By Todd Ceisner
When asked where his 2019 Bassmaster Elite Series campaign ranked, in his mind, among his six seasons on the circuit, David Mullins paused for a moment, seemingly rewinding and replaying the last 12 months in his mind.
Surely, his fourth-place finishes at Lake Lanier and Cayuga Lake came to mind. So did the 6th-place showing at Lake Tenkiller to conclude the regular season. At the same time, he couldn’t overlook the 46th at Lake Fork or the 49th at the St. Lawrence River. Those two still haunt him to some degree.
Eventually, he conceded that the 2019 season, when considered in its entirety and knowing it led to him securing a berth in his first Bassmaster Classic, was at the top of the heap.
“As far as finishes go, yeah,” he said, referring to the career-high three top-10 finishes he collected (he had two total prior to ’19). “It could’ve very easily been a lot better, though.”
The Tennessee native is starting to shift back to a fishing mindset after his typical protracted offseason of duck hunting. On Friday, he picked up his new boat from Phoenix Boats. In a week, he’ll be headed to Florida for the Elite Series season opener at the St. Johns River, which begins Feb. 6.
“I’m starting to get excited,” he said. “That’s why I like my down time with duck hunting. I can take fishing out of the equation for a while and by the end of duck season, I start to miss it and want to get back at it.”
Because for the next nine months, he’ll be singularly focused on chasing largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass alongside 87 other anglers at some of the premier bass fisheries in the country.
“Some people don’t understand how much of a grind and intense it is,” he added.
Good Start Was Critical
Mullins, who typically does well in pre-spawn scenarios, said he got a big boost from two strong finishes to start the 2019 season. He followed up a 30th at the St. Johns River with career-high 4th at Lanier, an event he led after day two. He was able to carry that positive mojo through the rest of the season.
“That was huge for me,” he said. “It’s never been a case of the first half has been a weak spot for me. That’s been more the second half. I’ve never finished really well, but that has a lot to do with scheduling.”
Another positive he took from 2019 was how well he was able to close out the year, something he’s struggled to do in the past. Aside from Lanier, he collected his other two top-10s in the final two regular-season derbies – at Cayuga and Tenkiller.
“I think we fished more tournaments in my comfort zone,” he said. “I caught more cranking than probably in any other season. I cranked at Lanier, Cayuga and lost a giant at Guntersville cranking that would’ve put me inside the cut. Tenkiller was more of a structure tournament and that’s my wheelhouse. A lot of the lakes set up to my style. It was a good year. I had a lot of opportunities to do well and had some chances to win.
“But I missed some opportunities. I could’ve done better in points. I lost a fish to win at Lanier. If it were not for day 3 at Cayuga, I come close to winning there. It was good to be in position to win.”
With two tournaments on the docket before the Classic this year, Mullins is hoping to gather some momentum before heading to Guntersville for the 50th anniversary Classic. After St. Johns, the scene shifts to Lake Chickamauga, which has the potential to be a pre-spawn big-fish fest.
“I’ve been to the St. Johns plenty of times,” he said. “Is it one of my favorite places? No, but I know it. I hope the weather plays well for us and they bite well. If it does, it could be like last year. Chickamauga is in Tennessee and that’s about all I know about it. I don’t fish there much. The only good thing is it’s on the Tennessee River and I like the Tennessee River. It could be rough or really good. If I’m looking at now, it could be on the tougher side the way the weather has been at home.”
Fork Timing Better This Year
Of the three venues on the 2019 Elite Series schedule that the circuit will revisit this year, Mullins says he’s most eager to get another look at Lake Fork.
At last year’s Toyota Texas Fest, which was during the first week of May, Mullins said “Fork really made me mad” due to a large population of fish being shallow and spawning.
“There weren’t too many places offshore that had fish and I spent a lot of time looking,” he said. “Only two or three people caught ‘em good offshore. I spent too much time looking.”
He wound up 46th there and hopes the early June timeframe for this year’s stop at Fork will play more to his strengths.
“I would like to get another shot there,” he said. “Luckily, it’s a different time of year and they should be doing a totally different thing. It’ll be early June in Texas, so there should be some offshore. The only bad thing is it’s not that big of a place. It’s not like we’re fishing against 100 guys, but we still added a few guys this year. It’ll probably be crowded, but we’ll see.”
He also is anxious to get another look at the St. Lawrence, which has become a staple on the Elite Series schedule. Mullins has yet to finish higher than 49th in four previous trips to Waddington, N.Y.
“That place kills me because I just can’t put two good days together,” he said.
As for the bigger field he’ll be up against compared to last year, he sees the competition getting stiffer, especially with some of the names being added to the roster.
“You’re bringing in more people and the more people you bring in the better guys will be in those groups,” he said. “Gerald (Swindle) and Brandon (Palaniuk) are coming back and they’re really good, so that’s more competition. It’s just going to be a tougher field. John Cox is coming in and his record speaks for itself. He’s a hammer to deal with.
“But the fish don’t care who’s fishing for them. You still have to catch them. At the end of the day, though, I see a lot more weight coming in.”