Naugatuck angler climbs ranks in Bassmaster Elite Series

Paul Mueller, of Naugatuck, holds up a fish during the Academy Sports Bassmaster Elite tournament in April in Grove, Okla. Mueller, who finished eighth at the event, is ranked 46th in the Bassmaster Elite Series circuit. –CONTRIBUTED

Paul Mueller broke onto the professional fishing scene in 2014 with a second-place finish at the Geico Bassmaster Classic. He has been making his way up the ranks ever since.

Mueller followed up that second-place finish in 2014 by winning the championship of the Bass Nation Federation that season, which got the Naugatuck resident an invite to join the Bassmaster Elite Series.

“The Bassmaster Elite Series is like the MLB, NFL or NBA of fishing,” said Mueller, who is ranked 46th on the circuit. “These guys are the very best at what they do. The competition is intense, and consistency is the only way to survive.”

Through seven tournaments this season, Mueller has finished in the money five times, including a top-ten finish (8th place) at the Academy Sports Bassmaster Elite in Grove, Okla.

The tournaments are four-day events with fields ranging from 150 to 200 anglers. Total weights are taken each day for the stringer of five fish, and after the second day the field is cut to 50. After the third day, the top 12 anglers move on to compete for the championship.

Points are awarded for each position finish. Mueller said anglers need to be at their best and be consistent to do well.

“If you have one bad day, it’s awfully hard to dig out of the hole you created,” Mueller said. “Sometimes it’s all relative to how the other guys are doing, but the one thing that you can control is how consistent you are.”

Sometimes, changing things up works.

At the Berkley Bassmaster Elite, which was held June 29 through June 2 on Lake Oahe in South Dakota, Mueller said storms came through before the tournament and muddied the water. After the second day, he was in 37th place.

“I pretty much scrapped everything I knew about the lake and had learned in practice,” said Mueller, whose exploits are chronicled at paulmuellerfishing.com. “I went to a new part of the lake and fished deep. It was a gamble, but I pulled in the largest bag of the day at 38 pounds and finished in 16th place.”

It marked one of the times that Mueller dug out of an early hole, but that is far from the norm in the Elite Series.

“It just shows you how good these guys are,” Mueller said. “I came in with the biggest bag of the day and still missed the final 12 cut. Last year, at Cherokee I got off to a slow start but recovered to land the biggest or second biggest haul the final two days and wound up fifth.”

All five of Mueller’s finishes this year that landed him in the money — he’s accumulated $46,000 in prize money so far — have come on lakes. He finished out of the top 50 in two events held on rivers, the Sabine River in Orange, Texas and the Mississippi River in LaCrosse, Wisc.

“There are a lot of variables to consider fishing in rivers as opposed to lakes,” Mueller said. “The weather can be the biggest factor and I’m still in a learning curve when it comes to rivers.”

As the elite series makes its way down the homestretch, Mueller has his sights set on qualifying for the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year championship and the Bassmaster Classic.

The top 50 ranked anglers make the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year championship, which is Sept. 20-23 at Chatuge Lake in Georgia. The season concludes with the Bassmaster Classic, where the top 35 anglers will face off Oct. 23-26 at Carters Lake in Georgia.

There are still two more tournaments for Mueller to move up the leaderboard.

Mueller will compete in the Huk Bassmaster Elite, which started Thursday and runs through Sunday, at the upper Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. From Aug. 23-26, Mueller will try his hand at the Bassmaster Elite on the St. Lawrence River in New York.

“I have started on a good note,” Mueller said. “The goal is to finish up strong and make the Angler of the Year championship and the Bassmaster Classic.”

“A lot can happen in the next two events, and you can move up in the ranks rather quickly with a strong finish,” he added. “If you can fish your style and rely on what you are good at, you have a good chance of being successful. But it all comes down to consistency.”