Traditional, standard, tried-and-true; Paul Mueller has no problem with mainstream techniques and off-the-rack bait options. After all, he won the 2020 Bassmaster Elite Series season-opener on the St. Johns River with a Strike King Hack Attack swim jig and a Zoom Ultra Vibe Speed Craw trailer.
However, the pro from Naugatuck, Conn., often finds himself reaching for baits that can’t be found outside of his garage. That’s because Mueller makes several of his own baits; a hobby dually spawned from necessity and critical thinking.
Using his head
As a fishing guide who’s equally comfortable standing on the front deck of his bass boat or sitting on the ice, Mueller’s year-round angling mindset leads to a lot of crossover thoughts. A little bit of this, a dose of that, maybe a subtle tweak here and there; the process has led him to strategic repurposing that he often turns to when bites are tough.
“Living up north, you learn that a lot of stuff you use for panfishing and ice fishing that will also work in extremely tough bass fishing conditions. You’re always looking to make something different; something the fish haven’t seen. I’ve actually caught more bass on my crappie baits than crappie.”
Example: Mueller modifies the Do-It Molds Round Head Steelhead jig by skipping the traditional marabou, adding a size 6 Mustad 32833 hook and creating 3/32- to 1/8-ounce micro-finesse bass baits.
Fitted with tiny plastic trailers, these small profile baits work wonders in everything from post-frontal conditions to heavily pressured waters. Such challenging conditions often demand a downsized presentation, but a big fish with a finicky attitude is still a big fish, so whatever hooks ‘em has to be able to handle ‘em.
“When you’re using a really small plastic, you have to use a small hook, but with most companies, when you go to a size 6 hook, it’s not that strong,” Mueller said. “This Mustad hook is made for 15- to 20-pound class steelhead, so, you can catch anything on this little jig, and you’re not going to have to worry about the hook failing.
“You can’t find 1/8-ounce little jigs with a size 6 hook. That’s one example of something you can cross over into something else. That’s the beauty of customizing your own stuff — you can think outside the box.”
Blade Runner — Mueller converts a Do-It Molds Sparky Jig, traditionally a saltwater item available in 3/4-, 1- and 1 1/4-ounce sizes into a bladed jig that he can fish over deeper grass.
Working the Angles — Reassigning the Do-It Molds Poison Tail swim jig for finesse swimbait duties gives Mueller the angle he wants for efficient retrieves. The key detail, he said, is a line tie of approximately 28 degrees.
“What I’ve learned is that most swimbaits have a 90-degree or 60-degree line tie and, especially with a 90-degree, it’s just going to drag through the water,” Mueller said. “With a forward line tie, it creates a side-to-side roll.”