds go for the Classic, is there any extra stress added due to fact that there is a lot more media attention this week?
Well there is always the aspect that the Classic is a big week as far as media goes, and is a lot more demanding than an Elite Series event. I mean, we’ve got things we need to do through the week. There is a lot of media stuff, for lack of a better term, that we have to do, and it demands a lot of our time during the Classic week that we have to squeeze in while we’re here for bass fishing’s Super Bowl. During an Elite Series week, we don’t have all that. We pretty much practice, have a meeting, then fish the tournament. There are always cameras around, of course, making a TV show, and if you do well you will have extra stuff to do, but everybody has stuff to do at the Classic.
Is that something you enjoy, the extra media, or is it more of a hassle?
Oh yeah, I mean I’m definitely not complaining when I say that. It’s just another added level of, well I don’t really want to say stress, but it just kind of stresses your time. You have to learn to deal with all of it as it comes. I do enjoy working with the fans and the media; I mean that’s what it’s all about.
I was reading another article in which you talked about how you had started last year off strong, then had some struggles towards the end of the year. Was there ever a point in time where you became concerned you may not qualify for this year’s Classic?
Absolutely. Halfway through the year I was sitting 12th in points. so I felt like I could coast the rest of the year. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I still tried as hard as I possibly could, but I was thinking “Well, I’ll just coast into another Classic, this won’t be a big deal.” I think maybe that’s where I messed up; I may have gotten a little complacent not realizing it. I think a lot of it has to do with the first part of the schedule last year fitting my style of fishing. It was more shallow water fishing and was closer to home; stuff I knew and understood. While the second half of the year, I just didn’t feel like things were going my way. I had good practices and I had some good days during the tournament, but I had some crazy things happen that you just can’t do anything about. I had some lost fish, and places that held fish the first day of the tournament, and then the second day they would just move. But that’s just how it is sometimes.
Is there anything strategic you’ll do during the back half of the season this year? Any adjustments?
Definitely. Last year I noticed when it came to the places that I’m not familiar with, like Chesapeake Bay which is somewhere we have never been before, the guys that did really well there were the guys that went out before our 30-day cutoff period and actually pre-practiced there. Those were the guys I felt did really well in it because they went out there and knew from riding around those places what it had to offer. So when you show up for your two days of practice you kind of know, hey I need to go over here or there, you know what areas hold the best potential. I’ve never been one to do a lot of pre practicing but I think I may change that this year. Going forward, those places that I haven’t done well or place that don’t fit my style, I think I’ll start pre practicing more and prepare myself better for those places.
As far as the 2016 Classic is concerned, what are some specifics from Grand Lake that are going to determine your approach to being successful there?
This lake actually sets up a lot like the lakes I grew up fishing back home in Tennessee. I wouldn’t necessarily call this a Highland reservoir, but it has a lot of rock in it. There should be a lot of fish caught in rock transitions from bluff to chunk rock, chunk rock to gravel or channel swings leading back into spawning bays. My approach to this tournament is similar to how a lot of guys will approach it. Most of us know what to look for this time of year. You’re looking for those places where these fish are staging for pre spawn. I was noticing yesterday on the way over here from Tulsa, there are trees starting to bud here. When you start seeing trees bud anywhere across the country, that means those fish are definitely already in their pre spawn state of mind. Fish are definitely going to be staging up on places outside of where they’re going to spawn. That’s definitely what I’m looking for, that’s what I looked for over the weekend on our three days of practice. One of the things we are faced with this weekend is that the lake is unseasonably cold and very muddy. Cold muddy water is about as tough of conditions as you can be faced with when you’re bass fishing. I’d say the whole lower 2/3rds of the lake is muddy and the water is only 47 or 48 degrees at best. Now if it was clear and cold or warm and muddy we would be fine, so if it clears up any or gets just a little warmer we will be good. Everyone I’ve talked to said their practice was pretty tough.
So how is the cold and muddy water going to change your approach as far as style of fishing or bait selection?
What it does is limit you to what you can do. Like I said, if it’s muddy and warmer there are a lot of different ways you can catch them, whether it be a square billed crankbait, spinner bait or flipping a jig. If it’s clear, jerk baits come into play, more finesse methods as well as deeper diving crankbaits. With the muddy and cold water, you’re really looking at six feet or less as really your only option, because once you get past about six feet deep there is no chance those fish can see my bait. You would almost have to knock them in the head with it to get them to bite. My whole practice was spent in six feet of water or less looking for places where fish were staging, which made it really difficult. You’re also constantly riding around looking at your temperature gauge trying to find a little bit warmer water where those fish are going to be a more active.
The average bass fisherman knows the Classic is the biggest of the big when it comes to bass fishing, but for the guys that do this week in and week out, does this tournament really put a stamp on your career? What does winning this tournament mean to you?
Absolutely, a huge part of our sport is sponsorships, having quality sponsorships and having quality relationships with those sponsors. It’s really hard to do what we do without them. I feel like when a guy wins the Classic, if he plays his cards right, he can almost ride that Classic win his whole career. As long as he keeps his name in the light pretty well and stays active in the fishing industry, I feel like a guy can ride a Classic win for a long time.
So you would rather win one Classic opposed to maybe 10-15 other tournaments?
At this point in my career, probably so. At this point, I mean people know me from the Elite Series the past two years, but to really make your name a household name, winning the Classic is the quickest way to do that. I’m very thankful to be where I am, it’s been a lot of hard work, and every time I fish a Classic I think “Man, this has been a lot of hard work and I’m finally here. I’ve dreamed of this ever since I was a kid.” When it boils down to it, I want to make a living bass fishing and winning the Classic is huge step in that direction.
This is your second Bassmaster Classic and something you have worked towards your whole life. When you’re sitting there on that first day amongst all the boats, are you soaking it in or are you filled with stress and nerves?
With this being my second year I hope that I can get past some of the shock and awe of being here, and really focus on what I need to do to win this tournament.
It was a pleasure to talk to Brandon Lester. People that aren’t familiar with the professional world of bass fishing, myself included, can’t imagine the drive that these guys have to succeed at what they do.
Everyone would love to quit their day job and fish for a living, but guys like Brandon have the determination and will to see it through. We’ll be following Brandon in this year’s Bassmaster Classic as well as the Elite Series competition. Will you?