Editor's note: Paul Mueller won the Toyota Bassmaster Elite at Lake Lanier, the second Elite tournament of the 2019 season, with 69 pounds. His win came just a week after finishing 62nd at the St. Johns River, where he began to question his ability to catch bass. “God humbles you sometimes,” Mueller said. “He humbled me at the St. Johns. But this is bass fishing at its finest. It’s the lowest of the lows and the highest of the highs.” Mueller's rise from the Nation Series to Elite Champion is truly the embodiement of the slogan, Big Bass. Big Stage. Big Dreams.
Paul Mueller fished his first Bassmaster Elite Series event five seasons ago, but he already had earned a name as a proven angler.
“I made my only two (Bassmaster) Classics through the B.A.S.S. Nation two years in a row,” Mueller said.
And he ensured his Classic berths counted: He placed second in the 2014 championship, followed by a 12th-place finish in 2015.
He turned down his first Elite Series invite because he wanted to be certain he was ready financially. When he won the B.A.S.S. Nation Championship that second year, he knew his time had come.
“I felt like winning a boat at the Nation Championship was a good enough backbone to make the step up,” Mueller recalled.
But his love of fishing spans his 35 years. The Connecticut angler began fishing for brook trout as a child with his father, on area lakes and small rivers.
“I grew up around the water,” Mueller said. “My parents lived on a lake.”
A vacation home near a stream added to his opportunities to keep a line wet. But the lack of a boat delayed his exposure to bass fishing.
“We didn’t even have a boat until I was 11 or 12 years old,” Mueller recalled “It was a deep-V aluminum boat with a 1967 Mercury 65-horse Thunderbolt.”
He continued focusing mainly on trout until he was 16, and then he discovered bass. While his father didn’t shy away from targeting bass, Mueller said his knowledge was pretty much trial and error.
“Pretty much everything I know (about bass fishing) is self-taught — just time on the water,” he said.
The young angler spent time watching “In Fisherman,” which only served to heighten his love of fishing.
“Watching the Lindners catch everything in the water was the most intriguing thing to me,” Mueller said.
But the elder Mueller was a crucial part of the equation that eventually led the angler to the top level of competitive bass fishing.
“He allowed me to pursue that passion,” Mueller said. “I didn’t want to do anything but fish, and he encouraged that.”
Mueller’s earliest memories of competitive bass fishing are of watching The Bassmasters.
“The thing that got me into bass fishing was watching the Classic on TNN,” he said. “I still remember the music.”
The opportunity to match his fishing skills against others in tournaments was irresistible.
“The reason I fell in love with bass fishing is that it’s competitive,” he said. “It’s the most competitive fishing there is.
“I loved the competition.”
He began fishing the Nation when he was 18 years old.
“I kind of jumped right into it and learned probably the hard way,” Mueller said. “That was the best way to get good — fishing against those guys.
“You have to bring your A game.”
And it was particularly challenging in Connecticut, which has long produced some of the best anglers in the Nation’s Eastern Division.
“Connecticut would always either win it or finish second,” he said.
The result was a quickly growing base of knowledge that eventually led to his back-to-back Classic invitations.
He has yet to win an Elite Series event, but he’s logged 18 Top 50 finishes since joining the tour in 2015. That includes three Elite Series Top 10s.
But he admits he has work to do this year to break out of the pack.
“My first four years have been an up-and-down deal,” he said. “There is still a learning curve, and it’s a very expensive learning curve on the Elite Series.
“The hill just keeps getting steeper the higher up you climb. The margin for error is so small.”
Far from discouraging him, however, the high skill level on the Elite Series keeps him driving for success.
“Every Elite angler is obviously good and talented, but there is a level of grinding that goes on,” he explained. “What’s impressive to me is you get a really well-known guy and he doesn’t do that well the first day, and he just stomps them the next day.
“These guys figure things out on the fly.”
And the ability to make daily adjustments is something he’s still working to nail down.
“I realize that consistency is something I need to work on,” Mueller said. “The more you do it, the closer you get the more you realize you have to practice harder.”
However, his primary goal going into his fifth season is to earn his first Elite Series ticket to the Bassmaster Classic. And one day, he hopes to be in the books alongside Classic champs.
“I’d rather win the Classic than the Angler of the Year,” he said.