(Editor’s Note: The following story, published Friday on bassmaster.com, features Lincoln County’s Brandon Lester, who is favored to win the Bassmaster Classic, set for March 15-17.)
There’s no doubt that the Bassmaster Classic is the most prestigious fishing tournament in the world.
It’s held in such high regard, in fact, that to paraphrase some of the sport’s best anglers, they say they’d “buy the farm” if they won a Classic.
That’s “buy the farm” as in, “Man, I just won the Bassmaster Classic. I can die in peace now.”
But if Brandon Lester wins the 2019 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods, he’ll likely be in the market for an actual farm – 75 to 100 acres of Tennessee real estate where he and his wife, Kimberly, can build their “forever home” and raise their two young daughters.
“We have a plan, and that’s to buy a small piece of land with a small farm on it,” said Lester, the 30-year-old Bassmaster Elite Series pro who lives in the small town of Fayetteville in southern Tennessee.
“For me, (winning the Classic) is absolutely not about the fame. But I’ll be honest, it is a little bit about the money. I mean money makes the world go round. That’s just the way it is. But let’s take that a step further … If you win the Classic and that $300,000 check, we take a really big step toward reaching our dream of owning a farm.”
That’s the sort of untold story that many of the 52 anglers in the Classic will carry with them when they arrive in Knoxville, Tenn., for the 49th annual Classic to be held March 15-17 on the Tennessee River. And by all accounts, it’s the kind of thing that they’ll try to forget by the time competition begins.
Lester said it’s because anglers who can block out the myriad of distractions that come with the Classic and simply focus on catching bass are the ones that have the best chance of holding the coveted Classic trophy aloft when the “Super Bowl of Bass Fishing” concludes.
This will be his fourth time in the Classic, so he speaks from experience.
“The first Classic, you’re just glad to be there,” Lester said. “It sounds cliché, but it’s something every bass fisherman dreams of. So once you make it, you’ve already put in a whole lot of hard work no matter which route you take, whether it’s through the Elite Series, through the (B.A.S.S.) Nation, through the Opens.
“And then that week, it’s a whirlwind. There’s the fans, the media. You’re answering a bunch of questions, and if it’s your first time there, you probably don’t have a ton of experience doing all that.”
Lester, however, is getting used to all the attention deserving of a young gun who cracked into the Bassmaster Elite Series as a 25-year-old back in 2014. Now in his sixth year as an Elite, he’s riding a wave of success, with Top 12 finishes in six of his past seven events, including three Eastern Opens, two Elite Series tournaments and the 2018 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens Championship on Missouri’s Table Rock Lake, where he finished second.
As important as those events are to Lester, none are the Bassmaster Classic, of course. Still, you win every tournament the same way, and that’s by bringing more weight to the scales than any of your competitors.
“That’s where experience comes in at something like the Classic,” he said. “You start to take the distractions in stride. You may be answering questions from media, hanging out with the fans, and that’s fine. It’s all part of it. But you have to be comfortable.
“I did everything I had to do in my first Classic, but you know, I had a little bit of anxiety. You’re probably not alive if you don’t. But in my third one, I knew what to expect, so I was comfortable.
“And the bottom line is, when we get on the water, it’s just another day of fishing.”
That may be true, but when you’ve had success (15 top-10 finishes in 75 B.A.S.S. events entered), people begin to expect big things. Anglers want to do well for themselves on the sport’s biggest stage, obviously, but they also want to perform for their sponsors, their families and their fans – the entire support network that buoys an angler’s hopes and dreams as he crisscrosses the U.S. chasing fame, fortune and fish.
“My family has supported me from day one in any way they could,” Lester said. “I have tons of friends that I hang out with back home, and a lot of them are going to be at the Classic. (It’s a three-hour drive from Fayetteville to Knoxville.) I want to win this Classic for all of them.
“I still get congratulations for every tournament I’m in, and it means a whole lot to me to have that kind of support ... I’d like to win it for all of them just to say ‘thanks’ the best way I can.”
Lester said he’s trying to avoid the notion that he’s one of the “favorites” in this Classic because it’s being held in his home state. Still, he feels a tremendous amount of pride being able to represent the Volunteer State.
“I don’t have a whole lot of experience on that part of the Tennessee River, and I’ve tried to make that well-known,” he said, chuckling. “I don’t want that pressure, honestly. But I do live on the other end of the Tennessee River, so a place like (Lake Guntersville) is like a home lake to me; places like Wheeler, Pickwick. People say if you’ve fished one, you’ve fished them all. That’s not exactly true, but there are similarities.
“I’m just thrilled to be fishing in my home state. I’ve been all over the country fishing on the Elite Series, but I still love where I’m from.”
Especially if he can be there in a new farmhouse.
“I haven’t really thought about (what I would do if I won),” Lester said. “I’d pay my taxes first and pay some bills … I’d make things easier on my family. I’ve done well the past few years, but things can always be better.
“Then we’d definitely see where we are on buying some land. That’s something we’re definitely looking forward to one day, and land ain’t getting any cheaper.”