By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
David Mullins is having a pretty good year on the Bassmaster Elite Series, with three finishes between 19th and 31st through the first five events. He sits at No. 26 in the Angler of the Year (AOY) race and could be in line for his first Bassmaster Classic berth.
However the Elite campaign turns out, though, the Tennessean gave his year a big boost with his victory at last week's Southern Open at Douglas Lake in his home state. The monetary windfall (he earned $51,650) was accompanied by a dose of redemption, as he was the runner-up in both of the previous two Opens at the lake he's fished since he was a boy.
It was his most significant victory to date, although it won't come with the accompanying Classic berth because he didn't fish the first two Southern Opens of the year.
"As far as the wins I've had go, this was the biggest stage against the best competition," he said. "It's definitely good for my confidence and it takes some of the load off financially."
He averaged just under 21 pounds per day en route to the wire-to-wire triumph. His 3-day total of 62-12 outdistanced the 2nd-place finisher, FLW Tour pro Scott Canterbury, by more than 6 pounds.
Following are some of the particulars.
Although Mullins has loads of experience on Douglas, very little of that has come over the past 2 years. He reckoned that he'd been on the lake in pursuit of bass just four times since finishing 2nd in the 2014 Open (he'd taken several crappie excursions). His most recent outing was a small club tournament earlier this spring that was comprised of 25 or 30 boats.
He put in a half-day of practice on the Monday prior to the start of the Open, then about 7 hours the following day before relocating to nearby Cherokee Lake for an evening "fruit jar" event. He was on the water for a full 8 hours on Wednesday.
"I didn't make many casts in practice," he said. "I looked around a lot and tried to figure out how many boats were on what. The lake fishes really small at this time of year – I'd love to see them have one here in the spring when it fishes bigger, but it gets crowded during the post-spawn.
"I needed to find as many places as I could because I knew a lot of them were going to get covered up."
He found quite a few offshore locales that were harboring quality fish. He had other places that he didn't even look at because history told him that the fish were certain to be there.
He was hopeful that deep-cranking would get the job done for him.
"I didn't know it'd be my primary deal, but I knew it would be a player. If there's anything that I do well, that's it, but I really didn't know which baits would work or which schools would really be eating."
> Day 1: 5, 21-05
> Day 2: 5, 22-02
> Day 3: 5, 19-05
> Total = 15, 62-12
When Mullins rolled up to his preferred starting spot on day 1, he encountered one of his good friends – a local stick who'd entered the tournament.
"He was sitting on the place and I asked him if I could fish on the outside, and I watched him catch about 18 pounds on six throws," he said. "I couldn't take that for very long so I rode around and hit some other places.
"I got on them at about 9:30, and it was (a fish) every cast until 10:30. I had 19 pounds when I left and I culled up a couple times later in the day to get to 21."
He couldn't estimate how many fish he caught in that 1-hour flurry.
"It was too many to keep count of. I had a good one that day, a 6-04, and the rest of them were just solid chunks."
He stopped a couple of points shy of his day-1 hotspot to begin the second day and drove to it when he saw a boat headed that way. After a brief discussion, they agreed to share the spot, but the best fish Mullins caught there that day was a 3 1/2-pounder (he lost 4s and back-to-back casts).
He spent the rest of the day bouncing around to numerous one-fish locales and ended up catching five that were all in the 4- to 5-pound range, extending his lead to 7 pounds.
His day-1 honey hole produced nary a nibble on the morning of day 3. He got his first bite at 9 o'clock and promptly lost it. He caught a 3 1/2-pounder about 15 minutes later and then decided to run to a school that he'd been saving.
"I checked on those fish the first day and they were still there, but I had no reason to fish for them. When I went there on the third day I caught them on every cast, but instead of 2-pounders they'd all turned into 14-inchers."
He hunted and pecked around for the next few hours and had productive flurries on two different places. When he boxed a 5-pounder at 1 o'clock, he was confident that he had enough to win.
He had high praise for his final-day co-angler, Daniel Beebe Jr., who took the back-seater crown in the 2014 Open at Douglas.
"He was definitely one of the best co-anglers I've ever had," Mullins said. "He never made a cast where I wanted to cast and even when I caught fish on consecutive casts, he never threw around me.
"He didn't have a fish in the box when I caught that 5-pounder, and after that I just let him have the spot so he could get a limit (Beebe ended up finishing 7th). I wanted to return some of the courtesy he'd shown me."
Mullins caught fish from depths ranging from 8 to 30 feet. Most of his better specimens were enticed by Strike King 6XD and 10XD crankbaits, but he caught a key 4-pounder on the final day on a 6-inch Scottsboro Tackle swimbait that he had the company make for him in a custom color (greenish back with a silver belly to resemble a threadfin shad).
"Right before I caught that 5-pounder, the wind was blowing so hard in my face that I couldn't throw the crankbait," he said. "I made the decision to throw the swimbait and I caught that 4-pounder on the first cast."
He caught some fish on a Ben Parker Magnum Spoon and a Doomsday Magnum worm attached to a 5/8-ounce stand-up football jighead.
Winning Gear Notes
> Cranking gear: 7'11" Megabass Orochi XX Launcher rod, Lew's BB1 Pro casting reel (5:1 ratio), 12-pound Sunline Shooter fluorocarbon line, Strike King 6XD or 10XD (Tennessee shad or green gizzard shad).
> Swimbait gear: 7'3" medium-heavy Competition Fishing rod, Shimano Metanium casting reel (7:1 ratio), 16-pound Sunline Shooter fluorocarbon, 6" Scottsboro Tackle swimbait (custom color to imitate threadfin shad).
> Spoon gear: 8' heavy-action Megabass Orochi XX Leviathan rod, Daiwa Zillion casting reel (7:1 ratio), 22-pound Sunline Shooter fluorocarbon, 8" Nichols Tackle Ben Parker Magnum Flutter Spoon (green gizzard).
> Worm gear: 7' medium-heavy Megabass Orochi XX Jig and Worm rod, Shimano Metanium casting reel (7:1 ratio), 16-pound Sunline Shooter fluorocarbon, unnamed 5/8-ounce standup football jighead, Doomsday Magnum worm (cinnamon mint).
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – "My experience on the lake, no doubt. I knew a lot of history."
> Performance edge – "I spent a lot of time looking at the screen on my Lowrance."
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