By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor

A little more than five years ago, when he was still a B.A.S.S. Nation competitor, Paul Mueller nearly won the Bassmaster Classic on Lake Guntersville. Now in his sixth year as a pro, he's gunning for his second Bassmaster Elite Series victory of 2019 on the same venue.

The only Connecticut resident in tour-level fishing caught a 22-14 stringer on day 1 as the circuit got back in action on the renowned Alabama fishery following a seven-week break (partially caused by the postponement of the Grand Lake tournament from May until September due to flooding in Oklahoma). Thirteen other anglers also caught at least 20 pounds and, as expected, weights are tightly bunched throughout the 74-man field.

"I had no idea I could catch a bag like that because I struggled in practice and I've still got a lot of figuring out to do," Mueller said. "I think I fished the conditions well and it was just one of those things it was a blessed day."

Matt Arey was 2nd with 22-10, followed by Brandon Lester with 22-00, Chris Johnston with 21-14 and Hank Cherry with 21-06. The lower half of the top 10 consisted of Drew Benton (21-03), Clark Wendlandt (20-14, rookies Lee Livesay (both with 20-08) and veteran Bernie Schultz (20-07).

Both the offshore ledges and shallower grass produced quality fish as 44 competitors eclipsed the 15-pound mark. Only six anglers failed to reach double digits and one of those was Angler of the Year points leader Patrick Walters as the rookie from South Carolina managed just a 9-06 limit.

Things could get tougher on day 2 when the Elites will be forced to share many of their best spots with untold numbers of weekend anglers. The weather will remain hot and muggy (the forecast high is 93 degrees) under a partly cloudy sky.

Mueller's bag was topped by a 5 1/4-pounder and he had another on that slightly exceeded 5. He only caught about 10 keepers, but didn't lose anything of consequence.

"I caught fish throughout the day but it was never hot and heavy. I got two upgrades right at the end of the day. I didn't know what to expect as far as weight, but I fished hard and I was very pleasantly surprised.

"I was away from the bank pretty much the whole day, but I fished different depths. I didn't fish next to anybody I don't like to get in anybody's way and if I saw a boat in the distance on one of the places I wanted to fish, I'd just wait until it left."



B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

A couple of 5-pound bites allowed Matt Arey to exceed his expectations for the day.

Arey had a decent practice and was shooting for a bag in the upper teens, but a couple of 5-pound bites allowed him to blow past his goal. His other three fish were all in the 4-pound class.

He caught about 20 keepers and lost only one good bite he's unsure whether the one that got away would've helped him. Fishing both offshore and near the bank, he had all of his weight by noon.

"I knew that rotation and timing was going to be the biggest thing," he said. "The local pressure was pretty bad today and it's going to be really challenging tomorrow.

"I'll try to mix it up again, but it's going to come down to whether I can get on the places I want to fish and get in the right rotation. I think I know now where the bigger bites are going to come from; you don't really know from practice because you don't just sit there and pound on them."

Lester's big bag was headed up by 6-05 and 5-07 specimens that he caught in the afternoon. He spent the entire day fishing offshore and didn't have as much company as he'd anticipated.

"I was surprised that I didn't see a lot of other people only on a couple places did I see anybody else," he said. "That may change tomorrow with a lot of locals out."

He went through about 30 keepers and didn't lose any that would've aided his cause.

"A couple of those big ones like I had go a long ways and it seems like they're biting late in the day," he said. "I've seen it just the opposite on this lake, where it all goes down early and then gets real slow. Even in practice it seemed like they were setting up better as the day went on.

"I'm completely committed to fishing offshore. I've done it here for 15 years and this is where I learned to ledge-fish."

Walters, who finished no lower than 29th in the first five events and notched a pair of top 10s, will need a huge bag on day 2 to have a shot at becoming one of the 35 anglers who'll advance to the third round on Sunday.

"It was just one of those days when I zigged when I should've zagged," he said. "I don't like to fish in a group of people and I stayed away from that for as long as I could, and it got me.

"I didn't get a lot of bites. I tried power-fishing on the ledges for a good bit of the day, but those fish were real finicky. What I was doing just wasn't working."

He doesn't plan to make any radical changes to his game plan for day 2.

"I'm not going to do anything super-different or crazy; I'm not going to get outside my element. I'll probably fish a lot more grass and spend less time on the ledges and just try to grind it out."

Notable

> Day 1 stats 74 anglers, 68 limits, 1 four, 2 threes, 2 twos, 1 one.

