By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Paul Mueller was a major player the last time the Bassmaster Classic was staged at Lake Guntersville in 2014. He caught the biggest bag in the event's history (32-03 on day 2) and ended up with a three-day total exactly one pound less than winner Randy Howell.
If he'd weighed a limit on day 1 – or even four fish – he'd have joined the late Bryan Kerchal as the only B.A.S.S. Nation qualifiers to win the derby. That three-fish, 9-10 bag in the opening round left him mired in 47th place and set the stage for his epic rally that came up just short of glory.
Mueller, the fishing guide from Connecticut who's now a 6th-year Elite Series pro, will be among the field when the Classic returns to the renowned Tennessee River impoundment March 6-8. He doesn't believe that anything he did six years ago will aid him this time around.
"This one's a little later on in the year (the '14 edition took place Feb. 21-23) and I don't really feel like it sets up in my wheelhouse," he said. "It's one of those deals where I'm definitely excited to be fishing it, but given that the winter seems to have been on the milder side and the time of year is a little different, more shallow techniques will probably work and that's definitely not my cup of tea. Still, you've got to be in it to have a shot."
He said he won't even load his waypoints from '14, when he wrecked big fish by throwing a ChatterBait in eelgrass on the north end of the lake, into his electronics units for this trip. They'll be replaced by ones he marked on a pre-practice trip before the venue went off-limits to competitors on Jan. 1.
"When you look back through the history of tournaments on that lake, the guy who wins is always doing something different. You have to be open-minded in trying to find the winning pattern.
"I don't pre-practice much because there's been times when it hurt me more than it's helped me, but you have to prepare a little differently for the Classic because that magnitude of winning that event could change your career. Even one clue ... just one thing you learned ... is all you need sometimes and it's worth it for a tournament like that."
Up and Down Year
Mueller will compete in his first Classic since 2015, when he was 12th at Lake Hartwell. He notched his first tour-level victory last February at Lake Lanier, but the 2019 season was by no means a smooth ride for him.
Other than that victory, his best regular-season finish was a 22nd at Cayuga Lake and he logged a 26th at Lake Fork. On the flip side, he had five placements in the bottom half of the 75-angler field and needed a strong showing at the Angler of the Year Championship event at Lake St. Clair (he ended up 5th) to secure his Classic berth. His biggest bomb of the campaign was a 68th – at the June visit to Guntersville.
"If you could win a tournament and make the Classic every year you'd end up having a legendary career, but in reality last year was a struggle," he said. "I'd have liked to have put myself in a better position going into the last event – my back was completely against the wall (at St. Clair) and if I didn't do well I wasn't going to fish the Classic. It was very stressful, but it all worked out."
He's heard talk that he'll be among the favorites at this year's Classic, but he dismisses that out of hand.
"I just got on the right deal last time; it's not like I have any hometown experience or anything. Anybody could get on the right deal. I'll just do all I can do when I get there and see what happens.
"Even though I don't think Guntersville will fit my style this time around, I'm up for the challenge."