DANDRIDGE, Tenn. — David Mullins knows the significance of catching a 20-pounds-plus, five-bass limit at Douglas Lake. In recent history, it has taken at least 20-plus per day to win here. So Mullins was happy to have 21 pounds, 5 ounces on Day 1 of Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open at Douglas Lake. And he was even happier to be the only angler to top 20 pounds Thursday.
“Trust me, I know exactly what it takes to win here,” said Mullins. “I’ve finished second two times in a row here.”
The 34-year-old Elite Series angler lives in nearby Mt. Carmel, Tenn. He was second when Ott Defoe won the Northern Open with 62-5 in 2014, and Mullins was runnerup to Patrick Bone, who won the Southern Open with 65-4 in 2013.
The entire 150-boat field of pros paired with co-anglers will compete again Friday before the field is cut to the top 12 in both divisions for Saturday’s final.
Mullins was the only pro to top 20 pounds, but it’s not like he has a huge lead. Kyle Glasgow Jr. of Guin, Ala., is second with 19-10; Dustin Connell of Clanton, Ala., is third with 19-7; Josh Roark of Morristown, Tenn., is fourth with 19-4; and Elite Series angler Brandon Card of Caryville, Tenn., is fifth with 19-2.
With Douglas being three feet below its normal pool level, a lake that’s only 35,000 acres when full fished really small Thursday.
“I caught most of my fish on my first stop,” said Card, whose bag included a 5-pound, 11-ounce smallmouth bass. “After that I was fishing behind people all day, and it was tough. In fact, it was brutal after about 10 o’clock.”
Adjusting to the unusually low mid-May lake level appears to be the key to success. Apparently, there are two ways to do that: 1) have a long history of fishing Douglas Lake, or 2) have no history here.
Mullins is in the first category. Although he lives closer to Cherokee Lake, he considers Douglas his home lake because he grew up fishing it.
“I’ve got some spots to myself,” said Mullins. “It’s some stuff that’s a little bit out of the way, but fish haven’t been on it in 10 years. It must be the water level is right in some of those places. Some of the (traditionally) good places don’t have much water on them at all.”
Glasgow and Connell are in the second category. This marks the first tournament at Douglas for both.
“I’ve got one place where I hope not many people know about,” Glasgow said. “It’s not very obvious. But the fish didn’t bite near as well for me today as they had in practice. I was expecting to just whack ‘em. I only caught about eight keepers.”
While there are always some fish shallow here, especially this early in the year, almost every tournament at Douglas is won on a deep-water pattern. Connell committed to that. He spent most of his practice time graphing deeper bass-holding structure.
“This place fishes so small, it’s hard to get on places you want to fish,” he said. “I had a few sneaky holes – sneaky, sneaky places. I caught my biggest fish off a sneaky spot.”
McConnell had a 5-pound, 11-ounce largemouth in his bag. Derrick Snavely of Rogersville, Tenn., took big bass honors on the pro side with a 6-pound, 5-ounce largemouth.
In the co-angler division, Rodney Tapp of Inman, S.C., leads with a three-bass limit weighing 11 pounds. Andy Simm of Piney Flats, Tenn., is second with 10-14 and Wayne Hauser of Mooresville, N.C., is third with 10-0. Simm also took big bass honors among the co-anglers with a 5 ½-pounder.
Takeoff begins at 6:15 a.m. Friday at The Point Marina, 122 Boatdock Drive in Dandridge, and the weigh-in starts at 2:15 p.m. at the same location. The weigh-in location shifts for Saturday’s top 12 final to the Bass Pro Shops at 3629 Outdoor Sportsman’s Place in Kodak, Tenn.