EUFAULA, Ala. – For Dustin Connell, there’s no better time to win your first-ever MLF event than at the biggest one of the year—REDCREST 2021 Presented by Old Wisconsin Sausage. Connell was able to capitalize on offshore brushpiles that populate the lower end of the southeast Alabama reservoir and catch 12 bass for 36 pounds, 15 ounces, securing his first win in nearly four years and earning a $300,000 payday.
The Alabama pro spent his entire final day fishing offshore brushpiles with a jerkbait on a 6-foot-6 Favorite Fishing rod. The Favorite Fishing pro didn’t let a fast start by Zack Birge get to his head, and instead, stayed with a game plan that had gradually developed during the tournament week.
“I started the week with swim jigs, spinnerbaits and flipping baits because that’s just what you do here,” Connell recapped. “The only reason I won today is because I switched to a jerkbait at the end of my Knockout Round and just focused on brushpiles all day today. I used my Lowrance Active Target and those two things made the difference for me.”
Connell was able to hold off a furious comeback from Michael Neal, who cut Connell’s double-digit lead to just 5-11 with only 15 minutes remaining. Fortunately for Connell, Neal’s brushpiles were less productive than his. Neal was unable to pull off another last-second miracle this week, giving Connell the hard-earned win.
It’s a win that Connell will remember forever and one the Mercury pro says he’s worked years to claim.
“I’ve spent hours upon hours and days upon days trying to learn this game,” Connell said. “To go up against the biggest names in the sport this week and to come out on top is an amazing feeling. I was nervous when SCORETRACKER® started going off, for sure though. I just feel blessed just to be here.”
Second-place finisher Michael Neal had two last-minute miracles this week to move above the Toro Cut Line. However, his magic seemed to run out today. Still, finishing in second and claiming a $60,000 check is nothing Neal is going to hang his head over.
“I’m happy with my week but it still stings at the same time being so close,” Neal said after catching 10 bass for 31-4. “I had a really tough practice, so to come back from that and finish in second against this group of guys is all I could ask for.”
Like Connell, Neal focused on offshore brushpiles using a jerkbait, a strategy he found success with in previous rounds. As he was closing the gap on Connell, he knew he was going to need to catch them faster than he was.
“I was around the fish to win, I just couldn’t get them to bite,” Neal said. “You would catch one and four of them would follow the bait. But then, when you went back to them, they were all gone. Hard to catch up only catching one at a time.”
Coming into the final round Bryan Thrift was the man to beat. He had won all three rounds he had fished during the tournament, with little serious challenge to his spot at the top of SCORETRACKER®. But Friday was a new day, and it ended with Thrift having more questions than answers.
“I have no idea what changed, honestly,” Thrift said perplexedly. “I felt like more fish were coming into that area I was in, but they never did. The water cleared up a lot, but I don’t have any excuses. I was banking on one spot to carry me and it didn’t.”
Thrift finished the day in ninth place with only two bass for 6-15, a far cry from his 14 bass for 40-8 he caught just a day ago.
“I’m obviously disappointed after the week I had,” Thrift said. “I was confident I could catch some fish in some other places, but I just wasn’t able to. That’s the way it goes sometimes. Just have to move on to the next one.”
The Bass Pro Tour’s 2021 regular season gets started on March 21 at Stage One on the Sam Rayburn Reservoir in Jasper, Texas. The entire Bass Pro Tour roster will be in attendance and will compete for $100,000 at the famed Lone Star State fishery.