Though bass tournament fishing has grown into a worldwide sport, in many ways it’s still a close-knit community in which the participants follow each other’s triumphs and tragedies and react accordingly. So it was in the FLW family when the news of Jimmy McMillan’s murder telegraphed along the fishing grapevine.
McMillan, 49, died of a gunshot fired during an armed robbery at his family’s grocery store in Belle Glade, Fla., early Monday morning. As of Tuesday, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Department hadn’t made an arrest in the case.
McMillan claimed the FLW Series Eastern Division Angler of the Year title in 2009 after beginning the year with a victory on Lake Okeechobee. He fished various FLW events since 2003 and in tournament circles his name was virtually synonymous with the Big O. More recently, his 28-year-old son Brandon became the surrogate champion of the McMillan clan, having won the 2011 FLW Tour Open at Okeechobee. This year, another of McMillan’s sons, Jared, will join the FLW ranks. He becomes 16 years old – the minimum age required by FLW – on Feb. 8, the day before the Feb. 9-12 tournament begins, and he’s signed up to fish.
“I know that Jimmy was very proud of his sons, Brandon, Jared and [14-year-old] Dillon, and of the fact that they were following in his footsteps,” says FLW Director of Tournament Operations Bill Taylor. “Jimmy was a true professional even though he wasn’t full-time. His understanding of tournament fishing was phenomenal and he knew what it took to grow the sport. He would have done anything for his boys; Jimmy told me last year that he would rather see Brandon win our event at Okeechobee than win it himself. That’s how it turned out and I’m so glad that he was there to see it unfold.”
At year’s end, McMillan enjoyed a happy holiday season with his sons and wife, Tina. According to Brandon, the men of the family kidded Jared about his upcoming debut and advised him on what it would be like to compete in his first major tournament and take on the likes of JT Kenney and Randall Tharp.
“I’m still going to fish [the upcoming Okeechobee event] and Jared is too,” says Brandon. “I don’t really feel like fishing in it now, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Dad would have wanted us to, and he would have wanted us to do our very best. People have been reminding me of that; I’ve gotten phone calls from all over. I bet I’ve never said more than five words to JT Kenney in my life, but he called me. I could tell it was heartfelt. My family and I truly appreciate all the expressions of sympathy.”
Tharp was on Okeechobee Monday when Brandon telephoned and told him the news of the elder McMillan’s death. Brandon and Tharp are close friends, and Tharp and his wife, Sara, have been in south Florida for most of December. During the days before and after Christmas, they spent a lot of time with the McMillan family.
“It was a real shock,” said Tharp. “I fished against Jimmy in several local tournaments here lately. Jimmy was a great Okeechobee fisherman. He worked hard and he was a tough competitor. What touched me the most about him, though, is how much he loved his boys. You could see it in his eyes and tell it by the way he talked about them. Jimmy McMillan was a good role model in a lot of ways, but most of all, he was a good role model as a father.”