Brandon Lester conquered what was once his greatest nemesis and, in doing so, notched his career's greatest moment by winning the Whataburger Bassmaster Elite Series event on Pickwick Lake with a four-day total of 86 pounds, 1 ounce. Entering the event on this 43,000-acre Tennessee River impoundment, Lester believed he was on the fish to win. Establishing that mindset was a long time coming.
"When I first started my career, I would have told you my biggest weakness was ledge fishing," the Tennessee pro said. "So I knew that was a gap I had to fill.
"This win was the product of a lot of hard work coming to fruition. I spent countless hours on this lake between 2015 and 2020. I'd come over here seven or eight times a year. I'd get up a 4 a.m., fish all day and drive two hours back home because I knew one day that experience would pay off."
Lester, who finished fifth in this year's second Elite event on Florida's Harris Chain (Feb. 3-5) placed fifth on Day 1 with a limit of 21-6, which included a 6-9 that won the daily big bass award. Lester caught 20-07 on Day 2 and took over the lead. Weighing a third round limit of 21-06—including a 6-13 daily big bass—kept him in the top spot.
After entering Championship Sunday 3 pounds, 6 ounces ahead of Elite rookie Cody Huff, Lester added the final round's biggest bag—22-14—to edge Huff by a winning margin of 5-12. Moving into fourth place in Angler of the Year standings, Lester won the top prize of $100,000.
Lester, who kicked off his 2022 season by winning the St. Croix Bassmaster Southern Open on Florida's Kissimmee Chain, is the second angler to win Bassmaster Elite and Open titles in 2022. Texan Lee Livesay won the previous Elite on Lake Fork, May 19-22, three weeks after topping the Central Open on Ross Barnett.
Where He Fished
Fishing the mid-lake region, Lester did the majority of his work on the tip of a bar with a shell bed about three times the size of his boat. With current rolling up from 8 feet to 4 feet, he found the fish sitting in a predictable position.
"It was a typical Tennessee River feeding spot; that's why I think it kept replenishing," Lester said. "It was right off the main river, there was a ton of bait in there—gizzard shad and threadfin shad—so it was the perfect combination."
Lester said he also caught keepers by fishing a deeper scenario where a ledge broke from 14 to 20 feet.
How He Caught 'Em
Lester caught most of his fish on a Strike King 4.0 squarebill in the citrus shad color and added several quality fish on Strike King 6XD crankbait in the same color, as well as the the shizzle. He also caught key fish on a Berkley MaxScent Magnum Hit Worm that he Neko rigged with a 1/8-ounce Mustad nail weight and a No. 2 Mustad Wacky/Neko hook.
Lester said that when he found himself needing a big final-round bite, he turned to a bait he had not thrown all week. That 3/4-ounce Scrounger with a Castaic Jerky J in the green gizzard color produced a 6-pounder that helped propel him across the finish line.
Rest of the Best
Hailing from Ava, Missouri, Huff finished second with 80-5. Catching limits of 18-5, 22-3, 19-5 and 20-8, he caught most of his fish on a Dixie Jet Talon Spoon in the shattered glass color. The slow fall of the wide body spook resembled a wounded gizzard shad.
Huff also caught fish on a Texas-rigged worm and a 3-inch Storm Largo Shad swimbait.
A former Bethel University standout, Huff earned a 2020 Bassmaster Classic Berth by winning the 2019 Bassmaster College Bracket on Watts Bar Lake.
Third place went to Elite veteran Chris Zaldain of Fort Worth, Texas, who turned in daily limits of 17-8, 16-2, 22-8 and 21-13 for a tournament total of 77-15. Spending most of his time offshore, Zaldain targeted river ledges and caught his fish on an 8-inch Bass Mafia swimbait that he designed.
Jacob Foutz of Charleston, Tennessee, finished fourth with 77-03. John Cox of Debary, Florida, was fifth with 70-00.
Tyler Rivet of Raceland, Louisiana, won the $1,000 Phoenix Boats Big Bass award for his 7-15.
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