The St. Johns River has been a staple of the Bassmaster Elite Series schedule the past decade, but history can seemingly haunt you on this iconic Florida fishery. Just ask Brandon Lester, who has an impressive resume when competing on this body of water, but who swears he has never caught fish in the same area in any of his five trips to Palatka.
Due to factors such as weather, disappearing aquatic vegetation and water quality, Lester believes it’s best to have a short memory when he launches his boat on the St. Johns.
“Every single year we fish here this place is different,” Lester said. “I used to focus exclusively on eel grass when we came here and posted some good finishes doing so. The last two years I’ve caught my fish on more traditional river fishing pieces of hard cover like docks, seas walls and even wood.”
The Elites have started their season on the St. Johns the past two years, and the first day of competition has proved less than desirable for the Team Toyota pro. In 2020 Lester bounced back with a 20-pound, five-fish limit on Day 2 after a dismal first day. Yesterday Lester rallied with a similar result after bringing nearly 22 pounds of feisty Florida largemouth to the scales.
Throughout his career Lester has proven to be incredibly consistent, so his Day 1 struggles on the St. Johns the past two years have been a bit perplexing to Bassmaster fans and Lester alike. When I asked him why he thinks that’s been the case, the even-keeled Tennesee pro answered with “change.”
“This place not only changes year to year, but day to day,” Lester explained. “You might find the mother lode one day in practice only to find they are gone the next morning. It can be frustrating, but that’s part of the game. One thing that hasn’t changed for me on the St. Johns is it seems I have to fish at a snails pace to really catch them.”
That logic was on full display yesterday when Lester milked one little area for one of the biggest bags of fish of the day. Using a wacky-rigged soft plastic on a #2 Mustad TitanX Neko Hook Lester fished slow and in return moved up the leaderboard fast, entering today in 21st place.
During the brief fog delay before competition began this morning Lester was all smiles. The weather forecast in Tennessee is currently calling for snow as opposed to the 70-degree weather Elite pros are expecting today. While he is eager to get home to his wife Kimberly and daughters Shiloh and Leann, Lester admitted he isn’t excited to drive his Tundra north out of this Florida weather.