ONAMIA, Minn. – It was a week of back-to-backs at the Bally Bet Stage Seven Presented by Minn Kota. First, it was Jacob Wheeler winning his second-straight AOY title on Tuesday. Today, it was his good friend Dustin Connell winning his second-straight event and his third of the year to round out the 2022 season in dramatic fashion.
The win on Thursday was Connell’s fourth of his Bass Pro Tour career, counting REDCREST in 2021 on Lake Eufaula. Connell caught 20 bass for 82-9, narrowly escaping a surging David Walker by just 4 ounces.
Connell’s Championship Round didn’t start off too hot, however. Through his first two-and-a-half hours of fishing, he was only able to muster three scorable bass for 13-6. Although one of those three was a 6-pounder, Connell knew his first period wasn’t what it needed to be to win.
“I started out this morning really slow,” Connell said. “I felt like I couldn’t find a bass. Then I had 4-foot waves rolling into my boat, so that wasn’t great. Finally, I found my zone and I settled in during the second period.”
Connell exploded in the second period, catching eight bass for 30-15, shooting him right below Michael Neal into second place. That second period was made possible thanks to a waypoint Connell marked during his Knockout Round on Wednesday with time winding down in the day.
“Yesterday I had 15 minutes to idle around at the end of the Knockout Round,” Connell said. “I knew that I wasn’t on a winning deal. In the last 12 minutes of the day, I found six rocks. I marked a waypoint on one of them with three seconds left. I showed up there today and caught a 6-3 and a 5-8 off of that one rock I marked. That was the difference between winning and losing this tournament for me.”
That 6-3 he brought in pushed him past Neal for the lead, a lead Connell wouldn’t surrender for the rest of the day. It felt like a two-horse race for most of the day, that was until Walker began surging in Period 3.
With less than 15 minutes left in the day, Walker caught four bass for 15-6 including a 5-10. Walker shot up SCORETRACKER® so fast that it was hard for Connell to keep up with how much weight Walker actually had.
“I didn’t have time to get nervous it happened so quick,” Connell admitted. “When he got to within 4 ounces with only two minutes left, I knew he was going to win. I was convinced he was going to bring one in with five seconds left and knock me out. Lucky for me, he didn’t. But really, congrats to David on an amazing day and tournament.”
Walker was unable to catch Connell, giving DC back-to-back wins to round out the 2022 season. He’s done it on Smith Lake in Alabama and Cayuga Lake in New York, but this one in Minnesota means a little bit more to Connell.
“To end the season this way at one of my favorite lakes, I love Mille Lacs,” Connell said. “I love fishing in Minnesota. It’s unbelievable to win three events in a season, and I’m really glad I did it here fishing this way.”