Saying you need 20 pounds per day to win is one thing, but actually producing those results hasn’t been an easy task at the Whataburger Bassmaster Elite at Pickwick Lake.
Unless you’re Brandon Lester.
The veteran Elite Series pro bagged a 21-pound, 6-ounce limit on Day 3 of the tournament, giving him a three-day total of 15 bass weighing 63-3. Lester’s weight on Saturday matched the 21-6 he produced on Day 1 and followed his 20-7 from Day 2.
The 34-year-old pro from Fayetteville, Tenn., (about two hours from Pickwick Landing State Park), is the only angler among the 91 who started the tournament who has caught at least 20 pounds daily. It has him in the pole position on this 43,100-acre impoundment of the Tennessee River that flows between Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee.
“I feel pretty good,” he said. “I’ve been here before. I know you can’t count on things before they happen, but the fish are there.”
Lester didn’t take a long time to find bass Saturday, with his second catch earning him the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the Day.
“A 6-13 was my second fish. That was nice,” he said, smiling at the good fortune he hopes to stretch one more day.
Lester has built his lead on a primary location that slopes from 5 to 8 feet in depth. On Day 1, he used a Strike King 4.0 crankbait to catch most of his best bass, though a 6-9 he hooked came on a football jig. The past two days, he’s relied on a Berkley MaxScent Magnum Hit Worm (plum apple) with a 1/8-ounce Mustad tungsten nail weight in the head.
“It’s typical ledge stuff,” he said. “I’m in a small spot. It’s a clean spot and I’m dialed in. I found it the third morning of practice. There was a big tournament won there maybe 10 years ago. I was idling through there and I saw them on my side scope. When I saw them, I knew it was a special spot.”
A pair of Elite Series rookies — and veterans of the Strike King Bassmaster College Series presented by Bass Pro Shops — are his closest competitors.
Cody Huff, a 25-year-old pro from Ava, Mo., who fished collegiately at Bethel University, remained in second place with 59-13. Jacob Foutz, a 23-year-old from Charleston, Tenn., who fished for Bryan College, is third with 58-5.
Both anglers qualified for Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk when they were in college and worked their way into the Elites through the St. Croix Bassmaster Opens presented by Mossy Oak Fishing. Now roommates on the Elite Series, they have vast experience on Pickwick, much like Lester who has fished competitively here throughout his career.
Huff said earlier that he feels at home on Pickwick and the results show it. He caught a 19-5 limit on Saturday, leaning on a lure that helped him win a college national championship on Oklahoma’s Lake Tenkiller in 2018.
“It’s a Dixie Jet Talon spoon,” he said of his confidence bait. “I caught 22 pounds on it yesterday and 19 pounds today. It has a slow fall for being such a big bait because it’s so wide … I’ve been throwing the shattered glass color, but I don’t think it makes a difference. You just surprise them with it.”
Foutz was in sixth place heading into Saturday’s action, and he wasted no time making his move up the leaderboard, finishing Day 3 with a 21-4 limit.
“I think in my first seven casts I caught almost 18 pounds,” Foutz said. “I culled up a few more times in the morning and then I pretty much sat there and guarded my hole so no one else could get on it. I’ve caught all my fish pretty much in one spot this week and it keeps reloading.”
Foutz said he knew right away Saturday his spot was going to produce again.
“I think they’re pulling up and feeding on shad,” he said. “They came up schooling this morning. I looked at my cameraman and said ‘it’s about to go down.’ They were blowing shad out of the water.”
Foutz said he’s caught “95 percent” of his bass this week on a Strike King 10XD crankbait and a Zoom Ol’ Monster worm.
“Most of them have been in about 18 feet of water, sliding down to about 23, 24 feet,” he said.
The Top 10 anglers made the Day 3 cut and will fish Sunday for the $100,000 prize that goes to the winner. Joining Lester, Huff and Foutz are, fourth, Maryland’s Bryan Schmitt, 56-14; fifth, Florida’s John Cox, 56-6; sixth, Texas pro Chris Zaldain, 56-2; seventh, Idaho’s Brandon Palaniuk, 54-9; eighth, Kentucky’s Matt Robertson, 53-8; ninth, Japan’s Kenta Kimura, 53-5; and 10th, Alabama’s Justin Atkins, 53-4.
Zaldain took the lead for the VMC Monster Bag of the tournament with a 22-8 limit Saturday. He said his entire bag was caught in approximately 35 feet of water with 6 and 7-inch prototype swimbaits from Bass Mafia, which he’ll reveal Sunday.
Palaniuk maintained the lead in a tightly contested race for the Progressive Insurance Bassmaster Angler of the Year title with 536 points. He is followed closely by Cox (518), Tennessee pro David Mullins (486), Lester (477) and Georgia pro Drew Benton (440).
Alabamian Joseph Webster held onto the lead in the Falcon Rods Bassmaster Rookie of the Year race with 373 points, followed by Foutz (371) and Wisconsin pro Jay Przekurat (355).
The final day will begin Sunday with a 7 a.m. CT with takeoff from Pickwick Landing State Park. Weigh-in is scheduled for 3:10 p.m. 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.