By BassFan Staff

At ICAST last July, a group of pro bass anglers were milling around in the Garmin booth. Among them was Dustin Connell, who was taking in the scene in Orlando as he prepared to launch his Elite Series career in 2017.

A couple of the anglers were heaping praise on Connell, a former college angler who had won the Alabama River Southern Open in 2015 and qualified for the Elite Series through the Southern Opens last year. In between jokes, theyd say how it wouldnt be long before Connell proved he belonged and how hed be the next great young angler in the pro ranks.

Apparently, that time has arrived.

Faced with rapidly changing and challenging conditions this week at Ross Barnett Reservoir in central Mississippi, Connell has managed to produce consistent results that has him on the brink of capturing his first Elite Series title.

The 26-year-old went out with a lead of 1 pound, 12 ounces this morning. After catching 15-07 (his smallest stringer of the tournament), his cushion is now more than 5 pounds with one day to go. Hes the only angler so far to crack the 50-pound mark (51-14). To illustrate the significance of his cushion, just 3 pounds, 13 ounces separates 2nd from 12th.

Connell said today went much smoother than day 2, when he didnt have a keeper in his boat until 11 a.m.

Not once today was I stressed out like I was Friday, he said. I never pressed or moved fast. I just fished and thats what I plan on doing tomorrow. It was one of those days where everything was falling into place. Sunday may be different, but well see.

Connell and the rest of the finalists may have to wait until Monday, though, to wrap up the event. A line of vicious storms is set to hit the area around Jackson and Ridgeland, Miss., on Sunday with severe thunderstorms, torrential rain (4 to 6 inches) and 15- to 25-mph winds expected.

B.A.S.S. officials have been in contact with the National Weather Service and will likely wait until Sunday morning before deciding to postpone day 4 until Monday or let the top 12 compete as scheduled. If the final day of competition is pushed back a day, blast-off Monday would be at 6 a.m. CST and weigh-ins would begin at 2 p.m.

Keith Poche rebounded from an 11-pound day Friday with 15-06 today that pushed him up to 2nd with 46-08.

As Connells weights have dipped each day, Kevin VanDam has gotten stronger as the event has progressed. His 18-07 catch today was the biggest bag among the 51 competitors and it moved him up to 3rd from 17th with 46-06.

Hes 7 ounces ahead of nephew, Jonathon, who made his first 12-cut since Lake St. Clair in 2015. JVD caught his third straight 15-pound stringer (15-01) and has 45-15 in 4th.

Brent Chapman logged 15-14 and moved up 10 spots to 5th with 44-13.

Here's a look at the top 12 entering the final day of competition, with deficit margin from Connell indicated by red numbers in parentheses:

1. Dustin Connell: 51-14
2. Keith Poche: 46-08 (5-06)
3. Kevin VanDam: 46-06 (5-08)
4. Jonathon VanDam: 45-15 (5-15)
5. Brent Chapman: 44-13 (7-01)
6. Mark Menendez: 44-13 (7-01)
7. Fred Roumbanis: 44-12 (7-02)
8. Matt Herren: 44-04 (7-10)
9. Ish Monroe: 44-02 (7-12)
10. Dave Lefebre: 44-01 (7-13)
11. Bobby Lane: 43-10 (8-04)
12. Skeet Reese: 42-11 (9-03)

Day-1 leader Brandon Card slipped out of contention today after weighing four fish for 6-10. He wound up 16th. Jared Lintner, who muscled his way into the top 10 with just three fish on day 2, caught three again today, but that pushed him down to 25th.

Skeet Reese improved 12 spots from 24th to nab the final spot among the top 12 with a 16-02 bag that gave him 42-11.

Ott DeFoe, who had been the Angler of the Year points leader, relinquished the top spot to Jason Christie after slipping to a 51st-place finish today. Christie, who finished 27th, is now four points ahead of DeFoe.

With the wind howling for the second straight day, dirty water continued to shift around and infiltrate areas that had been productive. That caused some competitors to hunt for cleaner water, whether up north in the Pearl River or south near Pelahatchie Bay. Topwater baits have been big producers this week, but jigs and reaction techniques have also accounted for a fair share of keepers.



B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

Connell is confident he's around the winning fish in the Pearl River.

