March 24, 2012 by Rob Newell
BAINBRIDGE, Ga. - Brandon McMillan of Clewiston, Fla., needed 17 pounds, 3 ounces to win the EverStart Series Southeast event on Lake Seminole.
Lake Seminole legend Rodger Beaver of Dawson, Ga., had mounted an impressive final day charge of 19 pounds, 8 ounces to take the lead, leaving McMillan's deficit at 17 pounds, 3 ounces.
As McMillan slid his last fish into the tank, he took a breath and held it. For a second the EverStart weigh-in world in the Walmart parking lot froze. The only sound was the whispering wind lapping the American flag against a brilliant blue sky.
"Seventeen pounds, four ounces!" exclaimed Tournament Director Ron Lappin into the mic as McMillan's fist cut the air in celebration and relief.
And there's little doubt that far above that blue sky, the late Jimmy McMillan smiled down on his son.
"This is pretty sweet," McMillan said. "I didn't think I had enough, so this is really sweet. After all that's happened this year, this is particularly special to me, it means a lot."
McMillan, who hails from Clewiston, Fla., has become a perennial top contender in Okeechobee tournaments, but this win at Seminole makes a statement that he is not just an Okeechobee local. The pure fishing instincts he exhibited this week in regards to tapping into the shad-spawn bite are quite impressive, especially given the fact he had never fished a shad-spawn pattern before.
"Coming here I didn't even know what a shad spawn was," McMillan said. "My friend Chad Prough, who fishes here a lot, kind of told me what to look for, but other than that I have no prior experience with bass feeding on spawning shad."
In the end, most of McMillan's fish came from one area in the Chattahoochee River where shad were spawning in the morning. He found the area late in the morning on Monday and then returned to it very early on Wednesday and witnessed big bass "going off" on balls of shad wadded up around clumps of "gator grass" or "peanut grass."
"My primary spot had clumps of that peanut grass out in about four feet of water and that was the deal," McMillan explained. "There was a lot of that type of grass on the bank in that area, but the isolated clumps out deeper were the ones the shad were using the most."
McMillan's best lure was a white 4X4 swim jig teamed with a white craw trailer, tied to 65-pound test braided line. He also used a Spro popping frog, also tied to 65-pound test braid.
On day one the small area produced 21 pounds, 15 ounces to give McMillan the early lead. A late boat number and early sunshine killed his best spot on day two, giving up just one quality bass. He resorted to a Zoom speedworm (junebug) to catch two more big fish. The trio of bass held him in third place on day two and kept him in striking distance for today."
"I got there early and it was really overcast, which helped prolong the bite by about 45 minutes," McMillan said. "I did most of my damage from about 8 to 9 this morning and then it was over. I caught most of my fish today on the jig. If they blew up on the jig and didn't get it, I'd cast the popping frog over there for a second chance, which worked a couple of times."
Of particular note was the size of McMillan's bass. Remember, he was two fish short of filling out a perfect 15-bass scorecard, meaning he had 13 bass that produced his winning total of 51 pounds, 11 ounces, giving him a 4-pound average.
Also McMillan credited his Power-Poles for his success.
"The wind was blowing in on the grass where the shad were spawning," he described. "Without the Power-Poles, I would have blown all up on top of the frenzy and completely disturbed the area. But with the Power-Poles I was able to pole down and hold a perfect position to keep making the exact cast I needed to make."
Despite a final-day rally of 19 pounds, 8 ounces, Rodger Beaver of Dawson, Ga., finished second with three-day total of 51 pounds, 10 ounces.
Unfortunately, it was an 8-ounce dead-fish penalty on the final day that cost Beaver a win.
"Don't get me wrong, it hurts, $23,000 is a lot of money due to a dead fish," Beaver said. "But also, it's about perspective. I became friends with Brandon last season. And when he lost his father in January, I told him I personally knew what he was going through because I lost my son in 2005 - a sudden loss like that is something you never really get over, it's something you learn to live with. And I say that because if there is one person in the field that I would not mind losing to by such a penalty, it's Brandon. Things happen for a reason and this is one of those things; it was his time."
