Blueback Basics with Brandon Lester

By Luke Stoner – Dynamic Sponsorships

When Brandon Lester thinks of Lake Murray, he immediately thinks about blueback herring. These unique baitfish and Lake Murray are linked together like a Toyota Tundra towing a bass boat for the even-keeled Tennessee pro. Targeting bass that are keying on bluebacks is exactly how Lester plans to fish the 2024 Minn Kota Bassmaster Elite on Lake Murray.

Luckily for Lester, he drew boat #2 for the first day of competition, so he’ll have his choice of starting spots in the morning. This is a huge deal on lakes where blueback herring are a predominate forage for bass, perhaps none more important than this fishery.

“In my opinion this is probably the most famous herring lake in the country,” Lester said.  “Which means these are highly educated fish that have seen just about everything. It’s almost like Tennessee River ledges… a lake might be known for something, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. You can catch the fire out of them one day and want to pull your hair out the next.”

Blueback herring as a species are anadromous, which means they live in the sea and migrate into freshwater to spawn. The bluebacks in Lake Murray were introduced here in the 90s, but they are progeny of their saltwater ranging ancestors. This history is thought to be part of the reason why blueback herring move so much and so fast. They are on the menu for a lot of different fish and other critters in saltwater environments.

Lester is hopeful his good boat draw will help him get off to a solid start the first day which is one of his three keys to his success in this tournament and on lakes where bluebacks are on the menu. Lester said the first hour of fishing will be crucial, along with getting into a good rotation of spots and then hopefully cracking the code of how to make bass focused on herring bite when they aren’t actively feeding.

“Murray was stingy in practice but if you can get a bait if front of the bass when they are busting and boiling on herring you will more than likely catch them,” Lester explained.  “But figuring out how to make those fish bite when they aren’t actively feeding is the key to a great tournament this week. I couldn’t do that with any consistency in practice, so I’m hoping I can figure more out during the tournament.”

Lester has Carolina staples like a big walking topwater and a weightless soft plastic jerkbait rigged to his signature line of Mustad BLF Instinct Elite rods, as well as a LIVETARGET Twitch Minnow to pick off roaming Murray largemouth. The Team Toyota pro hopes to have some tricks up his sleeve with a few sneakier offerings to show these herring eaters this week, but for the most part he plans to stick to the basics.

“This will be all about timing and decision making, the techniques are pretty basic,” Lester admitted. “I guess you could say that about most tournaments, but it’s magnified on Murray. A fast start and a rotation of a handful of spots that produce a few good fish will be crucial. I don’t have confidence in milking any one spot for a big bag on this lake.  I have to run and gun a bit to put a strong limit together.”

In 2023 on Lake Murray Lester dabbled with bass chasing bluebacks en route to one of his impressive forty-nine top twenty Bassmaster finishes, but he had a few other patterns to fall back on. This year Lester is all in on the herring deal, which can be feast or famine, but few anglers have a more consistent record of feasting than Lester in his eight years as a full-time pro.