By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor

Paul Mueller won the Lake Laner Bassmaster Elite Series by catching deep-dwelling fish with finesse-style gear and Chris Zaldain also went the offshore route on his way to a 2nd-place showing. The other three top-5 finishers, however, spent the majority of their time throwing moving baits in much shallower water.

Here's a rundown of how Zaldain, Keith Combs, David Mullins and Todd Auten went about their business on the Georgia impoundment that's arguably the best spotted bass fishery in the country.

2nd: Chris Zaldain

> Day 1: 5, 16-15
> Day 2: 5, 16-06
> Day 3: 5, 18-04
> Day 4: 5, 16-09
> Total = 20, 68-02

Zaldain's program in regard to where he fished was quite specific: He stayed on the lower end, within sight of the dam, and worked main-lake points. He'd occasionally venture into a creek arm to sample a secondary point.

"The key was the Humminbird (electronics) with the LakeMaster chip," he said. "Once I figured out what shape of point they were relating to, I could basically look at the Humminbirds and call my shot.

"Every day was different because the wind kept changing and I'd have to re-find the fish or find new points where the wind was blowing in on them. There were plenty to choose from on that portion of the lake I just had to find the right ones."

A Northern California native with a lot of experience catching spots from highland reservoirs such as Lake Shasta and Lake Oroville, he came to Lanier pretty much set on staying deep.

"I started my practice in 35 feet and kept following the fish out deeper and deeper I caught them from 35 to 60. The best places had a mix of rock and wood. There were a lot of angler-placed brush piles in 30 to 35 feet and the standing timber was in 60 to 100, and the rock would be in between them."

He caught 15 of his weigh-in fish on a small swimbait and the other five on a dropshot rig.

> Swimbait gear: 6'11" medium-action Megabass Destroyer Addermine rod, unnamed size 3000 spinning reel, 15-pound Seaguar Smackdown braid (main line), 8-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon (leader), homemade 3/8-ounce ball-head jig, Megabass Spark Shad (hiuo).

> Dropshot gear: Same rod and reel, 15-pound Seaguar Smackdown braid (main line), 8-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon (leader), 3/8-ounce teardrop-shaped tungsten weight, size 1 Trokar dropshot hook, 3" Megabass Hazedong Shad or 4 1/2" Roboworm (shad).

B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

Keith Combs displayed remarkable consistency as his four bags varied in weight by only 10 ounces.

3rd: Keith Combs

> Day 1: 5, 16-06
> Day 2: 5, 16-15
> Day 3: 5, 16-05
> Day 4: 5, 16-07
> Total = 20, 66-01

Combs had a 30-spot milk run of cranking locations that started in the mid-lake area and ran all the way down by the dam. Some of the stops had water in the 6- to 8-foot depth range and others were as deep as 20.

He was remarkably consistent there was only a 10-ounce difference between his heaviest bag and his lightest.

"Pretty early on the first day of practice I stopped on a point and caught one on the crankbait," he said. "I just kept expanding on it from there.

"I came to understand as time went on that the fish bit best during low-light periods, so I'd run as much water as I could and sometimes I'd double back. If I didn't catch one on the first few casts, I was gone."

He picked up a couple of 4-pound-plus fish on a shaky-head during times when the crankbait was drawing no interest.

He said the LakeMaster mapping for Lanier is extremely detailed. When he programmed his depthfinder to highlight the 10- to 12-foot range, he could easily pick out all of the points that had potential.

> Cranking gear: 7' medium-action Shimano Curado CDC 70M cranking rod, Shimano Curado K casting reel (7.3:1 ratio), 12-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorcarbon line, Strike King 5Xd (blueback herring) or 3XD (crawfish).

> He said he also mixed in a few other medium-diving crankbaits.

> His shaky-head setup featured a 6 1/2" Strike King Finesse Worm.

B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

David Mullins was the midway leader, but his big bites dried up over the weekend.

4th: David Mullins

> Day 1: 5, 17-12
> Day 2: 5, 19-06
> Day 3: 5, 14-02
> Day 4: 5, 14-10
> Total = 20, 65-14

Mullins ordinarily enjoys the opportunity to fish offshore, but he abstained from that in this derby and concentrated on the 3- to 8-foot range.

"There was just so much stuff (out deep) the whole lake is just full of structure. Even though I love deep water, the number of places was kind of overwhelming."

He connected with both numbers and quality throwing a jerkbait on the first day of practice, but that option petered out. His secondary option was to crank the shallows in the upper portion of the lake (between the two main bridges), and that paid off handsomely over the first two days. His second-round stringer was the biggest of the day and had him in the lead at the event's midway point.

His oversize bites disappeared over the weekend, but he nonetheless posted a career-best finish.

"I just hate that those big ones moved on me," he said. "You don't get too many chances to win one of these."

He cranked up 17 of his weigh-in fish, with the other three falling for a jerkbait.

> Cranking gear: 7'3" Doomsday Tackle 47 Series rod, Lew's Tournament Pro casting reel (5.5:1 ratio), 12-pound Sunline FC Sniper fluorocarbon line, Rapala DT 6 (red demon).

> His jerkbait was a Megabass Vision 110 (Wakasagi).

B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

Todd Auten fared much better at Lake Lanier this time than he did in an FLW Tour event a year ago.

5th: Todd Auten

> Day 1: 5, 16-01
> Day 2: 5, 12-14
> Day 3: 5, 17-05
> Day 4: 5, 17-02
> Total = 20, 63-06

Auten finished a dismal 160th in last year's FLW Tour event at Lanier and arrived for this event without high expectations.

"I was pretty surprised (to finish in the top 5)," he said. "I was thinking I'd be throwing a swimbait, fishing 40 or 50 feet deep, but luckily I got on the crankbait deal and caught a few on a jig around docks and stuff. It fit my style pretty well.

"I didn't have much of a practice because with all the fog, you couldn't hardly run around. I just made the best of it. (The foul weather in practice) probably helped me just because it probably hurt other people more."

Only a lackluster day 2 prevented him from finishing even higher.

"I lost a couple good ones that day one was a 3 1/2-pounder that hit the side of the boat and came off. But everybody lost fish; there were times when they were just biting short."

He fished main-lake points with clay banks, chunk rock or rip-rap in 4- to 7-foot depths. His best areas had a flat spot on top of the point and then dropped sharply to the river channel.

"The Garmin LiveScope really helped me it clued me in on the baitfish being up shallow. You can't get up that shallow and graph around because you usually spook everything. I was able to see the rocks and wood and everything out in front of me, and I could see the bait."

> Cranking gear (casting): 7'2" medium-heavy Douglas DXC rod, Daiwa Tatula casting reel (5.4:1 ratio), 12-pound Bass Pro Shops XPS fluorocarbon line, custom-painted balsa crankbait (reddish-orange).

> Cranking gear (spinning): 6'10" medium-action Douglas LRS rod, Daiwa Ballistic spinning reel, 10-pound Bass Pro Shops XPS fluorocarbon, Live Target Yearling BaitBall YSB-50 (pearl olive).

> His jig was a 1/2-ounce Zorro Booza Bug with a Zoom Speed Craw trailer (both green-pumpkin).

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