Paul Mueller really didn’t want to fish for largemouth on Maine’s Sebago Lake. It’s not his strength. He’s much better at targeting smallmouth.
But largemouth paid off for Mueller all week, and his 13-1 sack on Day 3 of the B.A.S.S. Nation Eastern Divisional was more than enough for him to earn the victory with a three-day total of 34-14.
“I really wanted to get to nationals,” Mueller said, referring to the 2013 B.A.S.S. Nation Championship. “But winning is icing on the cake.”
Mueller and eight others earned berths in the championship by being the top competitors on their state teams. The nine anglers will journey to Russellville, Ark., to compete on Lake Dardanelle, Oct. 24-26, against their peers from other B.A.S.S. Nation chapters. One angler from each division will earn a qualification in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic.
“It would be life-changing to go to the Classic,” said Mueller, who is from Southbury, Conn. “I’ve been watching The Bassmasters on TV since I was a little kid. It’s what got me into fishing.”
Mueller was fishing his fifth divisional this week, and it’s his first time qualifying for the championship. He fished his first at the age of 19. He’s now 29. “This has been 10 years in the making,” he said.
Mueller kept finding largemouth — and ones of good size, too — and the smallmouth bite never worked out for him. He caught three smallies over the three days and culled one of them. He was one of only two anglers to get a limit all three competition days. (Randy Phillips of Massachusetts was the other.)
“I only got six or seven bites a day,” said Mueller. “I like tournaments like this. I always do well in grind tournaments.”
The largemouth he found were shallow, he said, because of the full moon. He caught a 5 1/4-pound fish at 8:30 a.m. today in Turtle Cove, when he was just about to leave the area. He stuck around for another hour but didn’t get any more bites. The bass was looking for crawfish right where the rock transitioned to grass.
He left the area and found the rest of his fish near a bridge on the southern end of the lake. These fish were holding in shallow water — 1/2 to 2 feet — in grass, enjoying a plethora of bluegill and perch.
His big fish came on a Punisher SmallJaw Shaky Jig (brown) with a Rein’s Ring Craw trailer (green pumpkin/blue). He caught a big largemouth on Day 1 with the same jig and a Rein’s Fat Rock Vibe Shad. He fished the jig using a Dobyns Champion Extreme DX703SF rod, 10-pound Gamma Torque braid and 8-pound fluorocarbon leader.
A watermelon colored Yamamoto Senko tricked his other fish. He would Texas rig it in grassy areas and wacky rig it in places with less vegetation. He fished the Senko with a Dobyns Champion 704SF, 15-pound Gamma Torque braid and 10-pound fluorocarbon leader.
“It means everything to win this,” said Mueller. “I have to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. There’s no way I did this on my own.”
Mueller is looking forward to Dardanelle next month. “I’ve never fished it before, but I will before the cut-off period,” he said. “We should see some big weights there.”
Joining him at Dardanelle are anglers who cut it close in their states, as well as those who ran away with it. Randy Phillips of Massachusetts is one of the anglers who won with a wide margin. He finished with 25 pounds, 11 ounces, nearly 11 pounds of his closest competitor, Ed Robak. Leo Bevelaqua won Rhode Island with a whopping 13-pound margin. And Eric Corbella Salvia of Spain had a nearly 8-pound lead over second-place Alberto Rodriguez Oliver.
Tighter races belonged to Phil Curtis of Ontario, Randy Lamanche of New York, Chris Adams of Vermont, Lawrence Hogue of Maine and Alan Denise of New Hampshire.
In the state competition, Maine held onto the lead it gained on Day 2. The host state finished with 175 pounds, 8 ounces. Just behind was the Connecticut B.A.S.S. Nation with 168-12. In third place was New York with 129-2.
Carhartt Big Bass honors were awarded to Bevelaqua of Rhode Island, who brought in a 7-pound, 8-ounce monster on Day 3. He dedicated the bass to his son, Dominick, who said to him the night before, “Catch a big one for me, Daddy.”
The other award for the day went to Mueller for catching the biggest bag. Point Sebago Resort gave $300 to the biggest weight each day. Mueller’s bag was 13-1, almost a pound bigger than the next-closest sack, which was Al Gambardella’s 12-3 on Day 1.
Simultaneously, another competition was going on among the Junior Bassmaster anglers. Each state sent two competitors, one ages 11 to 14 and another ages 15 to 18, to compete on Sebago. Noah Winslow of Connecticut won the younger age group, and Brian Volkernick of Maine won the older age division. Winslow and Volkernick will make the trip alongside their adult counterparts to compete in the 2013 Bassmaster Junior World Championship (JWC), a one-day tournament that determines the best young anglers in the B.A.S.S. Nation.
Tune in to Bassmaster.com, Oct. 24-26, for coverage of the 2013 B.A.S.S. Nation Championship and JWC.
Image courtesy Tyler Reed/Bassmaster