GREENVILLE, S.C. — Paul Mueller and Coby Carden just can’t seem to go to the Bassmaster Classic without challenging the leaders.
The two did the same last year. In the 2014 Classic, Carden started the tournament in sixth place, although he eventually fell to 24th. And Mueller started in 47th place, caught a monster bag — which broke the record for the biggest five-fish limit ever weighed in during a Classic — and rocketed up to a second-place finish.
In the 2015 GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro, the pair returned, after earning spots in the Classic again via the Old Milwaukee B.A.S.S. Nation Championship. Mueller, of the Connecticut B.A.S.S. Nation, finished in 12th place, and Carden, of the Alabama B.A.S.S. Nation, ended in 15th.
Mueller raised eyebrows in 2014 with his threat to take the Classic crown, and with his back-to-back qualification, fans expected him to do well. Even pundits thought he might outperform the rest of the crowd because he’s from Connecticut — and South Carolina was delivering freezing temperatures.
“People think that anglers like me from the North like the cold,” said Mueller on stage on Day 3 of the Classic. “No, we don’t like the cold weather. We just learn to tolerate it.”
Mueller caught limits all three days and ended with 38 pounds, 6 ounces, less than 12 pounds behind winner Casey Ashley. Want to see more of Mueller? You will. By virtue of his Nation Championship win in November 2014, he earned a qualification to compete on the 2015 Bassmaster Elite Series. Following the lead of his predecessors, Brandon Palaniuk and Jamie Horton, he’s accepted it and will be on the trail this year.
Carden started off the 2015 Classic rather slowly with a middle-of-the-pack finish on Day 1, but he followed it up with 19 pounds, 13 ounces on Day 2 — which is just more than a pound less than the biggest sack of the tournament, caught by Dean Rojas. Getting only three bites on Day 3, though, put Carden with a final weight of 37-2 and a final place of 15th.
“I’m extremely lucky to be here,” said Carden on the stage. “Being a weekend angler, it’s a lot of effort and it puts strain on the family. I’m glad I have a family who’s so supportive.”
The rest of the B.A.S.S. Nation qualifiers to the Classic did not make the cut after the Day 2 weigh-in. Jeff Lugar of Virginia, Teb Jones of Mississippi, Steve Lund of Arizona and Troy Diede of South Dakota ended in 48th place or below.
“Representing the B.A.S.S. Nation at the Classic means the world to me,” said Lugar, who, along with Mueller and Carden, was competing in his second Classic in a row. “It inspires other people to compete and shows them they could make it here, too. Getting to the Classic like this, there’s just nothing like it.”