REDCREST live blog: Up-to-the-minute updates on the Championship Round on Lay Lake - Major League Fishing

REDCREST live blog: Up-to-the-minute updates on the Championship Round on Lay Lake

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Stay tuned for an exciting finale at Lay Lake. Photo by Phoenix Moore.
March 17, 2024 • MLF • Bass Pro Tour

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – After good fishing on the first two days, the pros put the pedal to the metal in the Knockout Round of Bass Pro Shops REDCREST Powered by OPTIMA Lithium on Lay Lake. On the day, three pros crossed the 50-pound mark, and Nick Hatfield squeaked into the cut with 38 pounds, 14 ounces, which was ounces away from what Nick LeBrun caught in two days to make the Knockout Round earlier in the event.

On Day 3, the story was Alabama’s own Dustin Connell, who had a moderate morning and turned it on in the afternoon to win the round on his home lake. With a 52-15 total, and for sure more in the tank, he’s primed to deliver on his promise as the tournament favorite. Notably, all three of the leaders on Day 2 focused on current, with Gerald Spohrer running spotted bass that were relating to points in the river, Connell running eddies and Ron Nelson fishing the Logan Martin dam.

Today, it’ll be fascinating to see how things shake out – down the lake, there’s a crew of pros beaming up spotted bass in open water. The anglers working the current made waves on Day 3, Jesse Wiggins is dialed on spawning spots and Takahiro Omori is catching them winding a vibrating jig in pockets.

The REDCREST Outdoor Expo concludes today at the BJCC, with doors opening at 11 a.m. this morning. At the expo, there are hundreds of giveaways and the free event features over 225,000 square feet of tackle, boats, gear and fun. Also, today you can win a Toyota Tacoma just for being there.

The MLFNOW! live stream will run from 7:20 a.m. to 4 p.m. CT today for full coverage of the championship event.

3:00 Putting a lid on the blog

Barring something really stupendous happening at the end, we’re going to tentatively congratulate Dustin Connell on his second REDCREST victory. The only angler alive with two REDCREST wins, Connell got it done in fine style on his home lake, basically lapping the field and adding another impressive title to his resume.

If you’re in the area, you may want to head over to the BJCC for the closing ceremonies – it should be a good time.

Thanks for stopping by, next up for MLF is the Toyota Series event on the Harris Chain. The Bass Pro Tour will be back in action in early April on legendary Dale Hollow.

2:30 They finally cut the generation back at the dam

Up at the Logan Martin dam, the water has been cut back to one turbine and about 10,000 cfs. That changes things for Ron Nelson, and really gives him conditions that he hasn’t seen all week, perhaps not since pre-practice. So, any comeback he’s got in mind now officially faces a new obstacle.  

Of course, Alton Jones Jr. has kept catching, which has allowed him to get almost to 50 pounds (great any day other than today) and he’s beginning to really put the wraps on second place.

2:15 Jones Jr. solidifying second

Alton Jones Jr. just caught a 3-pounder to get up to 44-15 on the day, and he’s starting to gain a little separation on the others. He’s also caught 17 keepers, which is a lot more than third and fourth place. Jones Jr.  has been a constant factor these last few years, and the fact that he’s out-fishing everyone else today is just more proof of how good he is at bass fishing.

1:40 Connell still hasn’t gone up the river

Without much pressure on him and still catching fish at the same rate or better than his competition, Dustin Connell has not run up the river.

Meanwhile, in a separate tournament, there’s a heck of a race for second place between Ron Nelson, Alton Jones Jr. and Takahiro Omori. They’re all right around each other from a weight perspective, and all doing different things. It’s a good look at what plays well on Lay if your initials aren’t “DC.”

1:10 Nelson on the board, generators have not cut back yet

According to the Alabama Power website, the Logan Martin dam was supposed to cut back to one generator at 1 o’clock today, but it’s still rolling two as of now. Ron Nelson did catch one out of the gate to start the period, but, it was naturally accompanied by a keeper from Dustin Connell. These conditions have been when Nelson has done the bulk of his damage in the event, but it’s looking like quite a confluence of events will be needed to make a run at Connell.

