By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
More than 5 months have passed since Brandon McMillan was disqualified from the season-opening Lake Okeechobee FLW Tour for an inadvertent violation of the rule that deals with practice partners. With that almost-certain paycheck and the accompanying Angler of the Year (AOY) points gone by the wayside, he opted to forego the remainder of the season.
"I got my new boat in February and I'll bet it doesn't have but about 40 hours on it," said the 30-year-old resident of Belle Glade, Fla., who won the 2011 FLW Tour Open at Okeechobee and finished 5th in the Tour event there a year later. "I just haven't been that motivated to get up and go.
"I fished a (local) tournament the week after the Tour left just because I wanted to see how I was going to fare, but other than that I really haven't fished any events. I've been going with my buddies to different lakes within an hour's drive of here just trying to learn something different. There's a couple that are deep and clear and they can be pretty tough."
He admitted that he was absolutely furious with FLW brass when the DQ occurred, but his thoughts on the matter have changed with the passage of time.
"I've kind of simmered down about everything and I understand why they did it. I'll never deny that I broke a rule Ė that's cut and dry and it's right there in black and white. It was a good learning experience all the way around.
"I could've done a lot of things differently, but now I'm just focused on moving forward."
McMillan incurred the DQ at his home lake for practicing with Cal Clark, a Tennessean who fished the Tour as a co-angler in 2013. Clark had thought he'd registered to again fish both the Southeastern Rayovacs as a boater and the Tour as a back-seater during a November phone call with an FLW customer service representative, but it turned out that only his Rayovac registration had been processed.
Neither McMillan nor Clark were aware of the situation until the pre-tournament meeting for the Okeechobee Tour event. Once it was determined that Clark was not in the field, McMillan was in violation of Rule 5, part of which states: "Pros and co-anglers may practice alone, with another contestant or with a member of their immediate family (mother, father, brother, sister, son, daughter, grandparent, grandchild or spouse), approved sponsor representatives or an approved youth age 18 or younger, provided the practice companion has also observed the off-limits period and procedures."
"(FLW) handled it right," McMillan said this week. "I don't think they wanted to DQ me, but it was the right call, even though I didn't think it was right at the time.
"At first I was upset Ė I was mad as all get-out. I was frustrated because I felt like I let all my family and friends down here. We live in a pretty small town and fishing is pretty much it. When FLW comes to town, everybody's out there on Saturday and Sunday."
His subsequent decision to bow out of the Tour was influenced heavily by his belief that he had almost no chance of qualifying for the Forrest Wood Cup. In the face of the no-check and no-points handicaps, he opted to focus his attention on his full-time job as a UPS driver and spending additional time with his family.
Since then, he's watched good friend Anthony Gagliardi, who suffered the same fate under the same rule that he did at Okeechobee, compile enough points in just five derbies to reach the championship.
"After seeing what he did, I kind of wished I'd stuck it out and done it. I was pulling for him hard Ė he's a longtime family friend and a good guy on top of that. I was really happy to see him do as well as he did."
Couple of Options
McMillan had been waiting for the release of the 2015 Tour schedule before formulating his plans for next year. The venues were announced last week at ICAST and because the slate doesn't include its usual stop in his stomping grounds, he's still uncertain about what he'll do.
"I'm just going to have to see how it all lines out," he said. "I'd like to fish the Tour, but with it not coming to Okeechobee, I don't know.
"I think I'll wait to see what the (Bassmaster) Opens look like. I'll probably either do two divisions of the Opens (Southern and Central) or go back to the Tour."
One thing's for certain: He won't quit his day job anytime soon.
"Ultimately I'd like to hang that up and pursue a full-time fishing career, but until I get the right backing and everything else, the situation I'm in is kind of a win-win for me. My boss is great Ė he bends over backwards to get me the time off I need and I feel pretty fortunate to have that kind of support.
"Right now I have that security blanket and I don't have to take a big gamble up front without something to fall back on like some guys do."
> McMillan said he's extremely appreciative that sponsors such as Shimano, Zoom, Evinrude, Ranger and 4x4 Jigs have stuck by him even though he didn't fish at the game's top level this year.
> He'll get his first taste of non-local competition in several months when he travels to Ontario, Canada next week to team up with a friend for the Fort Frances Canadian Bass Championship at Rainy Lake. Canadian FLW Tour pro Jeff Gustafson and partner John Peterson are the defending champions.