Beaver's final-day charge came from a shad-spawn as well.
"I had one area where the shad were spawning, but because of a late boat number the first day, I never went to them - I knew it would be over before I could get there, so I sight-fished instead," Beaver recounted. "Yesterday, I was able to catch the tail end of the shad spawn - maybe 10 minutes of it - and I caught two 5 pounders. Today, everything was perfect, I got there early, the clouds and overcast set in for a while and I was really able to work on them."
Beaver's key lure on the shad-spawn spot up the Chattahoochee was a Spro Poppin Frog, white belly with a gray back.
Straight Talk pro JT Kenney of Palm Bay, Fla., fell to third on the final day with a 13-pound, 4-ounce catch giving him a three-day total of 49 pounds, 10 ounces.
"I probably caught 60 to 70 percent of my fish on a 1/2-ounce Lil Hustler spinnerbait, white with double willows," Kenney said. "The rest came on a RC 1.5 and a Fluke."
Kenney fished the Spring Creek portion of the lake, focusing on ditches adjacent to spawning flats.
"I wouldn't say my fish were really on a true shad spawn," he added. "I never saw shad balled up spawning on anything. There were definitely shad in the area; I'd see individual shad flicker from time to time, but not spawning. I think it was just more about fish coming off the spawning flats and retreating into those ditches around the flats."
Shaye Baker of Tallassee, Ala., finished fourth with a three-day total of 49 pounds, 8 ounces.
Baker, who contributes to FLW Bass Fishing magazine and flwoutdoors.com as freelance writer, proved he knows his subject matter well with his finish this week.
Unlike others who were having to make the long trek some 40 miles to the Chattahoochee River to get to their shad spawn fish, thereby losing precious early-morning time, Baker intentionally looked close.
"The shad spawn pattern is usually such an early morning bite that I wanted to find it as close to the launch site as possible to maximize that premium window of fishing time," Baker said. "So I spent a lot of time looking in the Flint for a shad spawn and found one spot where it was going on strong."
Baker scored on his shad spawn spot on days one and three using a homemade 3/8-ounce spinnerbait, but had to improvise on day two.
"The first day I never went farther than 5 miles from the ramp," Baker said. "I caught everything on the spinnerbait. On day two, I only caught four bass for about 6 pounds off the shad spawn spot and had to run down into the lake to throw a topwater. I was launching a Jackall Bowstick on a Duckett 7-foot rod and that's what saved me with two 3-pounders and a 4-pounder. Today I went back to the shad spawn area with the spinnerbait and a white NetBait swim jig with a white Paca Craw and caught everything I weighed-in in 30 minutes."
Lake Okeechobee EverStart Series winner Brandon Medlock of Lake Placid, Fla., finished fifth with a three-day total of 49 pounds, 2 ounces.
Medlock targeted deeper spawning bass in 3 to 6 feet on stumpy flats with a Texas-rigged 10-inch Gambler Worm (junebug) and Texas-rigged Charlie's lizard (black).
"I couldn't see beds, but I feel like some of the fish were spawning around the stumps and some were just post-spawn fish milling around there deeper," Medlock said. "The first day really cost me when I lost three big ones and I could never quite catch up after that."
Rest of the best
Rounding out the top-10 pros in the EverStart Series event on Lake Seminole:
6th: Darrell Davis of Dover, Fla., three-day total of 49-1, $7,000
7th: George Kapiton of Inverness, Fla., three-day total of 44-1, $6,000
8th: Keith Pace of Monticello, Ark., three-day total of 43-13, 5,000
9th: Joseph Kremer of Osteen, Fla., three-day total of 43-9, $4,000
10th: Ty Solis of Albany, Ga., three-day total of 38-1, $3,000