Paul Mueller’s first Classic, 2014 on Lake Guntersville, yielded the heaviest 5-fish limit ever weighed in the event — 32 pounds, 3 ounces — and landed him second from the top. Saturday saw Mueller finishing second from the bottom during a tough Guntersville outing in the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by HUK.
Like the 2014 event, in which a key bait adjustment put him on track to nearly winning his first Classic appearance, this year’s disappointing finish also came down to decisions. Unfortunately, this time found Mueller on the wrong end of the equation.
“This time around, there was a lot more grass and a lot more current and the water quality was not as good as the last time we were here,” Mueller said. “I had an area where I thought I could get off to a good start, maybe event two days worth of fish; but I realized that all the rain we had before the tournament and all the wind we had on Day 1 blew to my water.
“It was a fragile deal and I didn’t make the right adjustments. When you get off to a bad start and you only catch one fish (2-8) on the first day, you really have to go for a big bag.”
Figuring he’d need 24-26 pounds, Mueller strategized and went looking for an offshore bite — something largely contrary to what most of the field was doing. Finding a lot of bait, crappie and white bass out deep was encouraging, but Mueller never located a school of big bass and ended with a lone 2-7.
“The other thing is that I had the fish in 2014,” Mueller said. “The weather did affect my primary area (that year) and the water kinda got blown out. The difference is it flushed out faster (than this year) and got back to normal.
“The one thing I’ve learned on Guntersville is that if you catch fish in an area with a certain water color and then that water color gets worse, it’s not going to happen. I knew that, but I just couldn’t put anything together. I had made a long run, so that already takes a lot fo your day away from you. So it was just one of those deals where it snowballed on me.”
Mueller, who won the 2020 Elite season opener on Florida’s St. John’s River, addressed the notion of momentum.
“I never buy into the the momentum thing because every tournament’s its own beast,” he said. “The thing is in competitive fishing, you don’t get too high on your success and you don’t get too low on your failures. I think that’s how you have a good career. You just stay level minded and know that you learn the most from your worst finishes.”