By MLF Communications Staff
Some days out on the water, it’s like you can do no wrong. Fifth-year pro Dustin Connell had one of those days Friday.
Connell, of Clanton, Ala., caught 12 fish weighing 36-15 to win REDCREST 2021, the Bass Pro Tour championship, and earn the top prize of $300,000 at Lake Eufaula in his home state. Connell grabbed the lead in the second period and never looked back, winning by a 5-11 margin over 2nd-place pro Michael Neal of Dayton, Tenn., who caught 10 bass totaling 31-04, good for $60,000.
“I still can’t believe this, I really can’t,” said an emotional Connell after being awarded the REDCREST trophy. “This is truly what dreams are made of. I look around and I see guys like Jacob (Wheeler), (Bryan) Thrift, Ott (DeFoe), and I am just so blessed to be fishing against these guys. It’s an honor just to be here and compete. To come out of here with a win, this is a dream come true.”
Connell’s quest to get to the Championship Round was not easy. On Monday, the first day of competition, Connell caught five bass totaling 15-05 to finish the day comfortably in 12th place. Tuesday, he only managed two bass and squeaked into the Top-20 cut in 19th place to barely advance.
“I threw a swimjig all day long on day 2 and it just wasn’t happening,” said Connell, who finished 6th in the 2020 BPT points race. “I caught a 5-pounder on a crankbait and I am so lucky – had that fish not bit, I would not be here today.”
In Wednesday’s Knockout Round, Connell started to put the pieces to his winning pattern together.
“I pulled out a jerkbait at 10:30 (a.m.) in the Knockout Round and fired out my first cast and I watched two fish follow it up and was like, ‘huh’. Then I fired it out again and caught one. Then I caught a 3-pounder on it. I ended up throwing it for the rest of the Knockout Round and caught them pretty good and ended up finishing 2nd.
“Near the end of the Knockout Round, I knew I had made the Championship Round, so I spent the last 45 minutes idling in one area and marking every single brush pile that I could. I was going to fish them all on the final day.”
On Friday, Connell returned to the brush piles with his unnamed crystal-shad-colored jerkbait.
“Every fish that I caught today came on the same deep-diving jerkbait,” Connell said. “The key was that it had to be deep-diving – not because it runs deep but because I needed it to get down in the water column quicker.”
Connell threw the jerkbait on a 6-foot, 6-inch Favorite Fishing Rush jerkbait rod, with an unnamed 6:3:1 reel and 12-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon line. He took the lead midway through the second period and never gave it up. At one point in period 3 he was catching them so well that his hand was cramping up.
“I would have caught some fish, but I would not have won this tournament without my Lowrance ActiveTarget,” Connell said. “I literally watched every single fish that I caught today come out of the brush piles and eat it on it.
“I was shook up the entire third period. It got real for me when there was 10 minutes left. I was standing on the deck and just praying. All the work, the time that I have spent learning, the sacrifices my family has made … it all came down to that moment. I haven’t been this emotional in a long time. I am so incredibly thankful and blessed. I’ll say it again – this is my dream, come true.”
It was the second tour-level victory for Connell, who triumphed at the Ross Barnett Reservoir Bassmaster Elite Series during his rookie season in 2017.
Here are the final totals for the Top 10:
1. Dustin Connell of Clanton, Ala., 12 bass, 36-15, $300,000
2. Michael Neal of Dayton, Tenn., 10 bass, 31-04, $60,000
3. Jacob Wheeler of Harrison, Tenn, nine bass, 25-06, $48,000
4. Zack Birge of Blanchard, Okla., seven bass, 24-01, $30,000
5. David Dudley of Lynchburg, Va., six bass, 18-12, $27,000
6. Takahiro Omori of Tokyo, Japan, five bass, 11-06, $24,000
7. Ott DeFoe of Blaine, Tenn., four bass, 10-15, $23,000
8. Anthony Gagliardi of Prosperity, S.C., three bass, 8-01, $18,000
9. Bryan Thrift of Shelby, N.C., two bass, 6-15, $16,000
10. Mark Davis of Mount Ida, Ark., one bass, 2-15, $15,000
Overall, there were 59 bass weighing 176-10 caught by the 10 pros in the Championship Round.
Birge won Friday’s $1,000 Berkley Big Bass Award, weighing in a 5-03 largemouth in period 1. Thrift won the $7,000 overall Berkley Big Bass award with his 7-01 fish that he caught on day.
Television coverage of REDCREST 2021 will be showcased across two 2-hour episodes, premiering at 7 a.m. ET July 3 on the Discovery Channel. A one-hour special episode of MLF Inside the REDCREST will premiere at 2 p.m. ET, Sunday, July 18 on CBS.
The 2021 season of the Bass Pro Tour is set to open March 21-26 at Sam Rayburn Reservoir in Jasper, Texas. The Bass Pro Tour features a field of 76 of the top professional anglers in the world joined by four pros who qualify from the MLF Pro Circuit at each event.