BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — It seemed for a moment as if the B.A.S.S. Nation might get its second Bassmaster Classic champion on Sunday after Paul Mueller’s strong surge.
It did not happen. Despite Mueller’s heroics on Days 2 and 3 of competition, he had to settle for second place.
Is he upset about not winning? Not for a minute.
“Being second to Randy Howell is not disappointing at all!” said Mueller while Howell was giving interview after interview to the media following his victory.
“I know Randy Howell deserves a Classic win,” said Mueller, who was 50 shades of red out of excitement. “He’s been here so many times. This is just my first.”
And when he says it’s his first, he means there will be more. Like his B.A.S.S. Nation comrade and fellow Classic competitor Mark Dove says over and over, “Once you get to the Classic, you’ll spend the rest of your life trying to get back.”
“I have to do everything in my power to get back here,” said Mueller, who serves as a fishing guide on Connecticut’s Candlewood Lake. “It’s an awesome environment. The daily take-off was really incredible.”
Many pundits were drawing parallels between Mueller and Bryan Kerchal. Kerchal’s Classic victory came in 1994; if Mueller won this one, his win would be the 20th anniversary of Kerchal’s victory. Mueller and Kerchal both hail from the Connecticut B.A.S.S. Nation. And both were huge on comebacks: Kerchal finished last in the Classic in 1993 only to win the following year, and Mueller was almost last in the standings on Day 1 before vaulting up the leaderboard.
“I’ve had a million text messages from the Connecticut B.A.S.S. Nation guys wishing me well,” said Mueller. “It was an honor to be able to represent Connecticut here.”
And, in his opinion, getting to the Classic from the Northeast is much tougher than most people think.
“You better be on your A game fishing up there,” Mueller said. “I have to fish with the same intensity to win there as I fished in the Classic. The water is smaller, so everybody knows where everything is. It has definitely made me a better fisherman because you can’t do the same thing over and over and continue to win. It’s tough.”
Mueller and all the B.A.S.S. Nation guys come into the Classic with the disadvantage of being unknown and the expectation of failure by most non-Nation pundits. The ones who don’t anticipate Nation success suggest a lack of tournament experience and a glut of media attention as reasons they won’t do well. And many do underperform. But sometimes, a star rises to the top.
“I love being the underdog,” said Mueller.
There definitely is a lot going on at the Classic, but Mueller said you can’t take that with you onto the water.
“If you think about it on the water, you’ve already lost.”
Mueller was one of three B.A.S.S. Nation representatives to make it to the final-day cut at the 2014 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by Diet Mountain Dew and GoPro.
Doug Thompson, whose 12 pounds, 7 ounces on Day 1 left him mired in 44th place, bounced back with 22-7 on Day 2 and followed it up with a 25-5 bag on Day 3. He finished in ninth place.
And Coby Carden, the favored angler among the Nation competitors because of his experience on and proximity to Guntersville, finished in 24th place, after a sixth-place standing on Day 1.
The remaining three — Jeff Lugar, Mark Dove and Tim Johnston — finished in 35th, 43rd and 46th respectively.