In his fifth season on the circuit, Paul Mueller won his first Bassmaster Elite Series tournament by less than one pound . Mueller’s total was 69 pounds in a highly competitive Toyota Bassmaster Elite at Lake Lanier, where the leader changed hands all four days.
In the 10-man final Sunday, every angler weighed-in a 5-bass limit. The total weight of those 50 bass was 150 pounds, 6 ounces – in other words, a 3-pound average. Mueller separated himself from the field with the big bass of the day – a 5-pound, 4-ounce spotted bass – plus another 4-pounder that he caught after a rainy, frustrating Sunday morning on Lake Lanier.
That was the other “one” in this tournament. In a lake where the bass seemed to move almost by the hour, Mueller caught most of his 69-0 off one spot.
“It’s amazing they didn’t move,” said the 34-year-old Naugatuck, Conn., resident. “It’s just crazy. I had so many places that had fish, and they’d just move. That spot stayed consistent. I found it at the end of Day 1 and caught two that culled. I caught two off it (Sunday), then scrambled around and scrambled around and struggled. I was like, well, it’s noon. That’s all I got.
“So I went back to my primary area and caught that 5¼ and a 4. Without those two fish, I don’t win.”
The most consistent element of the tournament was how the nomadic spotted bass feeding on blueback herring were here one moment and gone the next. Among the 10 finalists, there were some anglers catching them in six feet of water on crankbaits, and others catching them 25 to 45 feet deep on swimbaits, Neko rigs and drop-shots. That’s what was consistent – the lack of consistency – for everyone except, ultimately, Mueller.
Mueller found a ridge that had high spots on either end of it.
“It was like a very narrow saddle,” he said. “You had super deep water on both sides of the saddle. In the morning, the fish would be in the middle, and as the day went on they’d move a little bit to each side. I caught one as shallow as 26 feet. The majority came in 33 to 45. That big one (Sunday) came out of 42.
“Who would have thought you could win this tournament off one spot – a blueback herring tournament? I never thought so.”
Mueller’s win wasn’t assured until Chris Zaldain, the Day 3 leader, brought his bass to the scales. His final bag weighed 16-9 for a total of 68-2, leading to a celebration for Mueller, his wife, Kimber, and their son, Waylon, who will turn 3 years old on March 17. It was during an Elite Series tournament three years ago when Mueller left the St. Johns River at mid-morning on Day 1 after getting word that Kimber was going into labor. He caught a flight back to Connecticut and arrived in time for the birth of his son.
So one week after another Elite Series tournament on the St. Johns River, when Mueller felt like he might as well have gone home early after finishing 62nd in the 75-man field, he’s an Elite Series champion.
“God humbles you sometimes,” Mueller said. “He humbled me at the St. Johns. I was crushed after that tournament. I knew what I had to do, and I just didn’t do it. This is bass fishing at its finest. It’s the lowest of the lows and the highest of the highs.”
Finally, there’s one more “one” to mention. At the anglers’ meeting the day before the tournament started, 20 pros were asked to predict what the winning weight would be on Sunday. John Crews estimated 69-1, missing it by one ounce.