HARRISON TOWNSHIP, Mich. – The 40 anglers in competition Group B braved the choppy waters of Lake St. Clair Snday for their first day of competition in General Tire Stage Six Presented by John Deere Utility Vehicles. Dustin Connell ended the day with the lead after catching 22 pounds, 13 ounces of smallmouth, besting second-place John Hunter by 4 ounces.
The big ones are biting, as there were eight anglers with more than 20-pound bags. There were six 5-pounders caught and 46 4-pounders. There’s definitely impressive bags to be caught, the pros just have to fight swells to do so.
Connell is dialed in on an area he has all to himself that’s filled with smallmouth. Utilizing a drop-shot all day, the Alabama pro built his lead in Period 1 and never surrendered it. Connell showed how hard he is to beat when he’s catching smallmouth when he rattled off back-to-back victories the end the 2022 season on Cayuga Lake and Mille Lacs Lake. Now on one of the country’s most productive smallmouth fisheires, Connell is in the driver’s seat once again.
“I found a really good area with a lot of fish in it with my Lowrance Active Target and I love fishing that way,” Connell said. “I had a great day today, but it’s only Day 1. I have no idea what the weather will be like the rest of the week, so who knows what can happen.”
Connell plans on heading back to that same area when he returns to the water on Tuesday. He said that he’ll catch five there and then begin his search for another productive area he can use during the Knockout and Championship Rounds, if he makes it there. However, the weather may hinder his ability to move efficiently.
Windy conditions are causing big waves on St. Clair. Soaked decks were a common sight all day on MLFNOW!. He may have his lead, but Connell is hoping that some calmer conditions can show up later in the week.
“The wind is brutal right now,” Connell said. “The wind makes it hard to present your bait and it spooks the fish because your boat is just crashing on top of them with the waves. The fish really tuck tight to the bottom and don’t show themselves when it’s windy like this. It makes it really hard to see them.”
The Bally Bet Angler of the Year race is down to the final two events with a handful of anglers chasing down points leader, Ott DeFoe. The closest to catching DeFoe, Dakota Ebare, trails him by 28 points. Ebare ended his Day 1 in sixth place with 20-6. Edwin Evers trails DeFoe by 50 points and ended his day in 22nd place.
Fishing out of his son’s boat, Alton Jones was thankful to be on the water, but couldn’t help but wish he was back home with his recovering wife after their car accident earlier in the week. Jones’ truck was totaled and his boat suffered severe damage. Jones’ wife, Jimmye Sue, is recovering well and Jones took a moment on the water to put his week in perspective.
“It’s been a tough week,” Jones admitted. “It brings me back to what is most important. Fishing isn’t all that important right now. My wife’s health, my relationship with my kids and grandkids is taking center stage right now.”
Jones ended his day in eighth place with 20-3, even after a shortened and poor practice by his account. He found it hard to explain how he was able to have the day he had, but once he thought about it he knew how it happened.
“I have to trust God through difficult circumstances,” Jones said. “I think me catching 20 pounds this morning after not having a good practice was God’s way of telling me, ‘Hey, I got your back.’ We’ve had a lot of people praying for us and we appreciate the support.”
Group A returns to the water on Monday for their second day of competition. Only the Top 20 anglers will advance to the Knockout Round on Wednesday. Lines go in at 8 a.m. EDT and you can watch all the action on MLFNOW! beginning at 7:45 a.m. ET at MajorLeagueFishing.com and the MLF app.