Faith guides Naugatuck angler

Paul Mueller of Naugatuck celebrates after winning the Toyota Bassmaster Elite championship in February. Mueller is in his fifth season competing in the Bassmaster Elite series and looking to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic again. –CONTRIBUTED

NAUGATUCK — A steady rain poured down as the wind whipped across Lake Lanier in Georgia, rocking boats in the turbulent waters as fishermen competed in a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament early this year.

Paul Mueller, who had been at the top of the leaderboard, just lost a big catch on a less-than-perfect day for fishing and was now in jeopardy of losing the top prize. With about two hours to go before the end of the four-day tournament, the Naugatuck angler looked down at the Bible scripture he had written on the palm of his hand.

The scripture gave him some inspiration and led him to go to a spot he had fished earlier in the tournament. On his second cast, Mueller landed the biggest catch of the tournament, a 5-pound, 4-ounce spotted bass. On his next cast, Mueller hauled in the tournament-winning 4-pounder, giving him the Toyota Bassmaster Elite championship and the top prize of $100,000 by a mere 14 ounces.

“These are the very best fishermen around, so it’s tough to win,” Mueller said. “Sometimes it comes down to a couple of ounces, other times it could be by a few pounds, but you definitely need to have a lot of things go your way.”

Exhibiting ones faith after scoring a touchdown or hitting a home run is not uncommon in professional sports, and the same goes for bass fishing. Mueller said that the professional fishermen on the Elite Series tour feel a special connection to their faith while fishing, and it shows.

“Sometimes we need God’s word to get us through the tough spots,” Mueller said. “It’s amazing how God works and fishing is really a test of faith.”

“There is just something unique about fishing and faith,” he added.

Mueller is in his fifth season competing in the Bassmaster Elite series. In 48 tournaments, he has finished in the top 20 16 times. The Naugatuck resident, who is a Connecticut fishing guide when he’s not competing, broke onto the scene as the 2014 B.A.S.S. Nation champion.

After his tournament win in February on Lake Lanier, Mueller finished 26th at a tournament in May at Lake Fork in Texas. In June, at the Academy Sports and Outdoor tournament at Lake Guntersville in Alabama, he finished in 68th place out of the 75 anglers.

“Other than the win at Lake Lanier I’ve had a little tougher year than expected,” Mueller said. “There’s still a lot of fishing left. These next few events will be important and I’m looking forward to finishing the year strong.”

It’s been five years since Mueller has qualified for the Bassmaster Classic and he’s eager to make it back to what he calls the “Super Bowl” of fishing.

Mueller will have some time to ramp up his game. In August, Mueller will compete at the Berkley Bassmaster on the St. Lawrence River in Waddington, N.Y., and the Site One Elite on Cayuga Lake in Lake Springs, N.Y. In September, Mueller has his eye on the Angler of the Year championship at Lake St. Claire in Harrison Township, Mich.

Mueller will look to stay in the top 20 of the leaderboard in points to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic, which is set for March 2020 on Lake Guntersville.