By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
(Editor’s note: In observance of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday on Monday, a new First Cast story will not appear until Tuesday, Jan. 19.)
After a breakout season in 2019 that saw him qualify for his first Bassmaster Classic, David Mullins made another big leap last year when he finished just 3 points shy of claiming the Elite Series Angler of the Year (AOY) title. He admits, however, that the conclusion left a bitter aftertaste.
He had a 5-point lead going into the rescheduled season finale at Lake Fork, but posted his lowest finish of the year (47th). That allowed Clark Wendlandt, who'd led the race for much of the season before bombing in the penultimate tournament at Lake Chickamauga, the claim the crown.
Mullins weighed just three fish on the first day at Fork and one fewer than that on day 2.
"I had the fish on to win (the points title) several times and they just came off," he said. "I lost one on a worm, four on a ChatterBait and another one on something else ... it just wasn't meant to be.
"I don't know if that makes me any hungrier this year or not – there are a lot of positives and negatives to be taken out of it. The positive thing is I'm getting closer every year."
Mullins ended up no better than 53rd in the points race during his first five years on the Elite Series (2014-18). Then he got red-hot at the end of the 2019 season on his way to a 20th-place finish on the final list and carried that momentum into 2020, when he posted Top-20 finishes in five on the nine derbies.
The biggest key to his improvement has been finding success on Northern venues. Prior to joining the Elite Series, he'd never fished far from his Tennessee home and figuring things out in smallmouth country was a gradual process.
He finished 37th at the St. Lawrence River, 4th at Lake Champlain and 11th at Lake St. Clair on this year's northern swing.
"I've always caught them down here, but I didn't have any experience anywhere else and going up north was always a struggle," he said. "(The last 2 years) I've fished clean up there and that's been the difference.
"It's really just experience – knowing how those places lay out and how smallmouth react to different things. (Garmin) LiveScope was a big component this year, that helped a lot, but it's also about being more comfortable on those fisheries. Another reason I had success was I was winding baits in a lot of tournaments; crankbaits, ChatterBaits and square-bills. I'm pretty confident when I can do that and I got to do it a lot this year."
His Champlain showing was his highest of the season (and equaled the best of his Elite Series tenure), but he points to his 8th at Santee Cooper as his highlight of the pandemic-altered year.
"I had such a tough practice and to come out of there with a Top-10 was really good," he said. "I'm really tight-knit with my roommates and Drew Benton told me he got bit in a certain area and I went to kind of a different location there and found those fish.
"If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have found them. It ended up being the best I felt about a tournament all year."
No Clue about Ray Roberts
Mullins posted a 13th-place finish in his Classic debut last year at Lake Guntersville. This year's edition will take place at Lake Ray Roberts in Texas (the timeframe has been switched from March to June due to the ongoing effects of the pandemic).
He didn't make a pre-practice trip to the lake and has done no online research. That kind of thing isn't part of his routine.
"I don't try to look into what's going on – I just play it all by ear and go from there," he said. "It might be kind of boring, but that's the way I do it and it's starting to work."