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J-Mac Checks out Cumberland

J-Mac Checks out Cumberland

With three tournaments down so far in the 2018 FLW Tour season, 22-year-old pro Jared McMillan is on fire. He started the season off with back-to-back top 10s in Florida, which didn’t come as a surprise since Okeechobee is his home lake and the Harris Chain suits him well. His first real test was at Lake Lanier – a lake he had never been to before the Tour stop in March – and he aced it with another top-30 cut, eventually finishing 20th. Now McMillan looks to carry his momentum into another unfamiliar fishery this week at Lake Cumberland to see if he can keep the train rolling.

Because he’s on a roll, McMillan was an obvious choice to join for a day of practice to see just how a Florida kid breaks down a new lake in the hills of Kentucky amid what has so far been a stellar season.

 

It’s apparent that either winter didn’t get the memo, or spring is late to the party, when we start the morning with a 26-degree air temperature. Luckily, this should be the coldest start to the week, and anglers can expect nicer conditions in the coming days.

Getting an early start isn’t high on the priority list today, so we meet up around 7:40 a.m. ET. McMillan rolls to the ramp with a convoy of other pros that he is staying with for the week. The list includes Matt Stefan, Mark Fisher, Jeff Gustafson and big brother Brandon McMillan.

“I’ve never seen snow before, and this is definitely the most frost I have ever seen in my life,” Jared says as he pries the frosty cover off his boat. “I have every layer of warm clothes I brought on. I even have three pairs of long johns on.”

Once the cover is off, I help drop Jared’s boat in the water and catch a ride with Gussy out from the dock.

 

Jared makes a short ride to the first spot of the morning and pulls a few rods out of the locker. He picks up a crankbait.

Now, the first real order of business for the day is to get to the bottom of Jared’s nickname situation. The natural fit since his brother, Brandon, is Big Mac is to call him Little Mac – or Lil’ Mac – but on the side of his boat it says “J-Mac.”

“I guess I don’t really care,” Jared says of his nickname choices. “I’d probably go with J-Mac since Little Mac would make more sense for my younger brother [Dylan].”

With that problem solved, J-Mac starts slinging his crankbait down the bank.

He spends a few minutes casting without a bite, then eases around the corner to a small pocket and picks up a jig. There are a few trees in the water, but the trash mat at the back grabs his attention.

“I guess this is sorta like a mat I’d fish back home,” J-Mac says, laughing.

He doesn’t get a bite, then straps the rods down and makes a short run.

 

J-Mac pulls up to a point, pulls out a jerkbait and fires away.

“I’d really like to move around a lot more, but it’s so cold I think I’ll just make short moves until it warms up some,” he says.

Okeechobee and Harris were the only two lakes on the 2018 schedule that the young pro has fished before, so I ask him what kind of homework he does in advance.

“I sit in my boat and look at my Lowrance units and Navionics map a lot, but it doesn’t do much good for a lake like Cumberland since it is so deep,” he says. “I also watch a lot of stuff on YouTube, like FLW TV shows and the Live recordings from last year. You can get a lot of good info from watching the FLW Live stuff.”

He adds that pre-practice is pretty much out of the question due to the driving distance and time constraints, though he did spend one day on Lewis Smith before coming to Cumberland. As he explains his preparation strategy, J-Mac pulls another rod out of the locker to tie on a spinnerbait. He makes a few casts with it, but decides it’s time to move again.

 

On our way out of the pocket J-Mac takes note of some deeper timber he sees on his graph, but since he doesn’t see any fish in it he hammers down to the next spot.

 

As soon as he stops at the next location, J-Mac digs out a finesse jig and fires it across a point.

He’s still trying to get a feel for the lake and hasn’t had a bite yet. He’s constantly scanning the shoreline with his eyes and zooming in and out of his map. While looking at the bank, J-Mac points out a coot that is hanging out under a rock outcropping. He jokes that the bird is lost since there isn’t an abundance of grass in Cumberland to snack on.

“I bet he’s just as cold as I am,” J-Mac says.

 

As we are about to leave to run back in the pocket a bit more, J-Mac takes a minute to check his phone and notices a missed call from his brother Brandon. He calls him back, and the two chat about how tough it is so far. Brandon has an edge on his younger brother so far; he’s had a few bites already.

The phone call is short, and once they hang up we are on plane, heading just a few hundred yards back into the pocket.

 

J-Mac picks up the spinnerbait to throw at numerous tree and laydowns that line the bank, but still no takers.

“I’m not too worried about what I find today because I think the lake is going to change so much by the start of the tournament,” he says. “I just want to get an idea of where the fish are at right now so I can hopefully adjust and move with them when they do. I’ll probably focus on the lower end of the lake this week and fish the stuff that looks good to me.”

After sharing his thoughts, it’s back to digging through tackle boxes for a jerkbait. He picks a promising one, ties it on and makes another move.

 

Cold weather and Floridians don’t mix well, as I soon find out. When J-Mac reaches to unhook his jerkbait from his rod it becomes tangled in his gloves. What starts out as one hook quickly escalates into several hooks buried in the cotton fabric, and he can’t help but laugh at the situation.

“I threw this jerkbait a good bit at Lanier and never had this problem,” he says with a smile.

Once he gets it together, J-Mac doesn’t take long to get his first bite of the day. It’s a decent smallmouth, and it puts up quite the battle. As the fish starts to tire, J-Mac tries to flip it in the boat, but the fish comes unbuttoned.

He apologizes for not landing the fish for a pic, but it’s all good. At least the ice has been broken.

“I feel a lot better now that I caught one,” he says.

 

About 50 yards down the bank, J-Mac hooks up again. This time, it’s a largemouth, which seems to surprise him, considering how cold it was overnight. That’s one of the advantages of not dealing with Florida strain bass: The largemouths here on Cumberland aren’t as moody when it comes to cold weather.

The fish is a decent keeper, and J-Mac is happy to have had another bite.

 

J-Mac makes another move, this time a little farther since the temperature is starting to climb.

He drops the trolling motor, grabs a jig and starts to flip it around. There are so many targets to hit that it seems like a daunting task to try and flip everything. But true to the plan for the day, after a few minutes with no action we are cruising down the lake.

 

It’s getting close to noon, and J-Mac seems to have reached the maximum quantity of rods for the front deck of his boat. It’s no Bryan Thrift pile, but he’s got a pretty good selection of stuff that should catch a bass anywhere on the lake.

A crankbait gets the call for covering a stretch of bluff wall.

“I caught some smallmouths a few years ago on Wheeler Lake cranking bluff walls like this, so I wanted to see if I could do it here,” he says.

After a few hundred yards of fruitless cranking he takes a moment to tie on an original Wiggle Wart. He cranks for a few more minutes with it, but without a bite decides it’s time to drop me back off at the ramp so he can continue his quest down the lake.

 

It’s early afternoon by the time we make it back to the ramp, and while it has warmed up some, I’m happy to be seeking refuge in the warmth of a vehicle.

It wasn’t an action-packed morning, but J-Mac seems calm and cool about it. He’s got plenty of time left to uncover some secrets on Cumberland, and the bite should only get better as the week progresses. The thought of leading the AOY race doesn’t seem to weigh on J-Mac much, which says a lot about him. He’s focused on the task at hand, and for such a young pro, he’s not letting anything spin him out.

Good luck this week, Jared.

 

Tags: kyle-wood  pre-tournament  2018-04-12-lake-cumberland 

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