Connell Ready to Finish the Job

> Day 3: 5, 15-07 (15, 51-14)

Initially, things started slow today for Connell, but after catching a couple keepers on a frog by 8 a.m., it put him in a good frame of mind.

I had a good feeling that once the sun poked out, theyd start biting doing my flipping deal, he said. I started running my stuff and caught another 2 1/2-pounder so that gave me two 2 1/2s and a small one.

Around 9, he caught a 4 1/2, then picked off a 3-pounder and two more 2 1/2s.

It was like 11 a.m. and I already had a good bag, he said. I was like, Were ahead of schedule. Then I caught another 3 1/4.

He hasnt had to make any major adjustments like some other competitors have since practice. He has roughly 30 places hes rotating through and hes recycled some and skipped over some to come back to later, possibly tomorrow.

I have several stretches that are really good and Ive narrowed it down, he said. Im going to stand on some stuff tomorrow. Im going to fish a lot that I didnt today.

Hes hopeful the final day isnt delayed until Monday.

Id rather be out there tomorrow, he added. I want to get it over with. I dont want everything flooded. I would rather it be the same.

Hes treating the final day like just another weekend day on the water, but he knows its way more than that.

Its the biggest tournament of my life, he said. Tomorrow is the biggest tournament day Ive ever fished. Im kind of relaxed about it. I dont know why. I know Im on the winning deal. I have a 5 1/2-pound lead and Im not going to run around and chase rainbows. Im going to stick with my plan. If it works, it works. If not, its been a hell of a week. I think I can catch a good bag but its going to be a grind.

2nd: Poche Favors Delayed Finish

> Day 3: 5, 15-06 (15, 46-08)

Poche had to resort to junk-fishing today to scrounge up some bites, but it was effective in getting him back into contention.

I was very fortunate, he said. I got a couple lucky bites today. Im happy to be where Im sitting.

Hed been sharing an area with Mark Davis, but picked off two keepers from a spot hed not fished before. Hes hoping B.A.S.S. pushes back the final day until Monday as he feels it would allow his best area to rest and replenish.

B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

Keith Poche thinks a day off would benefit the area he's had the most success at this week.

The water has gotten dingier and I think a day off would help me, he said.

Three of the fish he weighed in today came on a frog. Another one, a 4 1/2-pounder, fell for a shaky-head and his fifth fish was caught flipping mats.

Even with a 5 1/2-pound deficit, hes not ruling out the possibility of a comeback.

I think its possible, he said. Anythings possible. (Connell) could have a terrible day or he could have 15 and I have 21. Its doable. If it will happen, I think I need a day off unless I get super lucky and something crazy happens.

3rd: KVD Fishing on Feel

> Day 3: 5, 18-07 (15, 46-06)

VanDam is the only competitor left whose weights have increased each day. To keep it going and possibly leave Mississippi with his 24th career B.A.S.S. win, hes going to need Connell to falter.

Anything is possible, he said. He (Connell) is going to have to stumble and he hasnt yet. Hes a very good fisherman. I think based on what Ive seen and Ive only fished here this week, this place changes very fast. Hes done a great job to be as consistent as he has. I havent been. I had that bad first day and its hard to overcome that.

Considering the rate at which conditions are changing, hes been pleased with his decision-making, but hes had to adjust through the event to keep up.

Going into this, I had a decent practice off what I caught, but the bites were random. I couldnt get two bites in same spot, he said. Things have changed so much. Im making good decisions on location, but Ive had to change every day.

Im fishing instinctively, he said. Its crazy. I dont if Ive been lucky or what, but its totally different from what I expected after practice. I thought Id be fishing differently.

Hes in favor of finishing the event Sunday despite the forecast.

Its not going to be good if we have to wait, he said.

4th: Quantity and Quality for JVD

> Day 3: 5, 15-01 (15, 45-15)

Jonathon VanDam has spent all three days in the Pearl River and has averaged between 30 and 50 fish the last two days, but many of them have not been keeper-worthy. When he does tangle with a keeper, its usually a healthy one.

Hes found himself hunting for cleaner water and when he finds it, the fish are active in those areas.

This river is changing so much, he said. Its come up in some places and gotten dirtier in a few places, but its cleared up in others. Once I find the stuff with the right conditions, I can catch them.

As far as whether hed prefer to sit Sunday out and finish the event Monday, he knows the lake could change even more if competition is delayed a day.

