By Ken Morse, Citizen’s News
Paul Mueller headed into the final day of the 51st Bassmaster Classic in 12th place and nearly 13 pounds behind the leader, Hank Cherry Jr.
“I knew I was behind on the final day of the Classic and I had to abandon my pattern from the first two days,” said Mueller, a Naugatuck resident who competed in the Super Bowl of fishing for the fourth time June 11-13 at Lake Ray Roberts in Fort Worth, Texas. “This is a winner-take-all scenario and to have a shot to win I knew I needed a big bag.”
A one-fish catch of 4 pounds, 3 ounces on Day 3 dropped Mueller to 20th place with a three-day total of 29-2. Cherry won the Classic with a total weight of 50-15.
“It just didn’t work out for me and I don’t regret anything,” Mueller said. “I was fortunate to make the final cut to fish the last day of the tournament. I have been blessed and feel fortunate to have won a couple of events and to finish second a few times.”
The Bassmaster Classic was a challenge for the 54 anglers competing as the weather created adverse conditions.
Mueller hauled in a Day 1 total of 15 pounds, 1 ounce, good for 18th place, in spite of an extremely windy day that blew some of the top anglers off course.
“The first day I had two of the biggest fish I caught but lost them both,” Mueller said. “That would have put me among the top five.”
A thunderstorm delayed the start of Day 2, and that was enough to change the course of the day for many anglers. On Day 1, 32 of the 54 competitors landed the five-fish limit, but only 14 reached the limit the second day.
“You have to continually make adjustments,” Mueller said. “The fish change in how they respond, the weather changes, and it was getting hotter and hotter each day, sending the fish into a transition phase.”
“The lightning delayed the start of Day 2 and the morning is the best time for bites with the shad spawn,” he added. “The delay really took that away from us and it killed the morning bite.”
Muller reeled in four fish totaling 9-14 to make the final round, where the top 25 anglers from the weekend competed for the title.
A bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work, so they say. A bad day on the water against the top anglers in the world when fishing is your job can make all the difference.
Mueller prefers being the hunter instead of the hunted on the water, but the gap on Day 3 was too much to overcome.
“You certainly don’t want to have the kind of deficit I had going into the final day,” Mueller said. “You want to be at least within striking distance. There are a lot of variables to contend with being in the lead, between spectator boats and an all-eyes-are-on-you scenario. I prefer to be under the radar, it just makes for an easier day.”
Mueller went into the Classic with a lot of confidence. He finished second (56-3) at the Whataburger Bassmaster Elite in May on Neely Henry Lake in Gadsen, Ala., landing him a $35,000 second-place prize.
“I felt like I was on a winning deal,” Mueller said. “Anytime you get that close and it’s a matter of one good bite from winning a tournament, that’s a good thing.”
Mueller’s 20th place at the Classic earned him $13,000, and he’s not done yet. There are two more events this season in the Bassmaster Elite series in July, both in New York.
“We still have some fishing to do. We are not done yet. I will be fishing at Lake Champlain [July 8-11] and we finish up the season a week later on the St. Lawrence River,” Mueller said. “It’s a hard thing to do putting yourself in position to win a tournament and sometimes it all comes down to getting that one more big bite.”