Six-year Bassmaster Elite Series pro and tournament veteran David Mullins didn’t plan on fishing for a living. In fact, he never considered it possible.
It wasn’t that he didn’t fish. He did — and he was good at it. A childhood of bluegill fishing morphed into occasional bass-fishing trips, which led him to competitive fishing when he was in high school.
“I started fishing rodeos when I was 16, as soon as I was old enough to drive the truck,” Mullins said.
Within a year of graduating high school, he was dominating his bass club.
“I ended up winning Angler of the Year the first year (as a member),” Mullins said. “There were about 25 members; it was a team deal, but I fished by myself and won Angler of the Year.”
He also fished some BFLs, where he performed well.
While he was fishing the BFLs, he pursued a marketing degree at East Tennessee State University. At the same time, he met a man who dramatically elevated his fishing skills.
“I started fishing with one of the best fishermen in the area, Charlie Rasch,” Mullins said. “Charlie had won every major tournament East Tennessee had to offer, and to many he was considered the best around.
“My knowledge of fishing exploded.”
Rasch helped Mullins in one particular area that remains a major factor in his career.
“I always loved catching fish deep offshore, and he helped refine my skills for it,” Mullins said. “It is still my favorite way to catch them.”
Even so, the thought of making a living fishing never entered his mind. While fishing with Rasch, Mullins went on to Lincoln Memorial University and secured a teaching license, as well as completing most of the requirements toward a masters in education.
But a chance meeting at a Dale Hollow boat launch changed the course of his life.
“We had fished all night long, and it was midnight,” Mullins recalled. “I was putting the boat on the trailer, and I hear this blaring techno music and this truck pulls up to the ramp. It was a purple Crown Royal truck and boat.”
Aaron Martens rolled down the window and asked if Mullins had caught any fish.
“I didn’t know who Aaron Martens was,” Mullins admitted.
After chatting, Mullins asked Martens — who was pre-scouting for an Elite Series stop at the lake — to go fishing the next day.
“We’ve been friends ever since,” Mullins said.
By the time he saw Martens again at a 2012 Elite Series event, Mullins had become a real force in the local tournament community. He had won three Angler of the Year titles on one of the trails, which was a record at the time.
The pair soon spent more time on the water, and Martens encouraged the young angler to move to the next level.
“He said, ‘You know, if you ever wanted to do this (for a living), you could do it,” Mullins said. “I know who I fish against, and you’re better than some of them.”
So Mullins checked the Bassmaster Southern Opens schedule and saw Douglas Lake was in the mix. He signed up, and Martens agreed to travel with him.
“I had just gotten hired as a high school teacher,” he said. “I told my principal, ‘You know, I’ve already signed up for these tournaments,’ and he agreed to let me fish them.”
Mullins qualified to move to the Elite Series in his first season on the circuit.
“Aaron was a big influence for me,” Mullins said. “I never thought I could (fish for a living). It was so far out there, you never thought you could fish for a living.”
He was faced with a real life-changing decision. But it didn’t take long to change course.
“I got to teach one year and said, 'To heck with it. I’m going to give it a shot,’” Mullins said.
That was six years ago, and Mullins hasn’t regretted the decision.
He said it’s not been an easy run — the traveling is tough and he has to continually hustle for adequate finances — but he loves testing his mettle against the best in the world.
“I love the competition,” Mullins said. “The talent (on the Elite Series) is just stupid good. I talked to Gary Klein about it, and he said you used to have to fish clean to win, but now you have to fish clean just to get a check.
“You know they’re going to catch fish everywhere we go.”
He said his goal for the coming years is simply to be more consistent. However, he doesn’t have any specific milestones in mind.
“Fishing is so mental and in the moment, so I don’t want to have bad thoughts, I don’t set goals,” Mullins explained. “I just go fishing.
“I don’t know if that’s right or wrong — it’s just how I am.”