Tomorrow could be a monkey wrench, he said.

Despite facing a nearly 6-pound deficit, hes not conceding his chances to win.

Anything is possible. There are a lot of big fish in this lake, but I havent caught any big ones doing what Im doing, he said. I had a lot of good bites in practice so if you get in the right area at the right time, you can catch them in a hurry. Its not out of reach. A lot can happen.

5th: Cleaner Water Key for Chapman

> Day 3: 5, 15-14 (15, 44-13)

At Toledo Bend earlier this month, Chapman snapped his run of nine straight tournaments without a check. This week, he locked up his first top-12 finish since Winyah Bay last April, the event that immediately preceded his dry spell.

Needless to say, the former Angler of the Year is feeling good about the momentum he has going now, and hes gained some knowledge in the process.

Its amazing that after doing this for 20-plus years how you still learn things, he said. Ive learned a lot this week. Its been cool and Ive been changing and adapting with the fish and thats why I get to fish tomorrow.

He learned today that being around the right water clarity is critical.

The area I fished Thursday, I went back to it on Friday and the water had gotten dirty and the bite got tougher in there, he said. I scrapped that today and found some cleaner water and got back to catching fish.

He came out of practice thinking hed rely heavily on a crankbait this tournament, but after catching two keepers on a plug on Thursday, the rest of his weight has come on a frog and another topwater bait.

Weather-wise, he doesnt recall competing in a tournament with such relentless high winds and thats part of the reason why he wouldnt mind if B.A.S.S. postponed the final day until Monday.

Fishing Monday would be nice because I could catch up on my sleep, he joked. Regardless, I get to fish whenever it is. Im tickled for the opportunity.

B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

Jonathon VanDam secured his first top-12 finish since 2015 today.

45th: Bad Break for Mosley

> Day 3: 3, 6-01 (13, 32-14)

Brock Mosley locked up the fourth paycheck of his Elite Series career this week, but he was disappointed that a mechanical issue this morning kept him from possibly making a run at a top-12 finish.

His trolling motor quit on him around 11 in the morning so he had to run all the way back to the launch ramp on the southern end of the lake. While it took just 15 minutes to repair, he opted against making the run back up the lake in the wind and waves.

Its frustrating, for sure, especially being in a good position, he said. I still felt good about my chances, but if something is going break, its better its on Saturday.

As one of three Mississippians in the field, he was impressed with how the lake held up to the fishing pressure.

Im surprised that these guys are still catching em and not running out of fish where theyre catching them, he said. There was no way to prepare for this event with the winds weve had and the muddy water after the rain. It was like a perfect storm of stuff that never happens. Sure, the river gets muddy, but then you can get on the main lake on the ledges. I have 30 places on the main lake I havent been able to fish because of the wind.

His only regret from the event was abandoning his area in the Pearl River on Friday morning.

I had a limit by 8:30 Friday morning so I came down to Pelahatchie Bay to fish for big ones and it was blown out with mud, he said. If Id have it to do over, I wouldve stayed where I was at in a heartbeat.

Notable

> Day 3 stats 51 anglers, 34 limits, 11 fours, 3 threes, 2 twos, 1 one.

