SCOTTSBORO, Ala. — More than half the field caught at least 16 pounds of bass during Friday’s opening round of the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Elite at Lake Guntersville, and 14 anglers topped the coveted 20-pound mark.
Meanwhile, Connecticut pro Paul Mueller showed once again why Guntersville is one of his favorite lakes in the United States.
Mueller, who finished second in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic presented by DICK’S Sporting Goods on Guntersville, took Friday’s opening-round lead on the famed fishery with five bass that weighed 22 pounds, 14 ounces.
“I didn’t really see this coming because I didn’t catch a lot of big fish in practice,” Mueller said. “The fish aren’t doing what they should for this time of year, so it’s been mentally exhausting trying to figure them out.
“But you only need five — and I’m glad I was able to put something together.”
Mueller’s first claim to fame in the big leagues of bass fishing came when he had a whopping catch of 32-3 on the second day of the 2014 Classic. That was a February event, and Mueller — who had qualified for that Classic through the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship for grass-roots anglers — was quick to point out that none of that strategy played into his success Friday, when temperatures rose to the low 90s.
Despite his heavy weight, he said Friday was anything but easy — and BASSTrakk statistics backed up that claim. The five bass he weighed were caught at 7:25 a.m., 8:09 a.m., 11:02 a.m., 1:59 p.m. and 2:07 p.m.
The weigh-in began at Goose Pond Colony at 2:15 p.m.
“For a while there, I was just worried about getting a limit,” said Mueller, who earned his first Elite Series victory earlier this season at Lake Lanier. “Then I kind of put it together late.”
Mueller attributed his late-afternoon success to a slight change in technique.
“I downsized a little bit,” he said. “I caught them on a 10-inch Reins Bubbling Shaker in the morning on a Magnum Shaky Head. Then I switched over to a 7-inch Bubbling Shaker on a drop-shot rig.
“I spent the last part of the afternoon using a spinning reel.”
Mueller will enter Saturday’s second round with just a 4-ounce lead over North Carolina pro Matt Arey, who weighed in 22-10.
Arey was less specific about how he caught bass than Mueller, but he said Lake Guntersville’s famous summer boat traffic — which always increases greatly on Saturdays — could play a role in how he does on Day 2.
“What I did today is definitely repeatable,” Arey said. “In a perfect world — if I could get out there and rotate through my places without company — absolutely I could do it again. But on a lake that gets this much pressure, we all know that’s not going to happen.”
The only other pro who reached the 22-pound mark Friday was Brandon Lester. The Fayetteville, Tenn., angler, who has extensive experience on Guntersville, caught 22-0 and rests just 14 ounces out of the lead.
“I’m not gonna call this my home lake, but it’s probably as close to home as I’ll ever get to fish in an Elite Series tournament,” Lester said. “I’ve got quite a bit of experience here — and to my surprise, I was able to get on pretty much everything I wanted to fish today.”
Lester said he’s fishing offshore — and even with more boat traffic Saturday, he’s confident he’ll be able to reach at least some of the areas where he was successful Friday.
“The one spot where I caught most of my fish is a really big spot,” Lester said. “There are five or six little sweet spots on it, and there’s not likely to be a boat on every single one of them.
“But I will say — from past experience on this lake — when the boat traffic increases, it really affects these fish. So, who knows what will happen tomorrow?”
Veteran Florida pro Bernie Schultz took the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass with a largemouth that weighed 7-0.
The tournament will resume Saturday with takeoff from Goose Pond Colony at 6 a.m. CT The weigh-in will be held back at Goose Pond at 2:15 p.m., with only the Top 35 anglers advancing to Sunday’s semifinal round.
B.A.S.S. Nation members, Bassmaster High School anglers and dozens of other volunteers will fan out across the Lake Guntersville shoreline to take part in the B.A.S.S. Nation Cleanup project, which will be held from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday. Other volunteers wanting to help out in the cleanup are welcome to participate.
While competition is underway, the Miracle Mile Festival at Goose Pond will feature live entertainment, prize giveaways, food vendors and more. The Festival begins at 11 a.m. The Mercury Concert Series will provide live music prior to the weigh-in.