Dustin Connell was one of only four anglers to qualify for all four MLF Cup events. Photo by Josh Gassmann
By Joel Shangle - August 13, 2019
One round into his MLF “every scoreable bass counts” career, Favorite Fishing pro Dustin Connell scratched his head and wondered to himself “What have I gotten myself into?”
Connell had managed only five fish for 6 pounds, 1 ounce in his Shotgun Round in Kissimmee, Florida in the first event of the 2019 Bass Pro Tour season, and was 30th out of 40 heading into the Elimination Round.
But that’s about as far as the Alabama pro’s struggles would go for the entire season.
Connell rebounded with 30-13 in his second MLF round to make it into the first-ever Bass Pro Tour Knockout Round, where he piled more than 38 pounds on SCORETRACKER® in the last hour of competition (including a 9-4 monster). Connell would finish ninth at that event, and go on to post two more Top-10 finishes in the next seven events, qualifying for all four MLF Cup events and contending for much of the year for the points championship.
If there’s one thing we found out about Dustin Connell in the 2019 season, it’s that he’s a quick learner.
“Man, that first day in Florida, I low-key kind of spun out,” Connell joked. “I started listening to SCORETRACKER® and just got way too scattered. Before I even knew what was going on, I had a terrible day. But on Day 2, I started to get into the groove of how this format kind of works. I made a comeback and ended that event with a Top 10, and I understood from then on that this format actually fits the way I like to fish.”
Settling into a Season-Long Groove
Connell entered the 2019 season with the momentum of a 2017 Elite Series Rookie of the Year season behind him, and a growing reputation as one of the more studious pattern fishermen in the game. He enhanced that reputation by making six out of eight Knockout Rounds, relying on everything from a Googan Baits creature bait to a swimbait to a shaky head (and a dozen baits in between).
“I like to think that I’m really good at figuring out a pattern,” Connell said. “Those events where I have to go down the bank and just hope to find a bite to keep up, I’m not good at that: I never did find a good pattern at Lake Conroe, and that’s what I had to do. I like finding groups of fish and figuring out a pattern where I can just keep catching them.”
Connell learned to fish on Alabama’s Coosa River, one of the best spotted bass systems in the world. And although the Coosa is nearly 1,000 miles away from the Upper Mississippi River and the playing field of the inaugural REDCREST, the lessons he learned on Coosa impoundments like Lay Lake, Logan Martin and Weiss Lake will likely serve him well in Wisconsin.
“Oh man, I’m excited about that fishery,” Connell admitted. “To have an event the size of REDCREST on a river system like the Upper Mississippi is awesome. It’s river fishing: there’s always current running through that river, and current just positions fish where I feel like I can pretty much call my shot.
“If I can figure out exactly what those fish are doing and figure out patterns, I think I can run all over that river and find areas where they’re stacked up. I feel right at home on that river. I can’t flip and pitch like Bobby Lane, I can’t fish a buzzbait like Jacob Wheeler. But I can fish current better than most guys, and that’s my biggest advantage. If I can figure out what those fish are doing the week of REDCREST, I think I have a pretty good chance.”