Weather Forecast

> Sun., April 30 Severe Thunderstorms - 77/52
- Wind: From the S at 15 to 25 mph

Day 3 Standings

1. Dustin Connell -- Clanton, AL -- 15, 51-14 -- 110 -- $500
Day 1: 5, 19-12 -- Day 2: 5, 16-11 -- Day 3: 5, 15-07

2. Keith Poche -- Pike Road, AL -- 15, 46-08 -- 109
Day 1: 5, 20-02 -- Day 2: 5, 11-00 -- Day 3: 5, 15-06

3. Kevin VanDam -- Kalamazoo, MI -- 15, 46-06 -- 108
Day 1: 5, 10-15 -- Day 2: 5, 17-00 -- Day 3: 5, 18-07

4. Jonathon VanDam -- Kalamazoo, MI -- 15, 45-15 -- 107
Day 1: 5, 15-13 -- Day 2: 5, 15-01 -- Day 3: 5, 15-01

5. Brent Chapman -- Lake Quivira, KS -- 15, 44-13 -- 106
Day 1: 5, 18-01 -- Day 2: 5, 10-14 -- Day 3: 5, 15-14

6. Mark Menendez -- Paducah, KY -- 15, 44-13 -- 105
Day 1: 5, 17-00 -- Day 2: 5, 17-11 -- Day 3: 5, 10-02

7. Fred Roumbanis -- London, AR -- 15, 44-12 -- 104
Day 1: 5, 15-14 -- Day 2: 5, 13-14 -- Day 3: 5, 15-00

8. Matt Herren -- Ashville, AL -- 15, 44-04 -- 103
Day 1: 5, 14-06 -- Day 2: 5, 15-03 -- Day 3: 5, 14-11

9. Ish Monroe -- Hughson, CA -- 15, 44-02 -- 102
Day 1: 5, 14-07 -- Day 2: 5, 16-02 -- Day 3: 5, 13-09

10. Dave Lefebre -- Erie, PA -- 15, 44-01 -- 101
Day 1: 5, 18-04 -- Day 2: 5, 15-10 -- Day 3: 5, 10-03

11. Bobby Lane Jr. -- Lakeland, FL -- 15, 43-10 -- 100
Day 1: 5, 20-14 -- Day 2: 5, 11-10 -- Day 3: 5, 11-02

12. Skeet Reese -- Auburn, CA -- 15, 42-11 -- 99
Day 1: 5, 14-08 -- Day 2: 5, 12-01 -- Day 3: 5, 16-02

The following anglers did not make the cut and will not fish on day 4.

13. Chad Morgenthaler -- Reeds Spring, MO -- 15, 41-08 -- 98 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 13-13 -- Day 2: 5, 15-11 -- Day 3: 5, 12-00

14. Bradley Roy -- Lancaster, KY -- 15, 41-03 -- 97 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 14-05 -- Day 2: 5, 14-11 -- Day 3: 5, 12-03

15. Stephen Browning -- Hot Springs, AR -- 15, 41-01 -- 96 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 15-13 -- Day 2: 5, 12-05 -- Day 3: 5, 12-15

16. Brandon Card -- Knoxville, TN -- 14, 40-08 -- 95 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 22-14 -- Day 2: 5, 11-00 -- Day 3: 4, 06-10

17. Luke Clausen -- Otis Orchards, WA -- 15, 40-03 -- 94 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 12-05 -- Day 2: 5, 12-09 -- Day 3: 5, 15-05

18. Brandon Palaniuk -- Hayden, ID -- 15, 39-12 -- 93 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 12-15 -- Day 2: 5, 13-00 -- Day 3: 5, 13-13

19. Seth Feider -- Isle, MN -- 14, 39-11 -- 92 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 16-04 -- Day 2: 4, 08-15 -- Day 3: 5, 14-08

20. Mark Davis -- Mount Ida, AR -- 14, 38-12 -- 91 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 20-10 -- Day 2: 5, 11-04 -- Day 3: 4, 06-14

21. Chad Grigsby -- Maple Grove, MN -- 15, 38-12 -- 90 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 13-01 -- Day 2: 5, 11-04 -- Day 3: 5, 14-07

22. Fletcher Shryock -- New Philadelphia, OH -- 15, 38-10 -- 89 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 15-15 -- Day 2: 5, 11-14 -- Day 3: 5, 10-13

23. Randall Tharp -- Port St. Joe, FL -- 14, 38-01 -- 88 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 12-11 -- Day 2: 5, 13-15 -- Day 3: 4, 11-07

24. Edwin Evers -- Talala, OK -- 15, 37-15 -- 87 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 09-13 -- Day 2: 5, 15-02 -- Day 3: 5, 13-00

25. Jared Lintner -- Arroyo Grande, CA -- 11, 37-08 -- 86 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 16-11 -- Day 2: 3, 14-01 -- Day 3: 3, 06-12

26. Tim Horton -- Muscle Shoals, AL -- 15, 37-07 -- 85 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 10-15 -- Day 2: 5, 15-08 -- Day 3: 5, 11-00

27. Jason Christie -- Park Hill, OK -- 15, 37-04 -- 84 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 11-03 -- Day 2: 5, 14-15 -- Day 3: 5, 11-02

28. Keith Combs -- Huntington, TX -- 15, 37-03 -- 83 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 12-12 -- Day 2: 5, 13-01 -- Day 3: 5, 11-06

