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James McMullen Wins Lake Guntersville EverStart

The calls have started already. Even before James McMullen could finish the 13-hour drive home and start to savor a truly remarkable accomplishment in his young competitive fishing career, questions started to roll in about his victory at the Lake Guntersville Southeast EverStart. "How'd you do it?" "Where'd ya catch 'em at?" Certainly, a tournament victory at the Triple-A level is a fine achievement at any lake, but when you conquer a fishery that's due to host next year's Bassmaster Classic at roughly the same time on the calendar, it's going to draw plenty of attention and inquiries, his Pennsylvania address notwithstanding. "The guy I went down with," McMullen said Sunday, "he knows a couple of guys and they were hitting him up already." There really wasn't much to be hit up about. McMullen's account of his 3-day assault on the pre-spawn females at Guntersville was pretty cut and dry. He caught every ounce of the 86-07 he weighed over 3 days on an umbrella rig, something that BassFans are unlikely to see in the Classic next February unless B.A.S.S. changes its tack on the issue. Of course, location was just as crucial to his victory. He located a semi-backwater area off a major creek arm and once he navigated through a culvert, he was in the promised land. His stringers got heavier as the tournament wore on and he was able to fend off a group of competitors who know the lake as well as anyone. His winning total was just a little more than 2 pounds better than runner-up Alex Davis, who won the Guntersville EverStart last May. He also beat Guntersville resident and FLW Tour pro Justin Lucas, who finished 3rd. Robert Boyd, who won an EverStart at Guntersville in February 2011, wound up 4th. "I saw this one on the schedule and figured I had to do it," he said. "Guntersville in February - I knew it'd be a slugfest. It means a lot. I knew there are always some (Tour) guys in the EverStarts, but I didn't know about the local guys down there. It seemed like, besides me, they were all near the top."

McMillan, a 37-year-old HVAC installer from Quakertown, Pa., started fishing tournaments 3 years ago around southeastern Pennsylvania, most notably at Lake Nockamixon, a 1,400-acre lake where a four-fish limit for 20 pounds is considered a giant stringer. He'd never been to Guntersville before last month, but he fished the BFL there the week prior to the EverStart and finished 18th with 17-06. In the days leading up to the EverStart, he looked at main-lake structure off shore, but when he didn't see the quantities of fish he'd hoped for, he changed up his focus. "We checked a lot of the main-river humps, right off the channel and weren't really finding a concentration of fish so we went shallow and found a whole stack of them," he said, "and it held up all week." He caught some fish on a jig, but once he got on the umbrella-rig bite, "they were hitting that rig so good, I didn't want to put it down," he said. The fish holding in the area he located were suspended about halfway up in about 8 to 10 feet of water. The spot was helped by the presence of plentiful baitfish. He tried to duplicate the pattern in other areas of the lake, but couldn't find the sheer volume of quality. "We went into Mink Creek, but it was all loaded with males and it didn't have the bait that this creek had," he said.

Competition:

With weather conditions - air temps in the 30s with occasional snow flurries - not a whole lot different than up north, McMullen got into his primary area first thing in the morning with the goal of squeezing out a limit. "I didn't know they'd all be 6-pounders," he said. "I actually went all the way around it and was just about to leave when I caught a 6 and one that was almost 7 on back-to-back casts. I spun around and finished out my limit." He had the spot to himself and backed off the area once his livewell was full 2 hours prior to his check-in time. "They pulled some water the night before the tournament and that may have grouped the fish up a little tighter than they had been," he said. "In that particular area, the water was down 18 inches and they had backed out and weren't as spread out." He was 2nd after day 1 with 28-04, trailing only Chad Aaron, who caught 30-06. "I thought I had a chance after the first day," he said. "All of the fish I was catching were fresh, right off the river. You could see it in the color and their eyes weren't even adjusted to it. With all the bait that was in there, I knew they were going to keep coming. I just had that feeling. The fact that I left them alone after I had my limit really helped." Despite having several other boats in the area with him on day 2, he had an even better morning than the previous day. "It was probably the best day of the week," he said. His co-angler had a limit by 9:30 and he was done peppering the spot at 11. His 28-13 stringer kept him in 2nd and pared the deficit to Aaron down to 10 ounces entering the final day. His hope for day 3 was to maintain his pace from days 1 and 2 and see if the other anglers around him in the standings could keep up. When he stuck his two biggest fish of the day within 10 minutes of each other before 8 a.m., he knew he'd be in contention down to the end. "I was hoping for another 28 pounds and figured I could get that easily because I didn't really pressure them too much," he said. "If I got beat, then I got beat. Between the two of them it was 15 pounds so I figured I just needed a bunch of 4-pounders and it would give me what I needed." He did exactly that, and then some, coming up with 29-06 to close out the victory with an astonishing 86-07 total.

Winning Pattern:

Prior to fishing Guntersville, McMullen had had limited experience throwing an umbrella rig. Now, he's a big believer in it. "Absolutely. How can you not be," he said. "The weights were insane and it was consistent every day. I'd done it a couple times around (home) with no success whatsoever." He said he was casting it as far as he could and made sure to keep it off the bottom with a steady, brisk retrieve. "When it clouded it over, you slowed it down a little bit," he noted. "A lot of guys I noticed were reeling so slow that they were getting snagged a lot and weren't getting the bites. I didn't get snagged once all week and there was wood all over the area. I was reeling pretty fast. "When the sun was out, you had to almost burn it back or they wouldn't hit it, as crazy as that sounds." He felt another key was turning his electronics off and going into stealth mode on day 2 when he had company. "I just kind of floated around," he added. "I wasn't real hard on the trolling motor at all."

Winning Gear:

Umbrella rig gear: 7'9" heavy-action Shimano Crucial umbrella rig rod, Shimano Chronarch casting reel (6.5:1 ratio), 50-pound Sufix 832 Advanced Superline, 5-wire Yellow Hammer Spinnerbait Rig, 3/16-oz. Revenge Swimbait Hedz XL jigs (shad), 3.8" Keitech Swing Impact FAT swimbait (black shad). He tried throwing white swimbaits, but couldn't get bit in his key area.

Main factor: "Leaving the fish after I had a limit so I didn't pressure them."

Performance edge: "The (Shimano) rod-and-reel setup I had was perfect for throwing what I was throwing."

Lake Guntersville EverStart Winning Pattern Bassfan 3/5/13 (Todd Ceisner)