The Eliminator Series: Diary Of David Millsaps Win On Lake Lanier

The fishing at Lanier was tough, but a big largemouth bite on a buzzbait 27 minutes after blast-off helped send David Millsaps to the Eliminator Series finals at Lake Oconee.

GON Staff | October 1, 2006

David Millsaps at the 2006 Eliminator Series semi-finals on Lake Lanier.

David Millsaps moves to the finals of The Eliminator Series — and a guarantee of $1,000 and a shot at the $2,500 first-place prize — after beating Steven Phillips at Lake Lanier on a cloudy, cool day in mid September.

The Eliminator Series is GON’s unique heads-up bass fishing tournament where anglers compete one-on-one in progressive rounds.

The semi-final match September 12 at Lanier hit the lake during a difficult time. Fishing three days after the Lanier Bassmaster Southern Tour Event, word from the locals was that fishing was super tough. However, the cooler- and darker-than normal weather had David thinking about a buzzbait bite down the lake, while Steven’s plan was to stay close to Little Hall — the Eliminator’s and Bassmaster’s blast-off site — and fish the wind-blown banks and boat docks.
Brad Gill rode with David and Daryl Kirby was with Steven.

David Millsaps, Lanier
7:20: David makes a fairly long run down the lake to an area at the mouth of Mud Creek. His first cast is with a 1/2-oz. Sworming Hornet buzzbait around a rocky island. The buzzbait has a chartreuse-colored Zoom trailer, which he believes will help attract spotted bass out of the deep, clear water.

“Fishing for spotted bass isn’t my kind of fishing, but it’s a golden rule that with a dark night and with it being cloudy to look for one of these spots that’s pulled up shallow during the night,” said David. “I’ll wear this buzzbait out if it’ll stay like this.”

The morning was dark, with patchy fog and very light drizzle.

7:24: A fish nips at the bait but misses.

7:25: Still fishing around the island, keeper No. 1 bites, a 16-inch spotted bass.

“Who says you can’t catch these fish on heavy line?” David jokes.

He’s using 25-lb. Vanish line, and he believes the fish came up from 20 feet of water to eat the buzzbait.

7:33: David moves down the lake to the very next rocky point at Old Federal.

“If I can catch one fish an hour on this buzzbait, I’ll throw it,” said David. “I do have a pocket full of worms.”

7:38: After throwing on a rocky point seven times, Keeper No. 2 takes the buzzbait.

“It’s about a 7-lb. largemouth!” David hollers as the fish’s head comes out of the water. “I don’t even have the net out.”

David falls down in the bottom of the boat while the fish jumps several times. Finally, he lips it and puts it in the boat. It’s not quite seven pounds, but he guesses the fish is over four.

“He laid the leather to it — jerked the rod out of my hand,” said David. “I’d never come down here if it wasn’t cloudy.”

The fish was just off the rocky point in six feet of water.

“We can go eat a biscuit if we catch two more like that,” he said.

For David Millsaps the tournament came down to this second right here .. literally. If this 4.48-pounder comes unbuttoned in this aerobatic jump, Steven would have won the tournament by 1.06 pounds. Fortunately for David, he was able to lip the fish, put it in the boat and win the tournament by 3.42 pounds. David caught the largemouth on a buzzbait on a main-lake rocky point near Old Federal.

7:47: David moves down the lake and is now fishing a rocky point within sight of Aqualand Marina. The wind is starting to really pick up.

“Both those fish have been on the calm side of the point,” said David. “I’m not getting hit on the rough sides.”

David makes long casts because the water is so clear. On his buzzbait retrieve, he’s adding sudden jerks into the bait’s action to imitate a flickering baitfish.

7:59: David hooks a small fish, but it comes unbuttoned.

“It was a small one; it didn’t have the authority those first two had,” said David. “Both those fish have just killed it — I like that.”

8:11: He moves across the mouth of Flowery Branch — across the lake you can now see Three Sisters Islands. David sees an isolated rocky point at the mouth of short pocket and chunks the buzzbait. A fish hits in three feet of water but pulls the trailer off.

8:12: The fish hits again but misses the bait.

“It’s a little one, I think,” said David.

He notices brush at the mouth of the short pocket and slings the buzzbait down both sides.

8:16: David picks up a Sworming Hornet spinnerbait.

“This stuff wins up here, so I might as well throw it,” said David.

The 3/8-oz. bait has one silver No. 2 willowleaf blade and a tiny Indiana blade. The skirt is white and gray, and it has a white trailer.
8:20: David gets a short strike on a buzzbait on the calm side of a rocky point.

