Tennessee Pro Lester Seizes Control Of Bassmaster Elite Series Event On Pickwick Lake
COUNCE, Tenn. —

Brandon Lester said his goal at the Whataburger Bassmaster Elite at Pickwick Lake is to weigh 20 pounds per day.

He’s halfway home and right on target.

Lester, a 34-year-old pro who resides in Fayetteville, Tenn., caught a 20-pound, 7-ounce limit on Friday, giving him a two-day total of 41-13 and the overall lead in the event. He was in fifth place after Day 1 with 21-6.

Lester predicted the tournament would be won on offshore ledges and he’s targeted those spots so far. It doesn’t hurt that he’s intimately familiar with the lake, living two hours away and fishing here in various derbies throughout his career.

Still, he said each of the 91 anglers competing this week is grinding to find the bites on the 41,300-acre impoundment that stretches through Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee.

“Nothing comes easy,” Lester said. “I caught a solid bag off my main spot this morning and I made two critical culls later in the day, a 3 1/2 and a 3 3/4 that bumped me up another couple pounds. I had a sneaky spot where I caught one of those, but there’s not a lot of fish there. A school that sits on these spots might have seven or eight fish, but it's good for rolling up and getting a bite.

“I didn’t want to go to it, but I felt like I needed to,” he added, mentioning his 20-pound goal.

Having the right offshore space has been crucial so far on Pickwick, and Lester said protecting his main spot is ‘critical.’ Pickwick is one of the country’s most popular lakes for boating and the warm, late-spring weather expected this weekend will do nothing to change that.

“The community spots are taking a beating,” Lester said. “My spots are taking a beating too. I had a couple of locals watching me today. They might be out there pounding ’em right now. There’s so much unknown in a tournament like this. But it’s been a good tournament so far.”

Lester wanted to wait another day to divulge which lures he’s using or how deep he’s fishing, but he did say he’s looking for something specific on his depthfinder.

“When (anglers) start beating on those community schools, the fish start splitting up in satellite schools and setting up in different places,” he said. “I think I found one of them today and was able to make one of those culls.”

Cody Huff, a 25-year-old pro from Ava, Mo., is in second place with a two-day total of 40-8. He was 11th after Day 1 with 18-5 but jumped in the standings with 22-3 on Friday.

Like Lester, Huff has experience on Pickwick, having fished collegiately at Bethel University, which is located in McKenzie about 90 minutes north of the Pickwick Dam.

“This is a lake I got to spend some time on,” Huff said. “I got to fun fish, and I fished several college tournaments here this time of year too. This is the first (Elite Series tournament) this year at a place I’m familiar with.”

Huff’s bite came later Friday, after current started running through the impoundment.

“I had a pretty small bag until about noon,” he said. “When the current started rolling, I went back to a place I had fished earlier in the day, and it was just loaded. Things really went down for about 30 minutes. We got everything we needed.”

Huff said he’s throwing a variety of baits to spark bites.

“These fish are so smart and so pressured, it seems like you have to show them a lot to get them fired up,” he said. “I didn’t have (company) on my spot until this afternoon when (Day 1 leader) Matt Robertson rolled up whenever I was catching them. He may there be tomorrow ... You never know. Locals might be out there too, with us not taking off until 7 o’clock. It’ll be interesting.”

Robertson is still in the lead for VMC Monster Bag of the Week for his 22-6 limit on Day 1, but he fell to 18th after weighing in just four bass for 10-11 on Day 2.

Japan’s Taku Ito remains in third place behind Lester and Huff with a two-day total of 38-10. Unlike Day 1, when Ito relied on a baitcaster for some of his heaviest bass, he returned to his favorite technique on Friday, catching 16-9 all finesse fishing.

Like the two anglers ahead of him, Ito said finding the right bass took patience. He had seven catches on Friday.

“It was tough,” he said. “I couldn’t find a bass school until about 9 a.m., 10 a.m. But I found a smallmouth school and I caught them quickly. In the afternoon, I had a big bite and culled a couple of times.”

Ito said he found bass in 5 to 6 feet of water on Day 2, though he’s prepared to head back offshore to deeper water if necessary. “It may be harder for me tomorrow,” he said. “But I’ll find them.”

Bryan Schmitt of Deale, Md., in fourth place with 38-1, and he provided the Yamaha Clip of the Day when a 4 1/2-pound bass came unhooked at the boat. Schmitt was able to grab the fish with his hand and add it to his livewell. The bass completed Schmitt’s limit, as he had only five catches on the day.

John Cox of DeBary, Fla., had 22-3 Friday and is in fifth place with 37-13. He caught each of his bass in a strikingly shallow depth, likely because of a mayfly hatch overnight.

“It was maybe 2 feet, a foot and a half,” he said. “Everything got perfect. The wind got right. It was blowing in on this little area. I think the deep fish decided to come up to eat bluegills (that were eating mayflies).

“It was just a magical area for a little bit of time,” he said. “I fished 50 or 60 areas today and nothing like that happened anywhere else.”

Tyler Rivet of Raceland, La., caught the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the day – a 7-15 largemouth that was nearly half of his 17-7 haul.

Idaho pro Brandon Palaniuk maintained his lead in the Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings with 536 points. He is followed by Cox (518), Lester (477), Tennessee pro David Mullins (460) and veteran Arizona pro Clifford Pirch (448).

Alabamian Joseph Webster leads the Falcon Rods Bassmaster Rookie of the Year race with 370 points, followed by Tennessee’s Jacob Foutz (368) and Wisconsin’s Jay Przekurat (355).

The Top 47 remaining anglers will fish Saturday with takeoff scheduled for 7 a.m. CT from Pickwick Landing State Park. Weigh-in will be held at the park at 3:10 p.m. with only the Top 10 anglers advancing to Championship Sunday for a chance at the $100,000 first-place prize.

Coverage will be available on Bassmaster.com and the FOX Sports digital platforms. FS1 will also broadcast live with the tournament leaders beginning at 7 a.m.

The Whataburger Bassmaster Elite at Pickwick Lake is being hosted by Tour Hardin County.