Naugatuck angler hooks second at Bassmaster Classic
NAUGATUCK — The runner-up in the nation’s most prestigious fishing tournament lists Naugatuck as his hometown.
Paul Mueller finished second at the 2014 Bassmaster Classic, held Feb. 21-23 at Lake Guntersville in Birmingham, Ala. The achievement in itself is outstanding; the manner in which he achieved it is remarkable.
The 29-year-old Naugatuck native always wanted to combine his love for competition with his love for fishing. Professional angling gave him the chance to quench both thirsts.
“I always liked to compete and play sports my whole life, and I’ve always loved fishing,” Mueller said. “As fishing got more and more competitive, it was just something I wanted to do.”
Mueller, who works as a fishing guide on Candlewood Lake in western Connecticut, took the long road to his first Bassmaster Classic. After qualifying for the Connecticut BASS Nation’s state team, he won a divisional event in Maine and was the top eastern finisher at a national competition in Arkansas to earn his spot in the Classic.
From there, Mueller started his preparation for the tournament. As a first-time participant, he lacked the experience shared by many fishing Lake Guntersville, which has hosted several Bassmaster Classics and other high-profile tournaments. To make up for the disadvantage, Mueller arranged a two-week trip to the lake last December.
“I knew I had my work cut out for me, so I went down in December and spent 12 days on the lake,” Mueller said. “I did a lot of looking with my fish finders and looking for potential areas. I didn’t even fish that much. The areas that I found that I ended up fishing in the tournament, I found in December.”
Mueller confirmed his fishing spots during pre-competition practices, but his plans went awry on the first day of the three-day tournament. Mother Nature wreaked havoc on his area the night before the event and his results suffered, catching only three keepers — two short of his limit — for 9 pounds, 10 ounces. The sum placed him in 47th place.
“We had bad weather the night before and it stirred up the water in the place I was going to fish,” Mueller said. “Any time you get muddy water, it gets it in a funk. And I lost a couple of fish, too, so it was just one of those days. My whole goal going into the second day was just to make the top-25 cut.”
He did a little better than that. With the conditions in his area having settled down overnight and a change in bait, Mueller enjoyed the best single-day performance in the tournament’s 44-year history. He reeled in five keepers weighing 32 pounds, 3 ounces, to set the one-day record. It was the biggest limit of his entire career and included a personal-best largemouth bass of 8 pounds, 2 ounces — all enough to vault him into fifth place entering the final day.
“It’s amazing,” Mueller said of setting the record. “It’s just such a blessing. I didn’t think I could catch that type of weight. In the areas I had, I thought I could go 25 or 27 pounds in that area. God really blessed me that day, and without that blessing I wouldn’t have been able to keep fishing.”
Mueller enjoyed another strong day in the tournament’s finale, catching five more fish weighing 24 pounds, 11 ounces. He finished only one pound short of tournament winner Randy Howell.
Mueller’s rally may have fallen short, but he didn’t feel a shred of disappointment.
“Not at all,” Mueller said. “I knew this was a part of God’s plan. The guy who won that tournament was also influenced by God. He was running up the lake that last day and God told him to turn his boat around, and he ended up winning it. I was just so blessed to be part of it. I just wanted to fish that third day. I ended up having a shot at winning it, and I’m not disappointed at all. If anything, it showed me that I can find the fish to win a tournament like that.”
The second-place finish earned Mueller a $45,000 check, hopes for a return to next year’s Bassmaster Classic and a whole lot of opportunities for his professional career.
“It’s opened up a lot of doors for me,” Mueller said. “My primary lake is Candlewood Lake, and it’s really boosted my guide service. But it’s also going to open up opportunities for new sponsors. It’s a very expensive sport, and on the elite level it can cost $100,000 a season. It puts me one step closer to fishing the elites, and that’s what I’ve been working to do. It really put me on the map as a professional angler.”