By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor

David Mullins admits that a horrible start to his Bassmaster Elite Series career caused a few thoughts to creep into his psyche concerning whether he might be in over his head at that level. He quickly shook them out, however, and things have gone quite well ever since.

At No. 44 in the Toyota Tundra B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year (AOY) race, the former high school teacher from Mt. Carmel, Tenn. ranks above all other "true" rookies (first-year competitors without prior experience on the FLW Tour) on that list. He's less than 10 places beyond where the cutline for the 2015 Bassmaster Classic will likely fall once the final two regular-season events and the AOY Championship are in the books.

After a 102nd-place finish (out of 108 competitors) in the season opener at Lake Seminole, he's finished well inside the money cut in each of the last four points events.

"Overall, I've been pleased with the way the year's gone," he said. "That first tournament set me back a little bit and got me thinking about whether I could do this, but by the next week I'd forgotten about it.

"I can't really pinpoint any one thing I did wrong (at Seminole) – it just didn't work. I might've tried to fish too much of the lake in practice. When I got to the St. Johns River I only had an eighth of a tank of gas in my boat and I made myself fish on that for the first day of practice. I didn't run around at all – I just put the trolling motor down in Lake George and started fishing."

Moved Up Quickly

Mullins qualified for the Elites after just 1 season of fishing the Southern Opens. His placements on that circuit included a 2nd at Douglas Lake, which he's fished his entire life (he considers both Douglas and Cherokee his home waters).

He entered the Opens at the urging of reigning Elite Series AOY Aaron Martens, with whom he as a relationship that dates back to when Mullins was in high school in the late 1990s.

When they met, Mullins had no idea who Martens was.

"I'd been out night-fishing on Douglas and daylight was breaking, and when I was putting my boat on the trailer this purple Crown Royal boat starts backing down," he recalled. "We started talking and he said he was there to pre-fish for the Megabucks tournament and I told him if he wanted, I'd take him out the next day.

"We fished together that day and since then we've become pretty good friends. I used to travel with him when he fished FLW back in the day and we've been traveling and rooming together this year."

He's gleaned some useful information from Martens during practice and has offered some up as well, but he's figured out the patterns he's employed on his own.

"You have to think more at this level instead of just going through the same motions all the time like you do when you're fishing around home. Back when I started fishing I had to think and try to figure things out, and doing that recharges your engines a little bit. It's neat when you can make it work.

"Another thing is you have to have some versatility at this level. Like at Dardanelle (where he was 28th) and Table Rock (42nd), I caught them on different things on each day of those tournaments. It's almost a relief to be able to go out there and fish the moment."

Everything's New

Mullins wasn't a well-traveled angler prior to joining the Elite Series. Lake Chickamauga, site of last month's inaugural BASSFest, was the only 2014 venue he'd ever been to previously, and that was only on one occasion despite residing just a 3-hour drive from the lake.

He doesn't do a lot of map study or Internet-combing prior to an event. His approach is old-school: He considers the calendar season and the phase that the majority of the fish are likely to be in and builds from there.

"I'm not a big map or history guy, although I might take a peek at a map every now and then just to see how a lake lays out," he said. "Basically, I just go with what I think the fish are doing – pre-spawn, spawn, post-spawn or whatever – and look at the water temperature and the type of habitat. Like if a lake's got some grass in it, you know it's going to hold some fish

"My favorite thing to do is offshore ledge-fishing, but we haven't gotten to do that all year except at Chickamauga and I didn't do worth a flip there (60th). I don't like crowds, and the places that had schools (of fish) were where everybody was at. I didn't run into too many people, but I didn't catch them, either."

The next event, set for Aug. 7-10 at the Delaware River out of Philadelphia, will be a new venue not only for him, but also the vast majority of the Elite field. From what he's heard, keeper bites will be at a premium.

"Aaron pre-fished it and he said it could be as tough as the Pittsburgh Classic (in 2005, which Kevin VanDam won with a 4-day total of 12-15). One guy said he caught three in 1 day and that's the most I've heard about anybody catching.

"We'll see when we get there – maybe things have changed. For me, the good thing about it is everybody else has to fish it, too."