By Ken Morse, Citizen’s News
Professional angler Paul Mueller finished 2020 in the top 40 of the Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings to qualify for the 2021 Bassmaster Classic.
Mueller, 36, finished the season 31st in the standings with 577 points.
“In spite of all the what ifs with the pandemic, we were fortunate enough to be able to finish our season,” Mueller said. “Because we ended so late there won’t be a lot of down time, but I’m looking forward to getting off to a good start again and carry that over into the Classic.”
When Mueller casts his line at Lake Ray Roberts in Fort Worth, Texas, March 19-21, it will be the Naugatuck resident’s fourth appearance in the Super Bowl of bass fishing.
Mueller finished second at the Bassmaster Classic in 2014 when he broke onto the fishing scene as the Bass Nation champion. He joined the Bassmaster Elite series in 2015 and placed 12th at the Classic that year. Last year, he finished 52nd in the event.
Mueller, who has competed in 62 tournaments over his career, started off this past season hot by winning the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at St. Johns River in Palatka, Fla., in February.
February seems to be a good month for Mueller, who started 2019 by winning the Toyota Bassmaster Elite at Lake Lanier in Gwinnett, Ga.
“It takes the pressure off when you can start a season like I did the past two years,” Mueller said. “This was a challenging year and it got a lot tougher heading down the stretch. Fortunately I had a good beginning and had enough points to qualify for the Classic.”
A second-place finish in July on the St. Lawrence River in Clayton, N.Y., kept Mueller near the top of the leaderboard. Two top-20 finishes in August — 12th at Lake St. Clair in Michigan and 14th at Lake Champlain in New York — added to his point total.
Mueller fell off the pace a bit in four tournaments in the fall, including finishing 85th at Chickamauga Lake in Tennessee and 69th at Lake Guntersville in Alabama, but the good numbers he put up in the first half of the year kept him in the running for the Classic.
“It was good that I got out to a good start on the season. The last four tournament were places I was unfamiliar with and I struggled a bit. I did survive in one of them and that really helped my point total,” said Mueller, referring to his 33rd-place finish at the Santee Cooper Lakes Classic in South Carolina in the beginning of October.
That top-40 finish gave him enough of a cushion down the stretch.
“That was something that needed to happen,” Mueller said. “I’m thankful for it and feel blessed because without that one I don’t know what would have happened down the stretch of the season.”
“If you can win a tournament and then qualify for the Classic that’s a good year,” he added. “So even though I did have a few tough tournaments at the end there, I’m glad I had a little bit of a cushion.”
The Bassmaster Elite series received a lot of recognition and exposure this year when it was picked up by ESPN. In 2021, Bassmaster events will be broadcast on Fox Sports. The field of 88 anglers will begin the season at St. Johns River in Florida on Feb. 11.
For now, Mueller is looking forward to some down time and enjoying the holidays with his wife, Kimber, and their son, Waylon, and the rest of his family.
“It’s been a busy year even after being delayed with the pandemic,” he said. “The season starts up again in February and looking to get off to a good start again.”