Weather Forecast

> Sat., June 22 Partly Cloudy - 93/70
- Wind: From the WSW at 8 mph

> Sun., June 23 Scattered T-Storms - 93/72
- Wind: From WSW at 6 mph

> Mon., June 24 Scattered T-Storms - 88/70
- Wind: From the SW at 9 mph

Day 1 Standings

1. Paul Mueller -- Naugatuck, CT -- 5, 22-14 -- 100
Day 1: 5, 22-14

2. Matt Arey -- Shelby, NC -- 5, 22-10 -- 99
Day 1: 5, 22-10

3. Brandon Lester -- Fayetteville, TN -- 5, 22-00 -- 98
Day 1: 5, 22-00

4. Chris Johnston -- Peterborough Ontario CA -- 5, 21-14 -- 97
Day 1: 5, 21-14

5. Hank Cherry Jr -- Lincolnton, NC -- 5, 21-06 -- 96
Day 1: 5, 21-06

6. Drew Benton -- Panama City, FL -- 5, 21-03 -- 95
Day 1: 5, 21-03

7. Clark Wendlandt -- Leander, TX -- 5, 20-14 -- 94
Day 1: 5, 20-14

8. Lee Livesay -- Gladewater, TX -- 5, 20-08 -- 93
Day 1: 5, 20-08

8. Tyler Rivet -- Raceland, LA -- 5, 20-08 -- 93
Day 1: 5, 20-08

10. Bernie Schultz -- Gainesville, FL -- 5, 20-07 -- 91
Day 1: 5, 20-07

11. Carl Jocumsen -- Queensland, AUS -- 5, 20-06 -- 90
Day 1: 5, 20-06

12. Dale Hightower -- Mannford, OK -- 5, 20-04 -- 89
Day 1: 5, 20-04

13. Caleb Sumrall -- New Iberia, LA -- 5, 20-02 -- 88
Day 1: 5, 20-02

14. Clent Davis -- Montevallo, AL -- 5, 20-00 -- 87
Day 1: 5, 20-00

15. Garrett Paquette -- Canton, MI -- 5, 19-15 -- 86
Day 1: 5, 19-15

16. Brandon Cobb -- Greenwood, SC -- 5, 19-12 -- 85
Day 1: 5, 19-12

17. Greg DiPalma -- Millville, NJ -- 5, 19-08 -- 84
Day 1: 5, 19-08

18. Bill Weidler -- Helena, AL -- 5, 18-15 -- 83
Day 1: 5, 18-15

19. Brock Mosley -- Collinsville, MS -- 5, 18-14 -- 82
Day 1: 5, 18-14

19. Randy Pierson -- Oakdale, CA -- 5, 18-14 -- 82
Day 1: 5, 18-14

21. Scott Canterbury -- Odenville, AL -- 5, 18-13 -- 80
Day 1: 5, 18-13

22. Cliff Prince -- Palatka, FL -- 5, 18-12 -- 79
Day 1: 5, 18-12

23. Matt Herren -- Ashville, AL -- 5, 18-11 -- 78
Day 1: 5, 18-11

24. Seth Feider -- New Market, MN -- 5, 18-08 -- 77
Day 1: 5, 18-08

25. Cory Johnston -- Cavan, ON-- 5, 18-07 -- 76
Day 1: 5, 18-07

25. Bill Lowen -- Brookville, IN -- 5, 18-07 -- 76
Day 1: 5, 18-07

27. Quentin Cappo -- Prairieville, LA -- 5, 18-04 -- 74
Day 1: 5, 18-04

27. Chad Pipkens -- Lansing, MI -- 5, 18-04 -- 74
Day 1: 5, 18-04

29. Gary Clouse -- Winchester, TN -- 5, 18-03 -- 72
Day 1: 5, 18-03

30. Steve Kennedy -- Auburn, AL -- 5, 18-01 -- 71
Day 1: 5, 18-01

31. Drew Cook -- Midway, FL -- 5, 17-10 -- 70
Day 1: 5, 17-10

32. Shane LeHew -- Catawba, NC -- 5, 17-09 -- 69
Day 1: 5, 17-09

33. Chris Zaldain -- Fort Worth, TX -- 5, 17-03 -- 68
Day 1: 5, 17-03

34. Clifford Pirch -- Payson, AZ -- 5, 16-10 -- 67
Day 1: 5, 16-10

35. Chris Groh -- Spring Grove, IL -- 4, 16-10 -- 66
Day 1: 4, 16-10

