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Clanton angler leads to UA to third-place finish

Clanton native Dustin Connell anchored the University of Alabama’s fishing team when it finished third in the College Bass National Championship on July 8-10.

An ESPN film crew followed Connell’s boat during the final day of the tournament, and local fishing fans will have the opportunity to watch Connell in action on ESPN2 beginning at 4 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday.

“It was the most fun I’ve had in a tournament,” Connell said. “I was down there all week long and just fished every day.”

Connell has been fishing in tournaments since age 12. That’s when his older brother, James, got him on the lake for his first competition, but James introduced Dustin to the sport much earlier.

“He basically taught me everything I know about fishing,” Dustin Connell said. “He’s the one who pushed me to do good in fishing.”

James’ time and effort is paying off.

Dustin, a 2008 Chilton County High School graduate, joined the Alabama fishing team shortly after enrolling at the university.

“A lot of my buddies, they fish for different colleges,” Connell said. “I was going to Alabama anyway, so I wanted to fish for them.

“It’s a good experience; you get to go a lot of different places.”

Team members fished in six qualifiers—at Lake Mitchell, Lake Logan Martin, Lake Martin, Lake Tuscaloosa, Lay Lake and Lake Guntersville–for the chance to represent UA at the National Championship.

Connell finished first in the final standings. The top two were chosen for the National Championship, which includes about 50 boats from colleges across the country. Connell’s partner ended up being Daniel Taylor, but because the local fisherman was first after the qualifiers, he had the advantage of sitting in the front of the boat and choosing where and how the team would fish.

Connell and Taylor were in sixth place after he first day of the tournament, which was spent on the Arkansas River.

Only the top five teams would advance to the third and final day of the tournament, so Connell and Taylor had work to do on Day 2.

In what turned out to be an advantage for the Alabama team, flooding on the Arkansas River forced the event to be moved to Lake Maumelle in North Little Rock, Ark.

Connell said Maumelle was more like the Alabama lakes he’s familiar with than the Arkansas River, and Team Alabama jumped to fourth place after the day.

Connell and Taylor continued the strategy of swimming a white jig even as the tournament moved to a third location, Lake Brewer. That’s the scene, with Connell and his partner improving to third place, that family, friends and fans can see on ESPN2 this weekend.

“I’ve been on camera one or two times before, but not all day with me,” Connell said. “It didn’t bother us. We were out there laughing all day with the cameraman.”

Team Alabama won $1,200 in prize money and about the same amount in prizes.

Connell, 20, is studying electrical engineering at UA and will be a junior at the beginning of the fall semester. He is the son of James and Teresa Connell.