Clanton fisherman qualifies for Bassmaster Elite Series

Dustin Connell reached the pinnacle division of bass fishing about a week and a half ago, and accomplished a lifelong dream in the process.

Connell, 25, qualified for the Bassmaster Elite Series with a top five overall points finish in the three tournaments that made up the Bassmaster Southern Opens.

After competing in tournaments at Kissimmee Chain of Lakes in Kissimmee, Fla., Smith Lake in Jasper and Douglas Lake in Dandridge, Tenn., he was positioned fourth and locked up a spot on the 2017 Elite Series.

He grew up on the waterways in Chilton County and spent much of the time fishing alongside his brother James.

Dustin Connell learned to fish on the lakes around Chilton County, and recently qualified for the Bassmaster Elite Series. (Contributed Photo)

Dustin Connell learned to fish on the lakes around Chilton County, and recently qualified for the Bassmaster Elite Series. (Contributed Photo)

“I credit a lot of my success to my brother,” Connell said. “He taught me a ton of what I know about fishing.”

At the age of 16, Connell bought his first boat in the form of a 16-foot Champion with a 90-horsepower Mercury engine.

“I remember riding my bike to one of the creeks around my house and fishing before I had to be at school at 7:30 a.m.,” Connell said. “Fishing is really all I knew.”

Connell will now compete against some of the world’s best bass fisherman, which includes four-time Bassmaster Classic champion Kevin VanDam.

The Elite Series schedule will begin in January 2017, which gives Connell plenty of time to gain sponsorships for the upcoming season.

According to Connell, entry fees for an Elite series event are about $50,000, which is a drastic step up from the typical $1,500 fees that are asked for in open tournaments.

Sponsorship can go a long way in helping fund a fisherman’s journey through a season at the top level of bass fishing.

There are only roughly 100 fishermen in the nation that are qualified participants in the Bassmaster Elite Series, Connell said.

The event schedule for 2017 has not yet been released.

Connell graduated from the University of Alabama in 2012 with a marketing degree, but instead of hunting for a typical job he returned home and began fishing full time and entered several tournaments.

“I just knew all along what I wanted to do,” Connell said. “I’ve got a good reputation, and that’s all you’ve got when you’re out there fishing. Thank you to everyone who supported me along the way.”

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