PATTERN INSIDE THE PATTERN: Connell (mostly) ignored history on Lay Lake for REDCREST win - Major League Fishing

PATTERN INSIDE THE PATTERN: Connell (mostly) ignored history on Lay Lake for REDCREST win

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Mercury Pro Dustin Connell put it all together on Lay Lake, dominating the Championship Round how only he could. Photo by Phoenix Moore
March 22, 2024 • Dave Landahl • Bass Pro Tour

Mercury Pro Dustin Connell winning Bass Pro Shops REDCREST Powered by OPTIMA Lithium on Lay Lake in Alabama, while impressive, shouldn’t have come as a huge surprise. Lay Lake is on the Coosa River, and Connell is a local with plenty of experience on the various fisheries dammed up along the river. That, coupled with his immense talent, made him a frontrunner from the very start.

Oftentimes, though, “local knowledge” can work to the detriment of an angler – fishing memories and making decisions during an event based on emotion, fondness and history rather than sound logic and strategy.

That was hardly ever the case for Connell. His “pattern inside the pattern” was more about what’s inside his head than what swims within the lake. It was a combination of fishing knowledge and skill, intuition and fortitude.

Dustin Connell became the first two-time REDCREST champion by making the most of his opportunities and knowing when to eschew his experience on Lay Lake and “just fish.” Photo by Garrick Dixon

“REDCREST week was full of changes,” Connell said. “You have to remember, to make it to the Championship Round, that means eight days of fishing. A lot of things can change.”

Two of those things were water clarity and current, which were drastically different to start the official practice period.

“The water was muddy, and the current was really flowing to start,” he said. “I didn’t expect much on the first day of practice.”

A big rainstorm swept through the area prior to practice. The gates at the dam were opened and the current was moving. That was Connell’s first sign of things to come.

“When the floodgates were open, the current pushed bait into pockets,” he explained. “That lured a lot of the field into that (shallow pockets) pattern. But as the week progressed, they turned floodgates off, the current slowed, the bait moved out to the main lake, and the bass followed. I was following the bait.”

Connell initially wanted to fish way upriver. He knew if the conditions were right, he could catch heavier bass fishing shallow in that area. As circumstances unfolded, he never really had the opportunity to do that.

“I figured I’d locate an area getting less pressure once I knew I’d get to the Knockout Round,” Connell said. “But I still wasn’t in the cut on Day 2.

“I fished below the dam there and couldn’t generate a lot of bites, but I knew there were big fish. I was being stubborn, but then I went down 10 to 12 miles, fished offshore rockpiles, shoals, wing dams, etc., and the first one I pulled up to, I caught 20 pounds.”

After winning the Knockout Round and qualifying to fish the final day, Connell had his game plan: Follow the bait using forward-facing sonar, and eventually head upriver away from the field later in the day to catch big bass. The plan never truly came to a fruition, mostly because it didn’t need to.

Mercury pro Dustin Connell’s commitment to what was working ultimately made all the difference in claiming his second REDCREST trophy. Photo by Phoenix Moore

“I opted to go down-lake and go blow-for-blow to start the day, but the fish were so pressured, I pulled the plug,” Connell said. “I started heading up-lake, then rolled into an area I had caught them in the past. I saw there was a lot of bait, so I decided to fish. I caught two 3-pounders right off the bat.”

It only got better for Connell as the bass fired time and again, and yet he remained conflicted about where to fish. He knew he’d have a chance to catch fish elsewhere to put an exclamation mark on the win. Still, the winning fish kept biting.

“I caught a 4-pounder and two more over 3 pounds,” he said. “The bait was there. … It was the perfect storm. Yet, I was still debating on heading up the river. I stayed there another hour and had a 20-pound lead and finished the second period on top.”

At that point in the Championship Round, it truly looked as though Connell was the likely victor, yet he had one more major decision to make that would seal his fate: Would he stay in his area and lean on forward-facing sonar or make a move and switch to more old-school techniques?

Instead of winding bigger baits upriver, Dustin Connell stayed put where he knew the bait and the bass already were and went to work with forward-facing sonar. Photo by Garrick Dixon.

“I was going to go three to five miles upriver, and then I did the math,” Connell explained. “I stayed put to maximize time. I realized that the closest anglers would need huge weights in the third period – weights nobody [had] caught in one period so far.

“I didn’t intend on winning it [that] way. I was going to go upriver and win it with traditional fishing, but never got to finish out my plan, and it worked out. Plus, I saved a lot of gas in the end. I had knowledge up the river, but not down the lake.”

Connell’s decision to follow the baitfish and not “leave fish for fish” truly allowed him to shine to the tune of a 30-pound margin of victory that resulted in $300,000 and his second REDCREST trophy.

“My winning pattern was keeping an open mind, following the bait and moving around a lot,” he said. “I fished Lay Lake like it was brand new to me.”

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