ONAMIA, Minn. – For just the second time in Bass Pro Tour history, one angler has won three events in a single season. Googan Baits pro Dustin Connell of Clanton, Alabama, caught 20 scorable smallmouth bass weighing 82 pounds, 9 ounces Thursday to win the Bass Pro Tour Bally Bet Stage Seven on Mille Lacs Lake Presented by Minn Kota in Onamia, Minnesota, and earn the top prize of $100,000. The win was his second consecutive victory, after claiming victory at New York’s Lake Cayuga last month, and his third of the season – he also won Stage Three at Alabama’s Lewis Smith Lake.
Link to Hi-Res Photo of Stage Seven Mille Lacs Lake Winner Dustin Connell
Link to HD Video – Fish-Catch Highlights of Championship Round Day 5 on Mille Lacs Lake
Link to Photo Gallery of Dustin Connell Highlights
Link to Photo Gallery of Day 6 – All Angler Highlights
Connell’s Championship Round didn’t start off too hot. Through his first two-and-a-half hours of fishing, he was only able to muster three scorable bass for 13-6. Although one of those three was a 6-pounder, Connell knew his first period wasn’t what it needed to be to win.
“I started out this morning really slow,” Connell said. “I felt like I couldn’t find a bass. Then I had 4-foot waves rolling into my boat, so that wasn’t great. Finally, I found my zone and I settled in during the second period.”
Connell exploded in the second period, catching eight bass for 30-15, shooting him into second place, right below tournament leader, Dayton, Tennessee’s Michael Neal. That second period was made possible thanks to a waypoint Connell marked during his Knockout Round on Wednesday with time winding down in the day.
“Yesterday I had 15 minutes to idle around at the end of the Knockout Round,” Connell said. “I knew that I wasn’t on a winning deal. In the last 12 minutes of the day, I found six rocks. I marked a waypoint on one of them with three seconds left. I showed up there today and caught a 6-3 and a 5-8 off of that one rock I marked. That was the difference between winning and losing this tournament for me.”
That 6-pound, 3-ounce smallmouth pushed him past Neal for the lead, a lead Connell wouldn’t surrender for the rest of the day. It felt like a two-horse race for most of the day, that was until Sevierville, Tennessee, pro David Walker began surging in Period 3.
With less than 15 minutes left in the day, Walker caught four bass for 15-6 including a 5-10. Walker shot up SCORETRACKER® so fast that it was hard for Connell to keep up with how much weight Walker actually had.
“I didn’t have time to get nervous it happened so quick,” Connell admitted. “When he got to within 4 ounces with only two minutes left, I knew he was going to win. I was convinced he was going to bring one in with five seconds left and knock me out. Lucky for me, he didn’t. But really, congrats to David on an amazing day and tournament.”
Walker was unable to catch him, giving Connell back-to-back wins to round out the 2022 season. He’s done it on Smith Lake in Alabama and Cayuga Lake in New York, but this one in Minnesota means a little bit more to Connell.
“To end the season this way at one of my favorite lakes – I love Mille Lacs,” Connell said. “I love fishing in Minnesota. It’s unbelievable to win three events in a season, and I’m really glad I did it here fishing this way.”
The Top 10 pros from Bally Bet Stage Seven on Mille Lacs Lake Presented by Minn Kota finished:
1st: Dustin Connell, Clanton, Ala., 20 bass, 82-9, $100,000
2nd: David Walker, Sevierville, Tenn., 23 bass, 82-5, $45,000
3rd: Michael Neal, Dayton, Tenn., 21 bass, 78-3, $38,000
4th: Dakota Ebare, Brookeland, Texas, 14 bass, 50-12, $32,000
5th: James Elam, Tulsa, Okla., 12 bass, 43-6, $30,000
6th: Mark Daniels, Jr., Tuskegee, Ala., 11 bass, 42-14, $26,000
7th: Justin Lucas, Guntersville, Ala., 10 bass, 30-5, $23,000
8th: Alton Jones, Sr., Lorena, Texas, six bass, 23-2, $21,000
9th: Jesse Wiggins, Addison, Ala., seven bass, 22-3, $19,000
10th: Adrian Avena, Vineland, N.J, six bass, 20-13, $16,000
Full results for the entire field can be found at MajorLeagueFishing.com.
Overall, there were 130 scorable bass weighing 476 pounds, 7 ounces caught by the final 10 pros on Thursday.
Connell also earned Thursday’s Championship Round $1,000 Berkley Big Bass award with a 6-pound, 3-ounce smallmouth that bit a drop-shot rig in Period 3. Hot Springs, Arkansas, pro Stephen Browning earned the $3,000 Berkley Big Bass award for the overall largest bass of the event with his 6-pound, 8-ounce smallmouth that he weighed on Day 3 of competition.
The reigning Bass Pro Tour Bally Bet Angler of the Year (AOY), Academy Sports + Outdoors pro Jacob Wheeler of Harrison, Tennessee, clinched his second-consecutive Bass Pro Tour AOY title this week after finishing the event in 11th place. Wheeler now becomes the first pro in Bass Pro Tour history to earn multiple AOY titles, and for his accomplishment the 32-year-old Tennessee pro earned a $100,000 payday from Bally Bet.
The Bally Bet Stage Seven on Mille Lacs Lake Presented by Minn Kota featured anglers competing with a 2-pound minimum weight requirement for a bass to be deemed scorable. Minimum weights are determined individually for each competition waters that the Bass Pro Tour visits, based on the productivity, bass population and anticipated average size of fish in each fishery.
The six-day tournament was hosted by the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and showcased 80 of the best professional anglers in the world competing for a purse of more than $805,000, including a top payout of $100,000 to the winner. The tournament was live streamed each day at MajorLeagueFishing.com and the MOTV app, and also filmed for television broadcast.
Television coverage of the Bally Bet Stage Seven on Mille Lacs Lake Presented by Minn Kota will premiere as a two-hour episode at 7 a.m. ET, on Saturday, Nov. 19 on Discovery Channel. New MLF episodes premiere each Saturday morning on Discovery Channel, with additional re-airings on Outdoor Channel. Each two-hour long reality-based episode goes in-depth to break down each day of tournament competition.
The Bass Pro Tour features a field of 80 of the top professional anglers in the world competing across seven regular-season tournaments around the country, competing for millions of dollars and valuable points to qualify for the annual General Tire Heavy Hitters all-star event and REDCREST IV, the Bass Pro Tour championship, which will be held next March on Lake Norman in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Proud sponsors of the 2022 MLF Bass Pro Tour include: 13 Fishing, Abu Garcia, A.R.E. Truck Caps, B&W Trailer Hitches, Bally Bet, Bass Cat, Bass Pro Shops, Berkley, Covercraft, Favorite Fishing, Garmin, General Tire, Googan Baits, Grundéns, Guaranteed Rate, Humminbird, Lowrance, Luminox, Mercury, Minn Kota, Mossy Oak, Nitro Performance Boats, Onyx, Plano, Power-Pole, Power Stop, Rapala, Starbrite, Toro, Toyota, Wrangler, Yellowstone Bourbon and Zoom.
For complete details and updated information on Major League Fishing and the Bass Pro Tour, visit MajorLeagueFishing.com. For regular updates, photos, tournament news and more, follow MLF’s social media outlets at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.