GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. —
With each day that passes, Tennessee angler David Mullins sounds more and more confident about his current situation.
He’s learning Lake Lanier’s spotted bass, and it shows in the standings.
After catching 17 pounds, 12 ounces during Thursday’s opening round, Mullins topped that mark Friday with 19-6 and now leads the Toyota Bassmaster Elite at Lake Lanier with a two-day total of 37-2.
While some anglers have struggled to stay on top of the fishery’s nomadic spotted bass, Mullins has remained consistent — and he still believes he can do better.
“For a while today, I felt like I was ledge fishing,” said Mullins, who had numerous stretches Friday when he caught bass one after another for several minutes. “This is the first day that I’ve caught multiple fish off a spot.
“It seemed like they grouped up better today.”
Blueback herring are one of the main forage species on Lake Lanier — and as they move around the lake in large schools, the predatory spotted bass move with them. That means an angler can often catch bass on a spot one day and find they’ve disappeared the next.
But evidence emerged late Friday that Mullins may have developed a more distinct and reliable pattern than many of the other 74 anglers in the field. Around 2 p.m., he caught a 4-pound bass in the same place he caught a 4-pounder the previous day.
He was confident enough what he was doing that he only used one bait all day long.
“I’ve got a rotation now,” he said. “I think I’ve got a clue of what’s going on. The one bait that I’m using is something I have confidence in.
“It’s the one I’m gonna ride or die with.”
Mullins is one of many anglers who have compared Lanier’s hefty spotted bass to smallmouth bass. He’s accustomed to chasing smallmouth on Tennessee fisheries like Cherokee Lake, while Connecticut’s Paul Mueller has spent his life catching them on northern fisheries — sometimes even through the ice.
After landing 16-11 Thursday, Mueller added 18-4 Friday and moved into second place with 34-15. He said the key right now is keeping an open mind.
“I had a game plan for what I was going to do today — similar to what I did yesterday — and that didn’t work out,” Mueller said. He reverted to techniques and patterns that had paid off for him in practice sessions earlier in the week, “and it started happening.
“These fish are different. You’ll catch them one day, and they’ll just change. You can’t be set on what you’re going to do, or you’ll be disappointed.”
Mueller said his Garmin Panoptix (sonar) with Livescope allowed him to see how the bass are reacting to the baits he’s using. With Livescope, he said, he can “see” the fish in real time and even gauge their “mood.”
“I think these bass get a lot of pressure,” Mueller said. “So when I say the Livescope allows me to tell their ‘mood,’ I’m being 100 percent serious.
“These fish are boat-shy. It’s an incredible advantage to see how they react to certain baits, whether they come up to the bait or whether they spook.”
Texas angler Keith Combs — one of the most noted power-fishing largemouth specialists in the sport — is in third place with 33-5. He caught 16-15 Friday and came in lamenting what might have been after losing a spotted bass he estimated was in the 5- to 6-pound range.
“It was like a 20-second fight,” Combs said. “I can see it in my head because it was swimming so slow at the top of the water, just whipped. It was a fish that never in a million years should have come off, but it did.
“That probably burned me for 2 1/2 pounds today. It was like losing a 10-pound largemouth.”
Chris Zaldain of Fort Worth, Texas is tied with Combs for third with 33-5.
Indiana angler Bill Lowen kept his lead in the race for Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the week with the 6-14 largemouth he caught Thursday. Friday’s biggest fish was a 5-6 spotted bass caught by Arkansas pro Stetson Blaylock.
The Top 35 remaining anglers will fish again Saturday, with takeoff scheduled for 6:45 a.m. ET from Laurel Park. The weigh-in, which was held at Laurel Park the previous two days, will move Saturday and Sunday to Coolray Field in Lawrenceville, Ga., at 4 p.m.
After Saturday’s round, only the Top 10 anglers will advance to Championship Sunday with a chance to compete for the $100,000 first-place prize.