By Todd Ceisner
Jared McMillan says he doesn’t log onto the FLW website all that often. When he does, though, he tries to avoid looking at the page devoted to the FLW Tour. That’s because he knows there’s a picture of himself embedded there – his hands perched on his hips, a beaming smile across his face – with his name and the number 1 overlaid on the bottom of the image.
Not that he’s startled by the sight of a picture of himself, it’s just that McMillan is still trying to digest what it represents – his current standing in the FLW Tour Angler of the Year standings after three tournaments.
“I’m just trying to keep that out of my head,” said McMillan, who’s the only FLW Tour pro to compete on 11 of the 12 possible competition days this season.
McMillan, who turned 22 in February, is off to a blistering start in his rookie season on the Tour. With two top-10s in his native Florida and a 20th-place showing at Lake Lanier, he’s 26 points clear of David Williams in the AOY race and 49 points ahead of his older brother, Brandon, who’s in 5th.
“It’s a little weird, to be honest,” McMillan said when asked about his reaction to seeing his name atop the points standings. “I’m more used to seeing Andy Morgan or somebody like that. It’s cool at the same time that I’m doing this good. It’s been a crazy start to say the least.”
Having his older brother to lean on has been a tremendous help, McMillan said.
“There’s no way I could be doing it without him,” he said. “I had no clue. The fishing is the easy part. He’s really helped with the sponsorship side and approaching.”
Competitive bass fishing is in the McMillan’s DNA and Jared knew it’d be only a matter of time before he was casting for cash at the highest level.
“Ever since I saw my dad win one,” he said. “I was into it before, but I knew right then at that weigh-in that this is what I wanted to do for a living.”
Comforts of Home
McMillan’s decision to join the Tour this season was based largely on the schedule flexibility granted to him by his boss, Durand Locke, at Plant Health Solutions, a company that sells chemicals and fertilizers to golf courses and landscapers.
McMillan is a delivery driver for Locke, who also serves as McMillan’s team tournament partner at Lake Okeechobee.
“I’m fortunate to have a job that allows me to take off the time,” McMillan said. “He understands how much time I need on the water. I don’t have all that many sponsors so I have to pay my way. I need a for-sure paycheck whether I do well fishing or not.”
McMillan was also attracted to the Tour schedule with the first two tournaments in his backyard – Okeechobee at the Harris Chain. He expected to do well at Okeechobee (he placed 4th), but the Harris Chain was a bit of a wild card due to his relative lack of experience there.
“I hadn’t fished there so I was really happy to do well there,” he said. “I wasn’t going there thinking I had to get a top 10. I just wanted a check there.”
His weight increased over the first 3 days and he was 7th entering day 4, but an 11-pound bag bumped him back to a 9th-place finish. A $15,000 check was adequate consolation.
“I ran out of the fish going into final day and had intentions of doing different things, but at takeoff I went with what got me there,” he added.
For McMillan to have continued success this season, he knows he’ll have to do it at venues he’s never seen before. He’s already cleared one of those hurdles in Lake Lanier, where he rallied to score a top-20 result.
He was 52nd after day 1 and had only three keepers at 2:45 p.m. on day 2, putting his hopes to cash a check in serious jeopardy. He moved to a deeper row of docks and the first one he flipped to wound up kicking out seven keepers, including a 4 1/2-pound spotted bass, to push his weight up to 15-01 for the day.
“The day before, I had 14 pounds, but I had it by 11 a.m.,” he said. “I wasn’t getting any bites and wasn’t seeing any. It was stressful and I was panicking. After I caught that first one, my graph just lit up.”
That sequence certainly gives him a shot of confidence heading to Lake Cumberland and Smith Lake for the next two events. Smallmouth will be a factor at Cumberland while spots will likely dominate at Smith.
“It gives me a little more of a feel fishing with a spinning rod,” he said before admitting the only time he pulls out a spinning rod at Okeechobee is to target hard-to-catch bedding fish. “I’ve watched and studied it a lot. It’s not that hard, but it’s a lot different for me. That gave me confidence getting a good finish outside of Florida.”
He likes the idea of seeing all of the lakes for the first time.
“It’s exciting. I love going to look for them,” he said. “The fun part is trying to find them and figure out what they’re doing. It’s stressful in three days of practice, but I like seeing new lakes and how they set up. I grew up here seeing the same lakes so getting to see different bass is a treat.”
He’s hoping his lack of familiarity with the remaining lakes keeps him from focusing on the points and the pressure that is sure to build the longer his name remains at the top of the standings.
“It doesn’t bother me,” he added. “I like trying to make most of the limelight time I’m going to have, but I’m trying to focus on one at a time. It’s a long ways away to even try to fish for points and that will mess me up because of the AOY. I’m just trying to ignore that more than anything.”