“He was way out in deep water — it is getting brighter,” said David.

8:25: He fishes down a deeper rocky bank with the buzzbait.

“If I can catch five on this it’ll be hard on somebody,” said David. “Small fish will hit it, but big fish like it.”

8:37: The skies get darker as David heads in the back of a long pocket where there is 28 feet of water and several rocky points.

“There’s enough water back here,” said David. “You couldn’t ask for better weather for what I’m doing. I’m going to stick with the buzzbait for another hour.”

8:40: A 10-incher short strikes.

8:42: David catches a 10-inch spot over a submerged rock in only two feet of water.

8:45: Down the bank David spots where someone took a chainsaw and cut down a pretty big tree.

“That treetop is probably on that point over there,” said David. “If I was just playing, I’d find that thing.”

8:53: David runs across the lake, where he passes four bass boats fishing deep. He goes halfway back into Six Mile Creek. He stops along a rocky bank at a channel swing. The boat is in 28 feet of water, and David is less than a cast from the bank. The water temperature is 80.7 degrees.

9:00: David looks for a submerged tree on the channel break. He’s got a spinning reel in his hand with a green-pumpkin Zoom U-Tail attached to a 2/0 hook with a 3/8-oz. sinker above it.

“I’m struggling,” said David. “I’m doing anything I can.”

9:04: David finds the tree in 35 feet of water, and he drags the worm through it using 6-lb. test.

“I don’t see fish in it,” said David. “If it was sunny, they’d be all in it.”

9:10: He finds standing timber in 20 feet of water, which is what he believes he was originally looking for.

“With the lake down it kind of fooled me,” said David.

The timber is about four feet tall, and David immediately gets a hit, but the fish spits the worm out.

9:11: Brad Gill takes a picture of David with a spinning reel in his hand.

“Don’t take a picture of this,” said David. “This is a once in a lifetime thing; it’s tough up here. I can usually catch a fish right there.”

Using 6-lb. test, David has his drag set loosely.

9:15: David works the Sworming Hornet spinnerbait through the tree.

9:16: He switches back to the worm; David gets a hit but misses.

“I’m looking for a keeper,” said David.

9:17: Getting fed up with wasting time, David decides to leave.

“This isn’t for me, I thought I’d try it, but my name isn’t finesse.”

9:25: On his way out of Six Mile, he stops on a rocky point and throws the buzzbait.

9:35: He stops at a rocky bank at the mouth of Six Mile where the wind is really howling.

“It’s so windy I can’t even feel the worm,” said David.

9:40: The wind tangles David’s spinning reel.

“Good grief, 40-mile-per-hour winds and 6-lb. test is a nightmare,” said David.

David puts the spinning reel up and gets out a baitcaster with 15-lb. test.

9:43: With the baitcaster, David throws the green pumpkin U-Tail near the bank and lets the wind push the bait out toward deep water and through several brushpiles. He does this several times.

10:17: The plan is to head way up the Chestatee to look for dingier water, but David makes a final stop just below Browns Bridge and just outside of Lan-Mar Marina. With the buzzbait, he fishes a wooden seawall in 60 feet of water.

“A man’s got to be crazy to throw a buzzbait in 60 feet of water,” David laughs. “When it’s hot they get right on that wall. It’s only three feet under the surface and goes down to some Styrofoam, and the fish sit under it.”

10:40: David sets the boat down in “Largemouth Country,” where he feels more at home. He starts fishing a shallow roadbed halfway back in a creek way up the Chestatee River. The top of the roadbed sits in 2 1/2 feet of water, and it quickly drops into nine feet. His first cast is with a 1/4-oz. Sworming Hornet jig that has a crawdad-and-brown skirt. Surprisingly, the water is still very clear.

10:42: A fish swirls off the roadbed in 10 feet of water. David throws the buzzbait but quickly goes back to the jig.

10:44: David’s approach to the 150-yard-long roadbed is to get his boat just off one side and throw across the roadbed, landing the jig on the other side in about nine feet of water. He slowly works the bait up one side, across the top and down the other side before casting again.

10:47: With the jig nearly under the boat and on the side of the roadbed, a fish inhales the jig. David sets the hook, but the line breaks.

“Man, I needed that one; I jerked it too hard,” said David. “I know better than to jerk that hard that close to the boat.”

He ties on another jig.

“I think they’re used to eating crawfish on this road,” said David.

