Dustin Connell earns Group A Qualifying Round win on Chowan River

Published 2:44 pm Friday, June 7, 2024

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From Major League Fishing

EDENTON, N.C. (June 6, 2024) — Windy conditions on the Chowan River enabled the trailering policy Thursday at the Major League Fishing (MLF) Bass Pro Tour U.S. Air Force Stage Five at the Chowan River Presented by WIX Filters, but the blustery weather couldn’t stop the anglers from catching piles of bass.  It certainly didn’t slow down Mercury pro Dustin Connell of Clanton, Alabama, (who had every intention of spending his second day on the water “practicing”), as he sacked up another 14 bass for 26 pounds, 13 ounces on the day. His two-day total was 74-5, over 20 pounds ahead of General Tire pro Alton Jones Jr. of Waco, Texas, with 53-06 for the Qualifying Round.

As with all elimination days on the Bass Pro Tour, there was plenty of drama on SCORETRACKER® as anglers made clutch catches while jockeying for position. The improved fishing also helped, as many anglers posted big numbers and made runs toward the top. Two anglers with more than 30 pounds, Justin Lucas of Guntersville, Alabama, and Gary Klein of Mingus, Texas, jumped into the Top 10 and will advance to Saturday’s Knockout Round.
The fishing appears to be improving on the Chowan River and connected waters or the anglers are just putting the puzzle pieces together better. Either way, things are looking good for a stellar finish to this event.

The top 10 anglers advancing from Group A will now have an off day from competition Friday, while the 39 anglers competing in Group B will complete their two-day Qualifying Round. The top 10 anglers from each group advance to Saturday’s Knockout Round. In the Knockout Round, weights are zeroed, and the remaining 20 anglers compete to finish in the top 10 to advance to the Championship Round. In Sunday’s final day Championship Round, weights are zeroed, and the highest one-day total wins the top prize of $100,000.

Dustin Connell’s Day 3 total was the fifth best on the day, made even more impressive by the fact that he was actively searching for new areas. Nothing he had previously fished was part of his plan on Thursday.

“I really like this place,” he said. “I went practicing all day and didn’t intend to reel them in like that. The Chowan River has a lot of fish, and I feel like I’m figuring this place out. I ran new stuff all day and maybe added 25 percent more to what I’d already found.”

Even catching a solid weight, Connell doesn’t regret leaning on them the way he did.

“I didn’t catch a lot of big ones – a few 2s and only one over 3 pounds,” he said.

Connell surmised that this fishery is about being in the right areas and that there are big congregations of fish in small areas, mixed in between voids of any activity.

“You can fish for a mile and not catch a fish and then get into one little stretch and it’s like ‘Oh, here they are,’” he said. “This place is area-based and finding those key little areas with the groups of fish is important. I feel really good about what I’ve found and how it will hold up for the rest of the tournament.”

Both Klein and Lucas were safely within the cut to get paid, but each wanted more. They both got it done and will advance to the Knockout Round, with Klein jumping from 16th to eighth and Lucas vaulting from 13th to fourth to end the day.

They were the only two anglers to eclipse the 30-pound mark. Lucas did it with a strong final frame and Klein did most of his damage during Period 2.

“The day started off good and then I went through a long dead period where I basically learned a lot of bad stretches,” Lucas said. “This afternoon, the bite was on fire, and I hope to build off of that. The whole key here is getting on the right rotation because so many of us are fishing the same stretches. Not every area has fish, but if you hit a good one, you can get right quickly.”

Klein’s 30-pound total exceeded his expectations, and while he felt safe at the end of Period 2, the cutline got a little too close for comfort.

“I thought based on my practice and first day that 18 pounds would be a very good day for me,” he said. “I was surprised catching 30 today, but also encouraged. I was 10 pounds ahead of the cut at the end of the second period and thought there was no way I wouldn’t make it, and I was sort of lollygagging. Then, it got to within 4 pounds of me and I lost two nice ones before I finally got another one. That’s the intensity of this format; you have to fish clean with flawless execution to compete against these guys.”

The top 10 pros from Group A that now advance to Saturday’s Knockout Round on Chowan River are:
1st: Dustin Connell, Clanton, Ala., 33 bass, 74-5
2nd: Alton Jones Jr., Waco, Texas, 22 bass, 53-6
3rd: Mark Daniels Jr., Tuskegee, Ala., 18 bass, 51-7
4th: Justin Lucas, Guntersville, Ala., 19 bass, 47-14
5th: Stephen Browning, Hot Springs, Ark., 21 bass, 47-2
6th: Fred Roumbanis, Russellville, Ark., 20 bass, 44-15
7th: Martin Villa, Charlottesville, Va., 20 bass, 44-14
8th: Gary Klein, Mingus, Texas, 17 bass, 44-1
9th: Dylan Hays, Hot Springs, Ark., 18 bass, 43-12
10th: John Hunter, Shelbyville, Ky., 19 bass, 42-3