Paul Mueller has proved that Connecticut anglers can also catch bass, winning his second birth into the Bassmaster Classic in as many years. Last year Paul shocked the bass fishing world by setting the “all time” single day weight record for a Bassmaster Classic. In doing so, he also vaulted to the final round and finished second overall in his first Bassmaster Classic held on Lake Guntersville.
I was fortunate to catch up with Paul before starting official practice for the 2015 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Hartwell. It didn’t hurt that he was slowed down by a malfunctioning boat trailer, forcing him to stay off the water. Good for us though because we got to talk for a while.
My first question for Paul concerned his repeat performance in the Federation to secure a birth to the 2015 Bassmaster Classic. Paul obviously has a formula or key that helps position himself to advance in these multi-stage events. When asked, Paul was quick to say, “The key for me is God, I wouldn’t be where I am without God. You have to work hard, but you need some help from the man upstairs. Knowing God is in control has kept me at peace through the ups and downs of tournament fishing on and off the water.” Paul went on to say, “I’m no different of an angler these last two years then I have been in the last ten; I’ve been blessed.”
We talked some about different aspects in the road to the Classic through the Federation events. According to Paul, “The divisional tournament is the toughest to get over. At the divisional level, you draw out with a partner and that partner gets 4 hours of the day. You have to go to his fish if he wants, and this cuts your fishing time down. The draw is a challenging situation you have to plan for.” Paul continued, “Everything has to go right, I know to do it two years in a row is amazing, and I owe it all to God. To me, he is the X-Factor!”
Paul puts a lot of faith in God and very humbled to be in his current position. When I talk about his stats and ability to catch bass, he continued to credit his success to his faith in God. Even on the second day of the 2014 Classic on Lake Guntersville, when he smashed the record-setting 32 pound 3 ounce stringer, Paul tells a story of faith. “I was fortunate to draw an observer that was as bless with faith as I am. We started talking about God, and I started catching giants. I got more relaxed, the conversation got deeper, and the fishing got easier.”
Enough about last year, what’s the game plan for this year? When I caught up with Paul, he was already in South Carolina. His plan is to fish Lake Lanier, a nearby body of water until the official practice for Lake Hartwell starts on February 13th. I asked Paul how he prepared for this event. He chuckled, “I don’t know anybody in the area, so I handled this classic like I did on Lake Guntersville. Preparing for a classic is different. I went down to Hartwell in December, and at that point you’re not trying to find a pattern but rather see as much of the lake as possible.”
Paul explained how he spent 12 days on Lake Hartwell searching, “… you have to be thinking about what patterns should be working once the tournament starts. With that in mind, you want to know all the locations the lake has to offer once a pattern starts to develop.” He continued, “I was looking more than fishing. It’s a different way to practice since you don’t have a tournament in a week; you want to see as much of the lake as you can. For me, it’s about eliminating water as much as it is about finding water. I spent a lot of time just driving the lake and exploring with electronics.”
Paul and I talked about the different viable patterns at Lake Hartwell in pre-spawn. Paul explained, “… guys will catch them with as many different patterns as there are anglers fishing; this lake is wide open like that. If you have multiple patterns, you will be in better shape. Conditions will change, and anglers will need multiple ways to catch them. Patterns will develop in the three days of practice, but it can change – it will change. Even after the tournament starts, patterns will need to be adjusted. It’s just that time of year”.
During our discussion, Paul mentioned largemouth bass a couple times, so I queried him to find out what species he plans to target. He admitted, “Yeah, you’ll need 1 or 2 largemouth bites. I’m going to try and find a largemouth pattern; I don’t think you can win on spotted bass alone. There are some good ones [spotted bass] in there [Hartwell], but I’m going to target spotted bass in my prefishing as a fallback plan. Three pound plus spots are realistic; however, 2.5 to 3 pound spots are common”.
Paul stated, “This is the kind of tournament that you can’t have a conservative thought. So you are going to have to take the risk and go after the largemouth. This tournament is all about the win”. Paul followed up saying, “I’d be happy with 3 to 3.5 pound fish and one big fish each day. If I can manage 17 pounds a day, I think I’d have a shot. However, the Classic is a smaller field, and an angler could find bigger bass and have them to themselves for all three days. I didn’t find this caliber of bass when I was down there, but they’re in there and I didn’t fish much”.
