Massive Smallmouth Anchors Mueller's Day One Lead
CLAYTON - Tournament wisdom says you can’t win on Day 1, and you can’t win with a single bass.
But one giant bass certainly helped Connecticut pro Paul Mueller to a fantastic start Thursday, as he took the opening-round lead at the SiteOne Bassmaster Elite at St. Lawrence River with a 27-pound, 1-ounce limit. His bag was anchored by a massive smallmouth that weighed 7-13.
Seeking to add another 2020 Elite win to his season-opening victory on Florida’s St. Johns River, Mueller spent his day in Lake Ontario, where he targeted rock transitions in 15 to 35 feet. His area was thick with gobies — a prime smallmouth forage — but Mueller said his open-minded approach was essential to his success.
“I didn’t get locked into a certain depth, even though I caught more fish deeper in practice,” Mueller said. “Today, I caught fish shallower and my Garmin LiveScope was the key. It told me if they were there or not.
“That’s going to be a big deal for me this week — using that LiveScope to pinpoint these fish daily because these fish move. Smallmouth are here today and gone tomorrow. With good electronics, you’re able to stay with them. I’m hoping I can just be consistent.”
One of 17 competitors to break the 20-pound mark, Mueller caught all of his bass on a drop shot rigged with a Berkley MaxScent Flat Worm. He alternated between the natural shad and goby colors and used a custom 3/8-ounce Do-it Molds drop-shot weight.
“Where I’m fishing you don’t get a lot of bites, but they’re good fish,” Mueller said. “I feel like there’s a better average in the lake vs. the river. That’s the key: you just try to get five of those big bites a day.
“Today exceeded my expectations. I thought I could get a 23- to 25-pound bag if everything went right. But when you catch a 7-13, it surely ups your average.”
Mueller’s biggest fish bit around 9 a.m. and gave him every inch of the heart-racing battle for which giant smallies are known.
“That fish fought as big as it was; it didn’t give up,” Mueller said. “I saw it and immediately knew it (would be) the biggest smallmouth I’ve ever caught in my life. When it’s your personal best, there’s more on the line than a fishing tournament. I wanted to land that fish because I’d never caught a 7 before.
“I said ‘Just take your time with this fish.’ It bulldogged me, it gave me a run for my money, and I was fortunate enough to get my hands on it.”
Chris Johnston of Peterborough, Canada, is in second place with 27-0. Starting his day on a rock point in 30 feet of water inside the St. Lawrence River, Johnston targeted little sweet spots on the structure and sacked up nearly 22 pounds by 8 a.m.
After his early rally, he transitioned to the lake and fished isolated rockpiles and rock breaks in 20 to 24 feet.
“I started on that (river) spot because I figured a couple people might find it, and I wanted to get what I could because I knew there were some big ones on it,” Johnston said. “I did some damage there, and I knew I had some fish out in the lake if I needed some fillers.
“I didn’t want to lean on them too bad out in the lake because I was trying to save some stuff. A big thing was Garmin LiveScope because I could search for fish that weren’t under the boat. I was looking for fish, and if I saw a fish on the rock, I’d go over and catch it.”
Johnston caught all of his fish on drop shots. He held his cards low on bait specifics, but noted that he had a couple of confidence baits that proved vital to his success.
Clark Wendlandt of Leander, Texas, is in third place with 26-3. Committing his day to Lake Ontario, Wendlandt said he had located bass from 5 to 40 feet but ended up catching most of his weight in the deeper range.
After catching his bass in short order on a drop shot, Wendlandt backed off of his spot.
“I really don’t know what I have because I mostly only fished one spot,” he said. “I had a big bag fairly fast — I had a limit by 8:30 and had my weight by 9:30 — so I didn’t see any point in beating them up for no reason. I just decided I’d go practice.”
Mueller is in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with his 7-13.
Friday’s takeoff is scheduled for 6:45 a.m. E.T. at the Clayton Antique Boat Museum, with weigh-ins back at the museum at 3 p.m. The 86-angler field will be trimmed to the Top 40 after Friday’s round.
Live coverage of the event will be available starting at 8 a.m. on Bassmaster LIVE at Bassmaster.com with simulcasts on ESPN2 and ESPN3. Check local listings for ESPN2 times.
The tournament is being hosted by Jefferson County in cooperation with the Village of Clayton and the 1000 Islands Clayton Chamber of Commerce.