PATTERN INSIDE THE PATTERN: Preseason practice keyed Connell's Toledo Bend triumph - Major League Fishing

PATTERN INSIDE THE PATTERN: Preseason practice keyed Connell’s Toledo Bend triumph

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Mercury pro Dustin Connell credited months of practice in Alabama for his win on Toledo Bend. Photo by Rob Matsuura. Photo by Rob Matsuura. Angler: Dustin Connell.
February 8, 2024 • Dave Landahl • Bass Pro Tour

Mercury pro Dustin Connell laid a smackdown on the rest of the Top 10 during the Championship Round on Toledo Bend Reservoir during B&W Trailer Hitches Stage One presented by Power-Pole. Connell amassed more than 112 pounds of bass on the final day, taking out his closest competitor, Spencer Shuffield, by over 40 pounds.

So, was it all thanks to forward-facing sonar and tiny minnow baits? Well, sort of. But considering just about everyone else in the Top 10 used similar electronics and plastics, there was clearly more to Connell’s dominant performance.

“Yeah, it was an easy win,” joked Connell. “All I had to do was turn on my forward-facing sonar and throw the CrushCity Freeloader and Mooch Minnow around and catch them.

“Seriously, there is a lot that went into that win, and a lot of it had to do with work I did prior to the event on Toledo Bend.”

In the months leading up to the start of the 2024 season, Connell spent several days per week working with his forward-facing sonar on his local Alabama waters, getting into the type of fishing shape that he felt was necessary to be at the top of his game right when the season kicked off. He dialed in the subtle nuances of chasing suspended bass with Lowrance ActiveTarget — identifying fish species, size and movement and how to trigger bites, all based on pixels on a screen.

“I spent a lot of time preparing for this event and the season in general,” Connell said. “For me, the pattern inside my pattern is really understanding the mechanics of my electronics and understanding how to present my casts.”

“I needed to get in tune with the unit and know what I’m looking at. I learned what a 2- or 4-pounder looks like. I learned whether they’re coming toward me, what direction they’re facing, the small details that I learned to help make the fish bite.”

Casting isn’t often discussed in conjunction with offshore fishing, but Connell believes accuracy is vital for success. Making the perfect presentation is just as important as when flipping under docks or skipping frogs under overhanging branches; in this case, he uses his electronics as his eyes to spot the target.

“The cast is so, so important,” Connell said. “If a fish is 2 feet under the surface and I make a bad cast in front of him, I can spook him, push him down or even frighten an entire school. Accurate casting and knowing where to cast is just as important fishing with forward-facing sonar as it is trying to be accurate with fishing shore cover.”

Connell insists that if someone wants to become a better angler there’s no substitute for time on the water. All the best and newest technology in the world won’t bring a victory if the angler doesn’t take the time to master his or her craft. His fifth Bass Pro Tour trophy serves as a testament to his hard work.

“I want to learn every day,” Connell said. “Maybe I’m wrong, but this is my job, my craft, my passion. I have an intrinsic motivation to learn my craft. I was fishing three or four times per week for months prior to this season starting. It’s so darn important, the days on the water preparing for what’s ahead — learning how fish react under all conditions, learning to read what I’m looking at on my units.

“Tinkering to get everything dialed in and putting in the time and working hard at my craft was what put me in the position to win.”