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CLAYTON, N.Y. — While pro angler Paul Mueller fell 1 pound, 10 ounces short of winning his third Elite Series title, it is a 7-pounder that will live forever in his memories of the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario.
The action started early at the 2020 SiteOne Bassmaster Elite at the St. Lawrence River, where on Day 1 of the event Mueller produced on-screen fireworks when he landed a 7-pound, 13-ounce smallmouth bass in Lake Ontario — believed to be the biggest smallmouth ever caught in an Elite Series tournament.
That fish right there was a fish of a lifetime,” Mueller said to the audience watching live on ESPN2 and Bassmaster.com. “I don’t know if I’ll ever catch one like that again. And, honestly, I don’t really care how the rest of the week goes. I’m being completely honest.”
Mueller’s smallmouth might also be the biggest caught in any B.A.S.S. tournament, but the 46-year-old angler doesn’t care about records. The Naugatuck, Conn., resident has long been a fan and a seeker of smallmouth bass. A 7-pounder has been a lifetime goal. His previous best was a 6 1/2-pounder from Connecticut’s Candlewood Lake.
“I feel like a little kid in a candy store with that fish,” Mueller said. “That fish would be a state record in Connecticut by one ounce. I feel like I’ll never catch another one like that.”
It wasn’t far off the New York state smallmouth record of 8-4, caught on the St. Lawrence River in nearby Cape Vincent in 2016.
Fighting that fish to the boat is burned in Mueller’s memory.
“I’ve fought a good number of strong smallmouth bass in my life, but none like that,” he said. “It was mean. You’re talking about a big, mean fish. I just tried to keep my composure. When you see a fish like that there’s a ‘wow’ factor. It was like I wasn’t even in the tournament anymore. I was thinking, ‘I have to catch this fish just for my overall being.’”
On the final day of the tournament, Mueller and Chris Johnston, of Peterborough, Ontario, battled treacherous waves and 20 mph gusts on Lake Ontario as both anglers fought to reach the 100-pound mark. After coming from behind to capture the win, Johnston fell just short of the century mark but took home the coveted blue trophy with a whopping four-day total of 20 smallmouth bass that weighed 97 pounds, 8 ounces and made history by becoming the first Canadian to win an Elite Series tournament.
The St. Lawrence River is renowned among anglers, finishing No. 12 on the Bassmaster Magazine list of Best Bass Lakes of the Decade. It is worth noting that the St. Lawrence was named 2019’s No. 1 fishery. While smallmouths steal the headlines, the river is also home to a healthy population of 3- to 5-pound largemouth. Combine that production with a pristine setting speckled with thousands of islands and the region’s delicious wines, and you have the definition of a bucket-list fishing destination.
“Our 1,000-plus islands attract visitors from all over the world to see the grand castles and lighthouses,” said Corey Fram, Director of Tourism for the 1000 Islands International Tourism Council. “Those same islands create an amazingly diverse freshwater fishery that has produced multiple New York State and Province of Ontario records across several species. Fishing has lured visitors here for more than 150 years though there are so many anglers who’ve never discovered us. Smallmouths like Paul Mueller’s big catch are a real possibility in one of the prettiest places to ever drop a line.”
This year marked the 20th major B.A.S.S. event on the St. Lawrence River, and the Elite Series will return in 2021 with daily takeoffs and weigh-ins planned for Waddington. Mueller is already looking forward to the return trip.
“This is a special place,” Mueller said of the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario. “The more I fish this water, the more I realize how special it is. This region holds a special place in my heart.”
For The Angler: Mueller caught his smallmouth bass in 21 feet of water in Lake Ontario, using a natural shad-colored Berkley MaxScent Flat Worm on a drop shot.
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