May 02, 2017
Severestorms may have caused the postponement of the final round of fishing Sunday,but nothing could stop Bassmaster Elite Series rookie Dustin Connell ofClanton, Ala., from claiming victory in the Bassmaster Elite at Ross Barnett.
Connell caught a five-bass limit weighing 12 pounds, 15 ounces today,pushing his four-day total to 64-13 and holding off a late-charging veteranKevin VanDam, who ended with 62-10.
Hoisting the coveted first-place trophy overhead — and pocketing the$100,000 that goes with it — has been Connell’s dream since childhood.
“This dream was becoming a reality back in my college days, when Ifished the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Bracket Challenge against Mattand Jordan Lee of Cullman, Ala.,” Connell said. “They fished for AuburnUniversity, and I fished on the University of Alabama team. Matt went to theClassic that year, and now the three of us compete in the Elite Series.”
Jordan Lee won the 2017 Bassmaster Classic in March, and now withConnell’s Elite Series victory, the anglers who rose through the college ranksare proving their worth.
“I’m so thankful for the opportunity to get my start in bigtournaments through the college fishing program,” he said. “It’s testament toBassmaster’s seeding the future of professional bass fishing, and I’d say thisto every college angler with a dream, ‘You can do this, too.’”
Connell’s fish-catching pattern this week was something he discoveredin pre-tournament scouting, and it was so promising that, even back then, hefelt confident he would win the event.
“I knew I needed to find something different and a long way from thecrowds that would build on a smaller fishery like this,” the 26-year-old anglersaid. “When I arrived for official practice, I caught a 4- and a 5-pounderright away — and then I put my rods down.”
To save his bass for the competition days, Connell spent the rest ofhis practice viewing similar spots with his Lowrance sonar and GPS units.
“I caught probably 25 swim-jig fish on Thursday,” he said. His bestfive that day weighed 19-12. “But Friday was a turning point of thistournament. I didn’t have a fish before 10:30 because the Pearl River waterrose and got muddier, slowing the pattern. I decided to go back and flip all ofthe same stuff, and I caught another 16 pounds in a short while. At that point,I knew I could win.”
Connell became concerned, however, when a massive supercell ofthunderstorms and heavy rain forced the postponement of Sunday’s championshipround. Competition resumed on Monday, and Connell was relieved to see the waterconditions hadn’t gotten too much worse.
“Today was definitely harder because of that weather system,” hesaid. “I really had to work for my fish, but thankfully I was able to catch twokey fish this morning on a frog in a small pocket — locations that werecritical for me throughout the week.”
Connell said winning an Elite Series event during his rookie seasonwasn’t expected, but something he’ll never forget.
“I can’t thank my family enough,” an elated Connell said. “They havesupported this dream from the beginning, and to win one this early in my careergives me a lot of confidence that I made the right decision chasing after it.
“I love to fish. I fish every chance I get, and what I’m able tolearn from fishing against the best in the world at these events is somethingI’m very grateful for.”
Rounding out the Top 12: Kevin VanDam (62-10), Jonathon VanDam (59-4),Bobby Lane (57-9), Mark Menendez (57-7), Dave Lefebre (56-14), Ish Monroe(56-1), Matt Herren (55-9), Skeet Reese (52-2), Fred Roumbanis (51-12), KeithPoche (51-4) and Brent Chapman (48-9).
Brandon Lester of Fayetteville, Tenn., won the Phoenix Boats Big BassAward of $1,500 for the 7-2 largemouth bass he caught during Thursday’s openinground.
Jason Christie of Park Hill, Okla., was awarded $1,000 for leading theToyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year points race at the end of the event.
Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla., won the Toyota Bonus Bucks Award of$3,000 for being the highest-placing eligible entrant in the program. Thesecond-highest-placing eligible entrant, Dave Lefebre of Erie, Pa., received$2,000.
Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich., earned the Power-Pole Captain’s CashAward of $1,000 for being the highest-placing angler who is registered andeligible and uses a client-approved product on his boat.
Connell also won the Livingston Lures Day 2 Leader Award of $500 forleading the tournament on Friday’s second day of competition.
The event was hosted by the Ridgeland Tourism Commission.
Click here for complete event results.