As the defending REDCREST champion, Mercury pro Dustin Connell is the only angler in the 41-man field with a chance to repeat when the event unfolds on Grand Lake this coming week (March 23-27). MLF writer Tyler Brinks caught up with with Connell ahead of REDCREST practice to find out how that tournament changed his life and what he’s expecting from this year’s event.
TB: What does it mean to you to be a REDCREST champion?
DC: Obviously, it’s a big deal and a huge accomplishment, but it also gave me confidence that I belong here. Every time my name is mentioned at tournaments, ‘REDCREST champion’ will go with it. That’s now cemented for the rest of my career.
TB: You were emotional when you found out you won; what were you thinking?
DC: All day long on the last day, I was completely fine, just doing my deal and having fun. I felt the weight on my shoulders that morning and knew I had eight hours to get it done, but the pressure never got to me until the last 15 minutes of the day. Then it all hit me. I fell to pieces and had never felt anything like that and once they called “lines out,” I let out the biggest sigh of relief. All of those emotions I had been holding in came out, I couldn’t control it any longer.
TB: Lake Eufaula wasn’t the original venue for REDCREST in 2021, but due to the crazy weather, it forced a switch from Texas’ Lake Palestine. How did you feel about the lake change?
DC: I was planning to head to Texas the following day and got the news and was like, “Wow,” and immediately went to my boat and re-rigged every one of my rods. Instead of a 10-hour drive, it was only two hours from my house and everything fell into place for me after that.
TB: $300,000 is a big payday. Did you do anything special with the money?
DC: I bought a pontoon boat because I’ve always wanted one. That lets me and my wife get on the water and hang out together. Even during my leisure time, I’m always on the water.
TB: The jerkbait was the key to your REDCREST win. How did you get on that plan on a notoriously dirty Lake Eufaula?
DC: All off-season, I fish around the house as much as possible on Lake Jordan, Lake Mitchell and the Coosa River. The pattern for the month before REDCREST was jerkbaits around brushpiles. When the water started to clear up on Lake Eufaula during the Knockout Round, I got a bite fishing one on a brushpile, and I said to myself “Oh my gosh, this is my deal. Let’s go.”
TB: REDCREST exposed how effective of a tool a jerkbait is with forward-facing sonar and that’s become even more apparent since then. Is that one of your greatest strengths as an angler?
DC: My Lowrance ActiveTarget has completely changed how I fish a jerkbait, and I haven’t caught one that I haven’t seen on there first in a long time. That’s how I caught my 10-7 on Lake Fork at Stage Two. It’s not even just for seeing bass – targets like isolated stumps and extended trees give you a target to throw at. If the water is relatively clear, I think it will be a player again at this year’s REDCREST.
TB: How are you preparing for Grand Lake?
DC: I’ve fished it several times and like it. I pre-fished it before it went off limits and refreshed myself on how it sets up. I think it’s going to be a great tournament with not many numbers being caught, but some good catches with most bass over 3 pounds.
TB: Tulsa, Oklahoma, is the host of this year’s event; what should fans expect from the event?
DC: I think the biggest thing is a sense of normalcy after the pandemic and it should be a great show. That area has a lot of fishermen and it’s the perfect time of year for a big event since everyone is excited to go fishing. I’m looking forward to it, and I think everyone in the field is excited to go to Tulsa.
TB: How do you feel about your chances to repeat as REDCREST champion?
DC: Any time you have a chance to go back-to-back is a big deal and that chance doesn’t happen often. You can’t win it if you’re not there and if you can make it to the last day, the odds are with you and you just have to beat nine guys to change your life.