By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
The transmission on Brandon McMillan's UPS truck went out on Thursday morning, requiring him to work into the evening in order to complete his route. He incurred a flat tire on Christmas Eve Ė the busiest day of the year for people in the package-delivery game.
Those minor work-related hardships were nothing to get steamed up over, though. He and his family made it through their first holiday season without his father, Jimmy, and now he's set to take his fishing career to another level.
"Things are okay," he said. "(Wednesday) was pretty tough on the whole family Ė everybody kind of did their own thing and hung around friends and stayed busy. It wasn't the easiest of days.
"The hardest part was not having my dad around for that first Thanksgiving and first Christmas. Now that we're past all that, things should be somewhat more tolerable."
Gone a Year Now
Jimmy McMillan, winner of the 2009 Okeechobee FLW Series and a respected businessman in Belle Glade, Fla., was killed during a robbery at the grocery store he operated in the early-morning hours of Jan. 2, 2012. Corey Graham Jr., a 19-year-old college student, admitted committing the crime to his father, who subsequently told authorities of the confession, and the younger Graham now faces the possibility of a death sentence when his case goes to trial.
Less than a year prior to his death, Jimmy McMillan had cheered from the crowd as Brandon weighed in the winning fish on the final day of the 2011 FLW Tour Open at Okeechobee. Brandon put up a stout defense of his title last year, eventually finishing 5th in an event won by good buddy Randall Tharp.
The 29-year-old McMillan, who finished 2nd in last year's Southeastern EverStart points after winning the event at Lake Seminole, will again be among the favorites when the 2012 Tour campaign kicks off at the Big O about a month from now. This time, however, his appearance in FLW's top-tier field won't be a one-shot deal. He'll fish all six tournaments this year in what he hopes will be the start of a long and prosperous Tour career.
Despite having already experienced victory at the Tour level, his primary objective for the upcoming campaign is relatively modest.
"The goal for just about everybody is to make the (Forrest Wood) Cup, but I'd be happy if I was able to break even for the year," he said. "Anything after that would be pretty much gravy.
"I'll probably have to make checks in four out of the six events to do that. But if I can hit it big like I have the last couple years on Okeechobee, I'd already be at least halfway there."
Unfamiliar Venues Await
McMillan will keep his job with UPS throughout 2013, taking vacation and other allotted time off to fish the Tour. If he fares well, he might become a full-time angler in either 2014 or the following year.
"My work's been so great as far as accommodating my fishing schedule," he said. "I'm going to do both (work and fish) for this season and possibly the next one, and then I'll see where things lie and make whatever decisions have to be made.
"I really think that to be a full-time fisherman, you have to be able to devote time to sponsors and stuff like that. It'd be really hard for me to find a sponsor who'd be 100 percent committed to me when I can't be 100 percent committed to them."
He knows that from a fishing perspective, the upcoming campaign will be a stern challenge. Fortunately, he'll have Tharp around to help him find his way, and the two plan to share all of their practice information.
"We were just talking about that (on Thursday), trying to come up with some guidelines for how we're going to go about it. Our friendship comes first and we won't allow anything to affect that. The biggest thing with something like that is you have to have someone you can absolutely trust so you can be sure it's not going to turn into a bad situation."
He's competed on just two of the six 2013 Tour venues (Okeechobee and Eufaula), and he'll be a total stranger at places like Smith and Beaver. Not only has he never been to either, but they also don't really suit his power-fishing style.
"Those are different types of fisheries that I've never had any experience on. If I can survive those two, I think I should be able to do decent in the other ones."
Of course, his best chance to bank a fat check and a hefty number of AOY points will come in a few weeks at his home lake.
"I'm looking forward to it, and this time there's more at stake than just the one tournament. I need to do well."