BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — After Day 1, it looked like the B.A.S.S. Nation's hopes for a repeat of Bryan Kerchal's feat (that is, a Classic victory for the Nation) would rest entirely on Coby Carden's shoulders.
Carden was in sixth place heading into Day 2, and his next-closest Nation comrade was Mark Dove — in 43rd place.
But Paul Mueller surprised the entire bass fishing world today when he came off the water with an astounding 32-pound, 3-ounce sack. It is the biggest bag of the tournament so far — its closest sack being Day 1 leader Randall Tharp's bag on the first day of 27-8. In fact, it's the biggest five-fish limit ever caught in Bassmaster Classic history.
"My area cleared up a little bit," said Mueller, whose Day 1 weight was a mere 9 pounds, 10 ounces. "I didn't get a whole lot of bites, but I got the right ones."
Mueller ends the day in fifth place with 41-13, less than 6 pounds behind leader Edwin Evers.
"My back was against the wall," he said. "I prayed last night, and the Lord blessed me."
Mueller is not willing to let himself imagine being a Classic champ — not yet, anyway.
"It would be incredible," he said, when asked on stage. "But let's take it one day at a time."
Mueller hails from the Connecticut B.A.S.S. Nation, the same chapter that sent Bryan Kerchal to the Classic in 1994, and Kerchal was victorious.
Carden, who was favored among all the Nation representatives because he's local and because he got some experience as a pro several years ago, made the Top 25 cut as well, ending Day 2 in 22nd place. He caught 12-3 today after bringing in twice that much on Day 1.
"I'm going to fish real, real shallow tomorrow," said Carden, "and see how it goes."
Doug Thompson of Arkansas also made the Top 25 cut after a huge rally from 44th place yesterday with a 22-pound, 7-ounce sack today.
"I didn't even have a fish at 12:30 today," said Thompson. But the afternoon bite turned on for him.
Mark Dove, Jeff Lugar and Tim Johnston did not make the final cut, so their Classic time is done.
"This has been the best experience related to fishing I've ever had," said Lugar. "I've got friends here and family watching online. I'm smiling ear to ear. I wish I could explain how amazing it is.
"I'll spend the rest of my life trying to get back."
Tune in tomorrow to see if Mueller can replicate his success from today and bring the Classic trophy back to the B.A.S.S. Nation.