11:00: His jig falls in the rock, and he breaks off.

“People get frustrated and won’t fish roadbeds this rocky because they break off so much,” said David.

11:11: Misses fish on jig.

11:12: A 2-lb. spot hammers the jig, and David works him to the boat. Just when he was about to swing it over the gunnel, the fish spits out the jig.

“The net cost me right there,” said David.

11:13: He gets another bite, but the fish lets go.

11:28: David comments on the incredible amount of bait on the sides of the roadbed. He decides to let the roadbed cool off and spends some time fishing nearby boat docks and brushpiles with the spinnerbait and jig.

11:55: Back to the roadbed.

12:00: Fish hits, but spits it out.

“I’m thinking seven or eight pounds will win this thing today,” said David. “I knew if I had 10 pounds, I’d be in real good shape. Don’t you think Steven doesn’t know this lake. I better catch a few more fish.”

12:20: With 90 minutes to go David heads back down the Chestatee with plans to stop at a few places he’s caught fish before. At his first three stops he throws spinnerbaits and worms in deep rocks and brush.

1:18: David runs into Thompson Creek on a deep, red-clay bank where he’d caught fish in the past. For the first time all day, David sprays his green-pumpkin U-Tail worm with Jack’s Juice Bait Spray, crawfish scent. The boat is in 32.5 feet of water, and he’s roughly 150 yards off the bank.

“This wind is really a factor, especially when finesse fishing,” said David.

David quickly figures out that the best way to fish this windy area is to throw his worm, let it sink and let the wind and current bounce it back to the boat.

1:25: David catches a 12-inch spot in 35 feet of water.

“I hate to know they are that deep,” said David. “I sprayed that stuff and see what happened? I know it makes a difference on bedding fish.”

1:32: David catches a 14 1/4-inch keeper in 29 feet of water.

“I’m not feeling any brush,” said David.

David starts to notice big bait pods that stretch from 25 to 40 feet of water.

1:37: “One just hammered it quick as lightning; the wind cost me on that one,” said David.

David is keeping his finger on the line while he feels for a bite.

1:43: David misses a fish.

“He just ate it to death,” he said.

1:48: David catches Keeper No. 4, a spot that just goes 14 inches.

1:52: He misses another fish with the boat in 23 feet of water.

1:53: “I think the fish are sitting in this channel or relating to it,” said David. “I just know I’ve caught fish here this time of year and in the winter.”

Another fish bumps his worm but spits it out.

1:55: David finally sees some standing timber — structure he never knew was in the area — in 23 feet of water. The timber appears to be five-feet tall.

“Look at the wad of bait,” he said.

Bait pods 20 to 27 feet down were on the depthfinder’s monitor, along with the trees.
2:07: David catches a short fish that he believes is in the 13-inch range and throws him back without measuring.

2:11: David’s time has expired, but he spends a brief few minutes looking at the area where he is catching fish. He immediately spots more timber and a well-defined ditch that drops from about 28 feet into 33 feet.

Here are the four baits David Millsaps used to win the Lanier Eliminator Series tournament: Zoom U-Tail worm on a 2/0 hook and a 3/8-oz. sinker, a 1/4-oz. Sworming Hornet jig that has a crawdad-and-brown-colored skirt, a 1/2-oz., white Sworming Hornet buzzbait with a chartreuse-colored Zoom trailer and a 3/8-oz. Sworming Hornet spinnerbait with a No. 2 willowleaf blade and a tiny Indiana blade, a white and gray skirt and a white trailer.

Steven Phillips, Lanier
7:10: Lanier is a huge lake, but Steven Phillips wasn’t interested in a boat ride to start the day. He barely got the boat on plane before he sat it back down directly across the Chestatee from the Little Hall ramp.

“This is my favorite area on Lanier,” Steven said as he pulled into the pocket just south of the 11C marker. A moderate, steady wind was blowing across the Chestatee into this northwest bank. Steven began with a 3/8-oz. royal blue Mini-Me spinnerbait.

7:15: Steven picks up a spinning rod rigged with a white Zoom Super Fluke. “Saturday I caught three that weighed 8-lbs., 4-ozs. skipping a Fluke up under boat docks. I finished third in a club tournament,” Steven said.

His plan for the day is to stay on the trolling motor while working up the Chestatee, fishing the windy, northwestern side of the lake, and also working into each pocket to hit all the boat docks with the Fluke.

