Team Toyota’s Brandon Lester finds himself in an unfamiliar position as the last event of the 2023 Bassmaster Elite Series begins on the St. Lawrence River at Clayton, NY. He’s only missed one Bassmaster Classic in a consistently impressive 10 seasons on tour, but if the Classic started next week, he’d be the first angler outside the qualification line.
So, Wednesday night he turned to therapeutic grilling on the deck of a rental home overlooking Cedar Point State Park boat ramp to ease the stress, not far from where the St. Lawrence River meets massive Lake Ontario.
Locally grown sweet corn and an ample supply of chicken thighs dashed with Montreal chicken seasoning anchored the healthy offering.
“My wife Kim says grilling is my therapy, and Lord knows I need it right now,” grins the ever-pleasant Tennessee angler. “At home I’ve got two Traeger grills and a Weber. I use the Traegers to smoke BBQ, and the Weber offers that irreplaceable charcoal flavor when I do steaks and burgers,” he says.
However, if Lester’s going to qualify for the 2024 Bassmaster Classic in Tulsa, Oklahoma, his ability to get cooking on Lake Ontario is a bit of a pressure-cooker this week.
He landed a 5 pound 6 ounce beast in practice to get his confidence simmering, but he knows that anything short of 22-pounds on Day 1 may not get the job done on this world-class fishery where 20-pound daily limits of smallmouth are simply par for the course.
“I’ll focus on Lake Ontario versus the St. Lawrence River, simply because I can analyze key places on Ontario with more confidence. But I won’t lie, if the wind blows greater than 15 mph, those waves will make it really hard to use forward facing sonar because your transducer is bobbing like a cork,” he explains.
Plus, a recent Bassmaster Open and a Toyota Series event both restricted anglers to only fishing in the river, so the river fish have been pounded far more than Ontario’s beefy population.
The first lure he’ll throw will be a 3/8-ounce drop shot with hopes the winds will stay reasonable and that a 5-bass limit well north of 20-pounds will fill his livewells. In much the same manner a platter of perfectly cooked chicken thighs filled his belly on the eve of one of the most pressure-cooked derbies of his still young but savory career.
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