36. Rick Morris -- Lake Gaston, VA -- 5, 16-06 -- 65
Day 1: 5, 16-06

37. Ray Hanselman Jr -- Del Rio, TX -- 5, 16-02 -- 64
Day 1: 5, 16-02

38. Keith Combs -- Huntington, TX -- 5, 16-00 -- 63
Day 1: 5, 16-00

39. Robbie Latuso -- Gonzales, LA -- 5, 16-00 -- 62
Day 1: 5, 16-00

40. Todd Auten -- Lake Wylie, SC -- 5, 15-11 -- 61
Day 1: 5, 15-11

41. Kyle Monti -- Okeechobee, FL -- 5, 15-10 -- 60
Day 1: 5, 15-10

42. Yusuke Miyazaki -- Forney, TX -- 5, 15-10 -- 59
Day 1: 5, 15-10

43. Jay Yelas -- Lincoln City, OR -- 5, 15-05 -- 58
Day 1: 5, 15-05

44. Brian Snowden -- Reeds Spring, MO -- 5, 15-00 -- 57
Day 1: 5, 15-00

45. Stetson Blaylock -- Benton, AR -- 5, 14-14 -- 56
Day 1: 5, 14-14

46. Jamie Hartman -- Newport, NY -- 5, 14-13 -- 55
Day 1: 5, 14-13

47. Kelley Jaye -- Dadeville, AL -- 5, 14-09 -- 54
Day 1: 5, 14-09

48. Shane Lineberger -- Lincolnton, NC -- 5, 14-07 -- 53
Day 1: 5, 14-07

48. Jason Williamson -- Wagener, SC -- 5, 14-07 -- 53
Day 1: 5, 14-07

50. Ed Loughran III -- Richmond, VA -- 5, 13-11 -- 51
Day 1: 5, 13-11

51. Skylar Hamilton -- Dandridge, TN -- 5, 13-09 -- 50
Day 1: 5, 13-09

52. Hunter Shryock -- Newcomerstown, OH -- 5, 13-07 -- 49
Day 1: 5, 13-07

53. Luke Palmer -- Coalgate, OK -- 5, 13-05 -- 48
Day 1: 5, 13-05

54. David Fritts -- Lexington, NC -- 5, 13-02 -- 47
Day 1: 5, 13-02

55. Mark Menendez -- Paducah, KY -- 5, 13-00 -- 46
Day 1: 5, 13-00

56. Frank Talley -- Temple, TX -- 5, 12-11 -- 45
Day 1: 5, 12-11

57. David Mullins -- Mt Carmel, TN -- 5, 12-08 -- 44
Day 1: 5, 12-08

58. John Crews Jr -- Salem, VA -- 5, 12-06 -- 43
Day 1: 5, 12-06

59. Derek Hudnall -- Baton Rouge, LA -- 5, 12-05 -- 42
Day 1: 5, 12-05

60. Micah Frazier -- Newnan, GA -- 5, 12-04 -- 41
Day 1: 5, 12-04

61. Brad Whatley -- Bivins, TX -- 5, 12-04 -- 40
Day 1: 5, 12-04

62. Jeff Gustafson -- Keewatin, ON -- 5, 11-14 -- 39
Day 1: 5, 11-14

63. Koby Kreiger -- Alva, FL -- 5, 11-09 -- 38
Day 1: 5, 11-09

64. Brandon Card -- Knoxville, TN -- 5, 11-03 -- 37
Day 1: 5, 11-03

65. Rob Digh -- Denver, NC -- 5, 10-13 -- 36
Day 1: 5, 10-13

66. Jake Whitaker -- Fairview, NC -- 5, 10-10 -- 35
Day 1: 5, 10-10

67. Brett Preuett -- Monroe, LA -- 4, 10-07 -- 34
Day 1: 4, 10-07

68. Chad Morgenthaler -- Reeds Spring, MO -- 5, 09-10 -- 33
Day 1: 5, 09-10

69. Patrick Walters -- Summerville, SC -- 5, 09-06 -- 32
Day 1: 5, 09-06

70. Mike Huff -- Corbin, KY -- 3, 07-12 -- 31
Day 1: 3, 07-12

71. Rick Clunn -- Ava, MO -- 3, 05-12 -- 30
Day 1: 3, 05-12

72. Tyler Carriere -- Youngsville, LA -- 2, 03-11 -- 29
Day 1: 2, 03-11

73. Randy Sullivan -- Breckenridge, TX -- 1, 02-06 -- 28
Day 1: 1, 02-06

74. Harvey Horne -- Bella Vista, AR -- 2, 01-14 -- 27
Day 1: 2, 01-14