29. Marty Robinson -- Lyman, SC -- 15, 36-12 -- 82 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 18-00 -- Day 2: 5, 07-12 -- Day 3: 5, 11-00

30. Randy Howell -- Guntersville, AL -- 14, 36-12 -- 81 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 15-07 -- Day 2: 5, 12-03 -- Day 3: 4, 09-02

31. Greg Vinson -- Wetumpka, AL -- 15, 36-05 -- 80 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 11-06 -- Day 2: 5, 12-02 -- Day 3: 5, 12-13

32. Todd Faircloth -- Jasper, TX -- 14, 36-04 -- 79 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 16-11 -- Day 2: 5, 09-11 -- Day 3: 4, 09-14

33. David Walker -- Sevierville, TN -- 14, 36-00 -- 78 -- $10,000
Day 1: 4, 07-02 -- Day 2: 5, 18-05 -- Day 3: 5, 10-09

34. Casey Ashley -- Donalds, SC -- 15, 36-00 -- 77 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 11-11 -- Day 2: 5, 14-07 -- Day 3: 5, 09-14

35. John Crews Jr -- Salem, VA -- 15, 35-12 -- 76 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 11-01 -- Day 2: 5, 14-05 -- Day 3: 5, 10-06

36. Brandon Coulter -- Knoxville, TN -- 15, 35-05 -- 75 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 17-05 -- Day 2: 5, 08-12 -- Day 3: 5, 09-04

37. Scott Rook -- Little Rock, AR -- 15, 35-02 -- 74 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 13-07 -- Day 2: 5, 12-01 -- Day 3: 5, 09-10

38. Hank Cherry Jr -- Lincolnton, NC -- 13, 35-00 -- 73 -- $10,000
Day 1: 4, 07-12 -- Day 2: 5, 18-01 -- Day 3: 4, 09-03

39. Mark Daniels Jr. -- Tuskegee, AL -- 14, 34-05 -- 72 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 14-06 -- Day 2: 5, 12-07 -- Day 3: 4, 07-08

40. James Niggemeyer -- Van, TX -- 15, 34-02 -- 71 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 10-04 -- Day 2: 5, 14-01 -- Day 3: 5, 09-13

41. Clent Davis -- Montevallo, AL -- 14, 34-01 -- 70 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 14-03 -- Day 2: 5, 10-14 -- Day 3: 4, 09-00

42. Greg Hackney -- Gonzales, LA -- 15, 33-15 -- 69 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 10-02 -- Day 2: 5, 13-07 -- Day 3: 5, 10-06

43. Clifford Pirch -- Payson, AZ -- 15, 33-07 -- 68 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 09-13 -- Day 2: 5, 13-01 -- Day 3: 5, 10-09

44. Cliff Crochet -- Pierre Part, LA -- 14, 32-15 -- 67 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 11-05 -- Day 2: 5, 11-13 -- Day 3: 4, 09-13

45. Brock Mosley -- Collinsville, MS -- 13, 32-14 -- 66 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 14-10 -- Day 2: 5, 12-03 -- Day 3: 3, 06-01

46. Shane Lineberger -- Lincolnton, NC -- 14, 32-14 -- 65 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 12-04 -- Day 2: 5, 11-08 -- Day 3: 4, 09-02

47. Brett Preuett -- Monroe, LA -- 12, 32-00 -- 64 -- $10,000
Day 1: 4, 08-05 -- Day 2: 5, 16-05 -- Day 3: 3, 07-06

48. Darrell Ocamica -- New Plymouth, ID -- 12, 31-06 -- 63 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 14-05 -- Day 2: 5, 13-02 -- Day 3: 2, 03-15

49. Bill Lowen -- Brookville, IN -- 14, 31-05 -- 62 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 12-06 -- Day 2: 5, 10-11 -- Day 3: 4, 08-04

50. Brandon Lester -- Fayetteville, TN -- 10 -- 29-11 -- 61 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 19-15 -- Day 2: 3, 06-03 -- Day 3: 2, 03-09

51. Ott DeFoe -- Knoxville, TN -- 11, 25-09 -- 60 -- $10,000
Day 1: 5, 13-03 -- Day 2: 5, 10-08 -- Day 3: 1, 01-14