12:30 Jones, Wiggins, Nelson all around 30 pounds

Dustin Connell is still way ahead of everyone, and he really hasn’t stopped catching bass. But, Jesse Wiggins and Alton Jones Jr. both just caught bass to get over 30 pounds, and Ron Nelson did the same a bit ago. Someone will need to get on fire here to catch Connell, but the chase for second place is extremely legit.

11:50 Connell is mulling a move

With nobody putting pressure on him, Dustin Connell is thinking about leaving his sonar fish and heading up the river.

“I’ve got some places up the river I think I can smack ‘em,” he said. “But I don’t want to leave here until they’re completely done biting, because when I leave here, we’re choppin’ 40 miles.”

As of now, they’ve pretty well stopped biting where he’s at, so it could be time for a river run. Yesterday afternoon, he was pretty electric in the current, which probably bodes well for him once he decides to move.

11:25 Connell could shoot for 100

With 50 pounds on the board now, Dustin Connell is well ahead of everyone, no matter how they’re fishing. This afternoon, he’ll need to catch some more bass, but he’s probably going to be able to do it almost however he wants to.

11:00 Connell is up to an 8-pound lead

While his competition has been a little bogged down, Dustin Connell has gone to work on what is evidently the best spot on the lake right now. With over 16 pounds this period, he’s stretched his total out to 36-5 and left Ron Nelson back in an increasingly distant second place.

Someone needs to get going, or Connell may turn this into a home-lake rout.

10:30 Flurry puts Connell over 30 pounds

Dustin Connell just blasted past the 31-pound mark with a flurry of roaming spotted bass. It’d be no surprise to see Connell win while relying on his forward-facing sonar and a minnow, he’s one of the best at it, but it is interesting that he has ignited this bite while others haven’t. Michael Neal and Jacob Wheeler are no slouches when it comes to ‘Scoping with a minnow, and they both have less than half Connell’s weight.

10:25 Connell strikes first in the second period

After losing one, Dustin Connell followed it up with a 4-pounder to get the period going. The area Connell has chosen is a little different from the standard. A lot of the action has gone down on the main drag, but out of the current. Now, Connell is in a small bay, which should be well out of the current – about 18 feet deep in the middle, it is a lot shallower than some of the main-river places folks have been on so much.

10:00 Nelson looking especially dangerous

The bite remained strong during the first period of the Championship Round, with three anglers topping the 20-pound mark. That’s no shock after what we’ve seen from Lay Lake so far this week. What did come as a bit of a surprise is that one of them is Ron Nelson. Nelson leads at the first intermission with 27-13 on eight scorable bass, including a 4-3 that beat the buzzer.

Nelson showed yesterday that his honey hole beneath the Logan Martin dam is loaded with fish. But so far this week, it’s been an afternoon bite. Prior to Sunday, Nelson had caught just two scorable bass in the opening period across the first three days combined.

Now, part of that is because Nelson didn’t get to start in his current spot — against the dam wall, right below the spillway — on Days 1 or 3. Still, though, the fact that he’s off to such a strong start has to worry the rest of the field, because if the past few days are any indication, his bite might only get better.

9:50 Rolling sevens

With the Bass Pro Tour format, catching the most fish is almost always the best way to do well. This morning, Alton Jones Jr., Dustin Connell and Ron Nelson are leading that charge, with seven bass apiece. So far, Jones has slid under the radar a little this week, but he’s one of the premier ‘Scopers in the game, and definitely worth watching.

Also, basically everyone that started in the community hole down the lake has left. That deal is apparently played out. And, as the period comes to a close, Jesse Wiggins is running down the lake to get on his spawner game.

