It is not often to have the honor to speak with someone who has appeared on the cover of Bassmaster Magazine. So, I was really happy when Mike Mueller agreed to do the interview. Not only do we talk about Mike’s fishing but he breaks down his success with getting sponsorships, which is great advice for all those seeking these type of opportunities.
Let’s start with your great finish at Table Rock Lake. You finished 15th out of 192 at the FLW Costa National Championship. What were your keys to success for this tournament?
My keys to success were having a strong mental focus, since we knew that it was going to be a tough event. My comfort level is high when fishing for deep fish, while most angler’s comfort zone is beating the banks.
Now every tournament also has some “what if’s”. What would you do differently if you had a chance to repeat the tournament?
Two things immediately come to mind. I would have chosen a stronger split ring when changing out hooks on one of my spoons. I hooked a big bass out of some cedar trees in deep water. As I almost had her to the boat, my like went slack. As I pulled in my line to see what happened, all I had remaining was a failed split-ring still tied to my line.
Secondly, with 4 fish in the livewell and 30 minutes left in the day, I had a solid fish on. As the 2 1/2 pounder came to the surface, instead of calling for the net, I decided to swing her in and just as she cleared the side of the boat, she came undone, hit the top of the boat, and bounced back into the water. I turned to my partner and said “that fish is going to cost me a lot of money”. I ended up missing the day 3 cut by 11 ounces.
What were your critical decisions throughout the season that allowed you to get to the championship?
To me, everything is mental. Fishing tournaments are won and lost between the ears. Just about everyone at this level can catch fish. It’s the ones that can mentally outperform the others are the ones that succeed.
Fishing and competing as a Co-Angler means that you have to be ready to adapt and change your techniques at a moment’s notice. Since you are not in control, you have no idea what you will be doing, so you have to excel in all methods of fishing. Fishing all over the country, and forcing myself out of my comfort zones have allowed to to succeed. Whether we are fishing in 6 inches of water, or 60′ of water, I’m very comfortable and know I can catch fish.
In each event, I had to stay 100% confident and committed to whatever presentation that I chose. From fishing super shallow at Okeechobee to fishing 40′ deep at the Table Rock championship, being confident and committed to getting my 5×3 – five fish by three o’clock, is what lead to my success for the season.
What are your three all time favorite Virginia waters to fish?
As I move all over the country with my job, I’ve only been in Virginia for 2 years. However I’ve developed a fondness for a few bodies of water.
First is the Shenandoah River. It is full of quality Largemouth and Smallmouth. Just this spring, I took several over 5 pounds, including a 5-10 smallmouth.
Next is Lake Anna. It is one of the largest lakes in VA, and it allows for all types of fishing, both shallow and deep, and is great year-round.
Finally is a small lake that I call “Lake X”. It is a small 200 acre lake that is a frog / mat punching heaven. I’ve caught great numbers out there, and also a few big ones – but in September I lost a double-digit fish that broke my 15# Seaguar Fluorocarbon. I caught a glimpse of her, and she was bigger than my current personal best of 11 1/4 pounds.
Now, what are your three all time favorite waters outside of VA to fish?
Table Rock holds a special place in my heart, as that is where I learned to fish deep. My good friend and mentor is a full time guide on Table Rock, Rick LaPoint and he took me under his wing and taught me how to use my electronics, fish a spoon and a drop shot. That time spent on that lake, I feel, was the single most important experience of my angling career, as before that all I did was beat the back.
Next is Lake St. Clair in Michigan. To me, it is the single best smallmouth lake in the country. You can go out there and catch 100 fish a day, with many of them being 4-5 pounds.
This is also where I teamed up with my soft plastic sponsor Snack Daddy Lures. They specialize in lures and colors specifically for northern smallmouth. They have played a key role in my smallmouth success.
Finally it’s Lake Erie. I’ve had so many special days on that lake. You won’t catch as many numbers as on St. Clair, but they tend to be bigger. I finished 3rd in a B.A.S.S. Open event out there in September 2015. B.A.S.S. has a 3-fish limit for Co-Anglers, and I weighed in a 3-day limit of 36 pounds – that equates to a 4# average. On day 2, I weighed in 2 over 5 pounds – a 5-06 and a 5-02.
What is one bass fishery that you have not yet fished that is on your bucket list?
1000 Islands in Northern New York. I keep hearing that what an incredible fishery it is, and I cannot wait to fish it next year, as it is on the list of the FLW Northern Costa schedule.
You have been very successful in gaining sponsors. What are the important elements to working with and attracting sponsors?
To me it is very simple. Don’t be a “Patch Pirate”, meaning don’t chase sponsors just to say you have them. You should only seek out those companies that you have used for years and are intimately familiar with.
