By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Paul Mueller had been to Lake Lanier just once prior to his arrival for last week's Bassmaster Elite Series tournament. That was for the 2010 Forrest Wood Cup, a summertime event in which he finished 12th in the co-angler division.
"There was something I liked about it when I was there," he said. "It's hard to describe, but you just kind of know when a body of water fits your style. Maybe just because it was so deep and clear, it made me feel right at home."
He was certainly in tune with the renowned Georgia impoundment on his most recent visit as he compiled 69 pounds worth of spotted bass over four days to notch his first tour-level victory. He was in 7th place after day 1 and then among the top 3 the rest of the way, and his day-best 18-08 effort in the final round left him 14 ounces clear of runner-up Chris Zaldain.
For Mueller, the setup at Lanier was very reminiscent of situations he frequently encounters back home in Connecticut, where he guides for multiple species when he isn't competing. He'd never finished higher than 5th in any regular-season derby in his 4-plus years on the Elite circuit, but his gut told him that this was the best chance for a victory that he'd encountered as a pro.
"If I didn't win, I would've been disappointed," he said. "It plays on your mind when you've been out here for 4 years and you haven't won one yet.
"I feel bad for the guys who've fished a lot longer than I have and haven't won because it isn't easy to win. Some of those guys are a lot more consistent and well-rounded anglers than I am."
Following are some of the specifics on how he approached Lanier.
Mueller accredited much of his success at Lanier to his Garmin electronics – the high-definition LakeVü mapping and the Panoptix LiveScope live-scanning sonar.
"I'm not just biased because I'm sponsored by them, but I've never seen mapping as good as Garmin has when they survey a lake," he said. "It was a big deciding factor in switching to them for my rookie year.
"With the Depth Shading feature on the HD mapping, you can highlight whatever depth-zone contours you want. There were places in practice where I caught fish in the 26- to 45-foot range and when I highlighted that on the map, I found certain places where the fish consistently stayed and others that were dependent on a certain kind of weather – sunny or cloudy, wind or now wind."
The LiveScope showed him exactly what was going on in those places in real time.
"This is the fourth generation and the difference with this one is you can see fish through wood or through weeds and there's no clutter. I have one unit dedicated to LiveScope and I had it on the forward setting at 80 feet. If a tree 50 feet away had a school of spotted bass in it, I could see every branch in the tree and every fish in the school.
"It's remarkable and there's nothing on the market that compares with that definition. Garmin had a huge presence in this top 10 and it wasn't by accident."
By the time practice had concluded, he'd uncovered a lot of places that were holding a few fish, along with about half a dozen large schools. One of those schools would surrender the vast majority of the fish he took to the scale.
> Day 1: 5, 16-11
> Day 2: 5, 18-04
> Day 3: 5, 15-09
> Day 4: 5, 18-08
> Total = 20, 69-00
Mueller started day 1 in a deep-water ditch and caught some decent fish using a modified dropshotting technique that he calls "freestyling" with a Reins Bubbling Shad as the bait. The technique involves pinpointing the precise location of the fish via electronics and then dropping the bait to a point just above them.
"I'm constantly shaking the bait and the goal is to make the fish ascend and commit to it," he said. "It's what I used at Cherokee Lake (in 2017) when I finished 5th."
He later made a couple of culls from the school that would carry him through the remainder of the tournament. It was located on a large ridge with two high spots that eventually extended to a point. The first high spot was in 29 feet of water, then it extended down into 45, and then back up to 33 before dropping off into the main lake. Most of the fish were in the "saddle" between the two high spots.
He hit a few more ditches early on day 2, picking up several fish on both the freestyle rig and a Reins Fat Rockvibe Shad swimbait. He replaced all of those with bigger specimens from the saddle, with four of the five enticed by the swimbait.
He caught his entire day-3 bag on the swimbait and three of the five that he weighed on day 4. The final-day trio included a 5-04 (his biggest fish of the derby) and a 4-pounder that came in the early afternoon and provided his winning margin.
"The two techniques I used are my bread and butter for smallmouth fishing back home," he said. "It was neat to be able to take those and apply them to a different species in a different body of water.
"That's a special fishery and I don't know if the reason it keeps getting better as time goes on is because of the blueback herring or what, but it's loaded with big spotted bass."
Winning Gear Notes
> Swimbait gear: 7'6" medium-heavy prototype Dobyns Champion Paul Mueller Signature Series rod, size 3000 Lew's Custom Pro Speed Spin reel, 15-pound Gamma Torque braid (main line), 8-pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon (12' leader), 1/2-ounce herring-head under-spin jighead with blade removed, 3.25" Reins Fat Rockvibe Shad (bluegill).
> Freestyle gear: 7'2" light-action Dobyns Xtasy rod, size 2000 Lew's Custom Pro Speed Spin reel, 10-pound Gamma Torque braid (main line), 6-pound Gamma Edge fluorocarbon (12' leader), 3/16-ounce Do-It Molds Freestyle Jig, 3" Reins Bubbling Shaker (bluegill).
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