7:24: Steven changes to a white 1/4-oz. Stanley Wedge spinnerbait. “I’m just going to use this spinnerbait to burn up the water between the docks. The wind is really going to blow. I may have to stay on that spinnerbait. That’s a heck of a pattern up here when it’s on — get on those long, wind-blown points and roll that spinnerbait off them.”

7:38: First fish — an eight-inch spotted bass hit the Stanley Wedge along a rocky bank on the main channel. “Spinnerbait’s bigger than he is,” Steven laughs, “but maybe this will pay off with a bigger one in a minute.”

7:46: Along the same rocky bank, and near the mouth of a small, no-name creek north of 11C and directly across from Little Hall, Steven is bringing the spinnerbait off some big rip-rap when a fish slams the bait. The bass starts to come up, and Steven gets the rod tip down — but it does no good. A 2 1/2-lb. largemouth jumps and shakes the hook.

7:48: Another hit on the spinnerbait on the rocky bank.

8:20: Steven works his way into the small creek. The wind isn’t blowing as much in the creek, so he concentrates on skipping the Fluke under docks. A 13 1/2-inch spot sucks in the Fluke as Steven deadsticks it — after skipping it under the walkway of a dock, he let it sink slowly with a little slack in the line.

8:39: Again deadsticking the Fluke in a boat slip, Steven sets the hook and instantly knows he has a good bass. His first keeper, a spotted bass, would later weigh 3.32 pounds.

9:19: After working about halfway back into the creek, Steven moves across and starts fishing out the other bank. He gets a spinnerbait hit while fishing it between docks.

9:40: Steven catches a 12-inch largemouth on the Fluke. He was letting it sink when the line took off.

9:48: Steven eases up to an old, wood-shingled dock near the mouth of the creek, and for the first time that morning, Steven fishes a worm — a kudzu-colored Zoom Finesse worm on a drop-shot rig. “There’s a ton of brush around this dock,” he says as he fishes it with the drop-shot rig.
9:54: Steven cranks the big motor for the second time since blast off. He moves out to the main Chestatee run, under the Hwy 53 bridge, and stops at the mouth of the first little pocket on the left. The wind is blowing hard into this bank, and he begins fishing the spinnerbait along the rocky bank.

10:46: It’s been almost an hour without a hit. Steven is still working the windy bank, fishing the spinnerbait and skipping the Fluke under docks. Steven is on the windy side of the point that has marker 13C, and somebody’s brushpile is exposed. The spinnerbait gets slammed, and Steven boats keeper No. 2, a spotted bass that would later weigh 2.33 pounds.

11:08: A small bass grabs the Fluke under a dock, but Steven doesn’t even bother to set the hook after seeing that the bass isn’t close to the 14-inch Lanier size limit.

11:44: Crank and ride — Steven heads up the Chestatee and into Lathem Creek. As Lathem makes the hard left turn to the north where Johnson Creek comes in, there’s a rip-rap bank along a road in the back of the pocket on the right. “I’ve caught a many plenty in here. This place has been good to me,” Steven says.

12:06: Steven gets a hit on the drop-shot rig while fishing some brush just off the rip-rap.

12:11: The drop-shot produces a fat, 2-lb. largemouth, but it is only 13 7/8 inches long.

12:19: An ambitious five-inch bass eats the drop-shot Finesse worm.

12:38: Steven cranks the outboard and heads back down the Chestatee to the wind-blown point with the brushpile that produced keeper No. 2.

12:47: After trying the spinnerbait, Steven throws a Texas-rigged Finesse worm and gets a hit in the brushpile, but the hookset comes up empty.

1:38: Back to the very first pocket where he started the day — a miss after a fish hits the Fluke under the dock.

2:00: Another miss on the Fluke under a dock.

2:10: Time is up. Steven ends with two keepers, a solid 2 1/2-lb. bass that shook the hook, and several bass that were just a fraction of an inch below the 14-inch minimum.

On the other side of the Eliminator bracket, Mark Massey and Dave Krantz will go head-to-head at Eufaula in October. If there’s an angler with an edge, it’s probably Dave, who lives in Albany — not far from Eufaula. The 13-time BFL regional qualifier has been fishing Lake Eufaula for years.

However, one of Mark’s favorite places to fish is Eufaula when the grass bite is strong and topwater is one way to put a limit together. Cooler weather and a falling water temperature could push these fish out of the deeper brush — areas Mark is worried Dave could really clean his clock — and shallow into the grass.

The winner of the Eufaula match-up will face David Millsaps in November at the Eliminator Series finale.

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