9:35 Connell and Nelson get over 20 pounds

Down the lake, Dustin Connell is rolling with his ActiveTarget and picking off quality spotted bass left and right. Up at the tailrace, Ron Nelson is drifting his swimbait through the current and adding fish after fish. Put mildly, this is extremely fun.

9:30 Re-weighing fish has been a waste of time so far

In the REDCREST that Bobby Lane won, re-weighing a scorable bass literally won him the tournament. In this one, we’ve yet to see a weight change on the BUBBA scales. Nick Hatfield noted it on the phone this morning, and the evidence on live is that once the BUBBA picks a weight, that’s what you’re gonna get.

9:25 We’re in a dead heat

Dustin Connell and Jesse Wiggins both caught quality fish moments ago and then Ron Nelson followed them up. The trio of leaders are up into the 16-pound range, which may only be about 1/4 of what they need to win, and it looks like today is going to be a fantastic battle.

9:00 Yet another new leader

Continuing the theme from the final period of the Knockout Round, the top spot on SCORETRACKER® remains a revolving door so far on Championship Sunday. After Dustin Connell just rocketed up from zero fish to the lead, he’s been overtaken by Ron Nelson.

Fishing the tailrace beneath Logan Martin dam, Nelson put three fish on the scale in about five minutes, the last of which was a 5-3 spotted bass — the current Berkley Big Bass leader. That boosted Nelson’s total to 13-6 on four fish.

Nelson has the sweet spot beneath the spillway all to himself today. He definitely bears watching in this wide-open race for the trophy.

8:50 Location change puts Connell ahead

Dustin Connell abandoned the starting hole and ran a short way up the lake to another zone with suspended spotted bass. So far, these fish appear to be plentiful, willing to bite, and quite big. In minutes, he’s caught his way up to 12-14 for four, with perhaps more on the way.

8:35 Wiggins turns it on at the waterfall

Fishing his usual starting hole, a waterfall coming out of some industry, Jesse Wiggins has caught four now, with the smallest being a 2-15, plus a bunch of little ones. He says “I’m just throwing it up there and they’re biting.” It seems like he made a little adjustment to go from a swimbait to a bottom bait, and he also says that a school of gar moved out, and were replaced by some basses.  

8:20 Slightly slower start than Day 3

In the early going, things are definitely a little bit slower than they were in the Knockout Round, which is keeping opportunity open for everyone. Michael Neal, Alton Jones Jr. and Gerald Spohrer all have three in the boat, which has them up top. The most notable takeaways early are probably that the forward-facing bite is a little slow and the fish are smart, and that the bite in the river is still good, as Spohrer has been showing us.  

7:38 “It’s gonna be a shootout”

Michael Neal’s first fish on the board was a 3-pounder, and up in the current, Gerald Spohrer has two on the board already. Early on, literally half the Top 10 is within eyesight of each other, which makes for an interesting one-on-one dynamic you don’t usually see in fishing.

7:17 Is Connell planning to use the whole lake?

Right out of the gate, the Championship Round is off to a fascinating start. Instead of turning north and going upriver from takeoff, Dustin Connell headed down the lake. In theory, he’s making genius use of his time, relying on the forward-facing sonar bite early, and keeping his riverine play in the bank for later, maybe when it will be best. In practice, it’s a departure from his Knockout Round strategy and will have him making his first casts of the event a pretty good distance from where he left them biting yesterday afternoon. Now, he’s posted up for lines-in right next to Michael Neal.

At least early, it looks like we’re going to see a high-level jighead minnow shootout.

Ron Nelson preps for the big game.

6:55 Ready to roll for the final round

The final day is minutes away, and it looks like another excellent day for fishing. With light winds, and some rain, there’s no deluge in the offing and the temperatures should stay in the 50s and 60s all day — chillier than the balmy conditions we’ve seen but not likely to hurt the fishing for spotted bass, although it could cause the largemouth to button up a little.