I’m the National Staff Director with Bass Craft Crankbaits and the most frustrating thing I see is people sending me requests for sponsorship. The first thing I ask them is “Have you used our products before?”. When they say no, I have to decline them, and I ask them, “How can you promote a product that you know nothing about?”.
I also work very hard for them, and let them see the work that I’m doing, either by generating sales that they can see, or promoting via social media, interviews, articles I write, etc. I try my best to keep them all very informed.
When people ask my advice, I tell them to treat it as a second job. So many guys get signed to a deal, then disappear. That is not a good relationship to have with the companies you represent.
Can you provide a few sentences for each sponsor about what you love about their products?
5×3 Fishing – This is my apparel company, but it is so much more that that, it is a family and a way of life. So much that they stand for can apply to all aspects of your day-to-day life. They keep me mentally strong and focused on the water, and their tagline “No Excuses” is something that we all should live by.
Razr Rods – This is the first company to take a chance on me and I simply love how light and strong their rods are. Couple that with a Unlimited Lifetime Warranty. If a rod breaks, then simply send it back, pay for shipping and you’ll get a replacement rod.
Lew’s Reels – Lews makes an incredible line of reels that are the best that I’ve ever owned. Even if I didn’t represent them, I’d still throw Lew’s – they’re simply that good.
Bass Craft Crankbaits – A great American company in Missouri – Michael Conrad specializes in high-end balsa baits. They hand make, hand assemble, and hand paint and hand tune every single bait.
Jewel Bait Company – This is my jig company. They are another American company that sponsors many top touring pros. I used their jigs for about 10 years, and have caught more fish on them than on any other of my lures.
Snack Daddy Lures – This is my soft plastic company out of Michigan. It is a family run, American business, that hand-pours all of their plastics. They specialize in tubes, with my favorite being the 4″ Elite Tube, and the smaller version – the Baby Elite.
Elite Rod Sleeves – This company provides my sleeves that help protect my investments. These have a hard rubber tip that protects the rod tip, and a small tag that allows you to write whatever you want on it to identify your equipment.
Bionic Baits – This company provides me all of my custom, high-end blade baits. I get all of my spinnerbaits, buzzbaits and bladed jigs from them. I love them for their attention to detail, and the custom nature of their product. I can ask for any color combination known to man, an they’ll make it for me.
G2 Gemini – This company provides me my tournament jerseys and hoodies. I have tried several companies and G2Gemini not only provided me a high-quality product, with a quick turnaround, but their customer service is second to none!
Rudy Project and XX2i Optics – These companies provide me all of my angling eyewear. They are very high quality optics that have been used by professional athletes and Olympians for years. Three years ago they reached out to me to assist them with their newly created Fishing team. As soon as I put on my first pair, I was hooked by their clarity, light weight and lack of eye fatigue.
Blue Water LED – As a Co-angler, one might ask why I would need an LED sponsor. Not only do they provide great quality, easy to install LED lighting for your boat, but I use their flashlights and rod-locker LED’s to light up the back of my vehicle. It is so much easier to work on my tackle late at night or early in the morning with my LEDs brightening up the entire rear of my vehicle.
Eco Pro Tungsten – This company provides me all of my weights, weight stops, and shakey heads. What attracted me to their product is their lack of inserts in the weights and the super durable quality of their finish.
Cal Coast Fishing – For me, efficiency on the water is critical. The more organized you are, the more casts you can make, and more casts = more fish! Cal Coast offers some innovative tackle management solutions. The Bait Sack is a small spring-loaded pouch that you put your lures into, that then clips to your rod. This allows the lures to stay untangled, and keeps them from getting hung on other lures, carpet, boat seats, or getting stuck in your body! They also make the Cali Clip, this is a unique clip-on drop-shot / lure hanger.
Tackle Tags – This is another efficiency tool for me. These innovative tags get applied right to my tackle boxes, preventing me from wasting time rooting around my box looking for something specific. With these, I can pull the right box out the first time, every time.
Angler Hub – This company provides a great tool and service to anglers at all levels. Their website contains a variety of useful items for anglers, ranging from tournament calendars by state, by lake, and state and national leader boards, to name a few. The also have a new personal tracking tool called Spot Safe, which offers real-time mapping, tracking of catches, weather, lure, depth, color, date of catch, etc. Everything that an angler needs to track their daily performance on the water.
The Pond Pro – I’m a small-water angler at heart. I grew up riding my bike to all of the local ponds to fuel my young passion to catch bass, never knowing what it would turn into. The Pond Pro is a facebook page/community that is dedicated to all small-water anglers.
Lastly, will you finish this sentence for us. “I love fishing because…”
…it is where I’m at peace with the world. Nothing bothers me when I’m out on the water It is just me, the fish and all of God’s creation that I can just soak in. Even if I spend 14 hours on the water without a single fish, to me, it’s still a great day!
What a privilege to get to interview Mike. So much great information packed in this one. To follow what Mike is doing, check out his social media.