Paul and I discussed the typical pre-spawn patterns and how they typically develop late in the tournament day, possibly leaving only a couple hours to fish for active fish. I asked how he mentally stays confident while waiting for a late bite that is typical of this season. Paul was quick to reply, “For me it all falls back on God. I won’t get spun out because I know he’s in control. Any angler knows that it can happen at any moment; the last one to two hours of the day can be important, and you have to be patient. If you’re having a bad day and don’t have a limit, the wheels could spin off, and you might miss an opportunity. You have to remember there are windows that you have to capitalize on. God gives me the peace to get through the highs and lows that come with tournament fishing especially at this caliber“.
Paul is known for two things, catching giant smallmouth bass and a master of the finesse fishing arts. In our conversation, he mentioned that he will be hunting largemouth first; this is contrary to his smallmouth strengths. As proven in last year’s classic, Paul isn’t afraid to go heavy duty and sling a chatter bait in the grass. I asked Paul what his thoughts were on trying to fish your strengths in a major event, should you stick to them or learn the local pattern. Paul elaborated that, “You always try to fish your strengths, but you never know what’s going happen. I’ve learned that I’ve been able to use my strengths some, but you have to get out of your comfort zone.” Paul continued, “God sometimes does his best work through your weakness. Guntersville is a prime example, I had no confidence and no experience with a chatter bait, I learned how to fish a chatter bait the second day of that classic”. Paul tells the chatter bait story as being a thought that ran through his head five minutes before the blast off on day two of the 2014 Bassmaster Classic. “Mike, I caught a four and a half pounder within the first five minutes and I knew right then that it was the bait for the day.”
Okay, the nitty gritty, what is it going to take to win the 2015 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Hartwell? According to Paul, 17 pounds a day may do it, “that’s what I’m shooting for”. Paul mentioned that at any given time someone could find some big fish and put together a monster stringer. However, if he could stay consistent with a 17 pound stringer each day, he would be in the running to win. “If you watch all the tournaments in the area, it takes an average of 3 pounders with a kicker to win. But the winning weights fluctuate a lot, probably because of the weather.” According to Paul, “Consistency is the big deal; consistency in bass fishing is like defense in sports, if you have it you can win.”
To satisfy this southern boy’s curiosity, I asked Paul what he does way up north all winter long. After all, catching them like he does, you have to keep sharp. Laughing Paul said, “I go ice fishing… If I don’t go fishing every couple of days, I get the shakes.”
He won’t have to worry about the shakes this year unless it’s from landing a behemoth during one of the Bassmaster Elite Series events. Between traveling and fishing tournaments, his frozen water days are over for the year. I asked Paul what event he is looking forward to the most during this season schedule. Paul said, “I’m looking forward to Kentucky Lake. Havasu seems like it would be a cool lake and has some good smallmouth there. Hopefully I’m fortunate enough to make the Sturgeon Bay angler of the year fish off, it’s the best smallmouth lake in the country. I like tough tournaments, and I think the Sabine will be a fun one, but it scares me the most.”
In closing, I asked Paul straight up, “How are you going to win the Classic this year?” He responded, “My goal is to be in it on the third day. You don’t know how many classics you’ll get to fish so you want to fish as long as you can.” He went on to say that you can’t win it if you’re not there on the last day. Referencing his thoughts on consistency, Paul maintained that if he can stay consistent and pick up a couple kickers through the course of the tournament he’ll have what it takes.
I look forward to interviewing Paul every time I get a chance. Conversations are fun and enlightening. Hopefully we will be speaking again soon. Paul closed by saying, “I would like to thank my lord and savior Jesus Christ for giving me the opportunities that I have. I have been blessed to be able to work with great companies that have helped further my career. Ranger boats, Yamaha, Power Pole, Dobyns Rods, Reins, Gamma, Lews, Stormr, Punisher Lures, IMA, Optimum Baits, Decoy, The Rod Glove, Vexilar.”
As always there are a lot of great anglers fishing in the Bassmaster Classic, this year is no different. While the anglers are not expecting the slugfest of 2014, the fishing is expected to be good. Since it’s an early season event, versatility and adaptability will be a major factor. Paul Mueller has proven he is a very versatile angler that is not afraid to make a change; my money is on him.
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