Currently, the Lay Lake dam is running five generators and the Logan Martin dam is running two – similar conditions to the last few days. The Logan Martin dam is tentatively scheduled to cut back to one generator at 1 p.m. today, which would be a big change on the week and the lowest flow we’ve seen.

At takeoff, things are a little tense with anticipation – $300,000 and a REDCREST trophy will do that. Going out after the win, you could hardly pick a more stacked Top 10, so we should be in for a fun one.

6:45 It would be a “dream come true” for Wiggins

In the Knockout Round, Jesse Wiggins started at an inflow up from Beeswax Landing and then fished for spawning spotted bass with a shaky head down the lake.

According to Wiggins, Dustin Connell is going to be a tough out.

“Connell is the only one I think that has the power to just blow it out,” he said. “He knows the right places where schools of them are in those eddies and stuff. But, if he don’t just blow it out, I think 50 to 60 will win. If he was to hit ‘em like he hit ‘em [yesterday afternoon] in the morning, and he does it all day on several different places, we can’t hang with that. If he don’t, then we’ve all got a chance, I think.”

Regardless, Wiggins is going to stick with his program, and hopefully find a few new fish.

“I didn’t go back to any of the fish I shook off on Day 2, but I did go back to some I caught the first day, just because I had to have some,” he said. “But, I don’t have a ton; I don’t have enough to win just on fish I’ve shook off. Plus, it’s not guaranteed to be a 2-pounder when you shake it off.

“I definitely have to find a couple more stretches that have them, where you pull up and catch five or six. I have one stretch that I caught ten off yesterday, well, eight, and I shook two off. You pull up on two or three of them in a day, and you’ve got a ton of weight.”

Raised on Smith Lake spotted bass, Wiggins is an assassin with a shaky head around the spawn – this is what he’s made for. He knows chances like this don’t come around all the time.

“I don’t even really know how to put it into words,” he said. “This tournament is the closest I’ll probably get in a long time to winning one because I’m doing exactly what I want to do. It gives me a little more confidence. But, to win it, I don’t even know what it would mean, you can’t put it into words. Honestly, it’d be a dream come true, Lordy mercy.”

6:30 Hatfield breaks down the final day

A rookie on the Bass Pro Tour, Nick Hatfield qualified for REDCREST thanks to his win in the Tackle Warehouse Invitationals event on the Potomac last summer. There, he fished shallow, with a popper, wacky rig and a swim jig. Now, he’s hanging with the best in the biz and LiveScoping up plump spotted bass left and right.

Fired up to get after them, Hatfield is still somewhat in shock at how good the fishing was in the Knockout Round.

“All week, everything was just about making today,” he said. “We’ve made it. It’s exciting for sure. I’m pumped to go out there. I figured it would take 25 to 30, maybe a hair over 30 to get in. I never would have thought I’d have to catch 38 pounds and some change and I would be the last guy in.”

With that in mind, he thinks it will take some serious weight to win.

“Yesterday morning, I didn’t fish that clean, “he said. “I lost four or five nice ones before I caught my first one. You add that, and one that I lost late in the day, I should have had another 18 to 20 pounds. So, that would have been really good, almost 60. If I can go out and catch 25 pounds per period, I’ll have a good shot, but I’ll need to stumble on to something.”

Hatfield suspects that Dustin Connell has a lot in the tank, but he thinks handing him the trophy at takeoff would be a little premature.

“Out of all the guys, I think Michael [Neal] has a really good shot at winning this deal,” Hatfield speculated. “He’s doing the same thing, not very far from me, but that group of fish that he’s on, there’s more bait and more of them. Michael [Neal] has quit fishing every day — he fished 20 or 30 minutes in period two yesterday and quit fishing. I think he’s got a shot. I think there are a couple guys that have a legitimate shot going into today. Obviously, Jesse Wiggins, you can’t count him out, but, Ron Nelson’s also got a shot – he’s up there fishing that tailrace. If they do what he needs them to do with the water, who knows what he can catch.”