By MLF Communications Staff
For the second consecutive year, one angler has won three MLF Bass Pro Tour events in a single season. Dustin Connell of Clanton, Ala. caught 20 scorable smallmouth bass weighing 82 pounds, 9 ounces Thursday to win the event on Mille Lacs Lake in Onamia, Minn. and earn the top prize of $100,000.
The win was Connell's second consecutive victory after prevailing at New York’s Lake Cayuga last month, and his third of the season – he also won at Alabama’s Lewis Smith Lake.
Connell’s Championship Round didn’t start off too hot. Through his first two-and-a-half hours of fishing, he was only able to muster three scorable bass for 13-06. Although one of those was a 6-pounder, Connell knew his first period wasn’t what it needed to be to win.
“I started out this morning really slow,” Connell said. “I felt like I couldn’t find a bass. Then I had 4-foot waves rolling into my boat, so that wasn’t great. Finally, I found my zone and I settled in during the second period.”
Connell exploded in the second period, catching eight bass for 30-15, shooting him into 2nd place, right below tournament leader Michael Neal of Dayton, Tenn.. That second period was made possible thanks to a waypoint Connell marked during the Knockout Round on Wednesday with time winding down in the day.
“Yesterday I had 15 minutes to idle around at the end of the Knockout Round,” Connell said. “I knew that I wasn’t on a winning deal. In the last 12 minutes of the day, I found six rocks. I marked a waypoint on one of them with 3 seconds left. I showed up there today and caught a 6-03 and a 5-08 off of that one rock I marked. That was the difference between winning and losing this tournament for me.”
That 6-03 smallmouth pushed him past Neal for the lead, a lead Connell wouldn’t surrender for the rest of the day. It felt like a two-horse race for most of the day until Sevierville, Tenn.'s David Walker began surging in Period 3.
With less than 15 minutes left in the day, Walker caught four bass for 15-06, including a 5-10. Walker shot up ScoreTracker so fast that it was hard for Connell to keep up with how much weight Walker actually had.
“I didn’t have time to get nervous, it happened so quick,” Connell admitted. “When he got to within 4 ounces with only two minutes left, I knew he was going to win. I was convinced he was going to bring one in with 5 seconds left and knock me out. Lucky for me, he didn’t. But really, congrats to David on an amazing day and tournament.”
Walker was unable to catch him, giving Connell back-to-back wins to round out the 2022 season.
“To end the season this way at one of my favorite lakes – I love Mille Lacs,” Connell went on to say. “I love fishing in Minnesota. It’s unbelievable to win three events in a season and I’m really glad I did it here fishing this way.”
Connell also earned Thursday’s $1,000 Berkley Big Bass award with a 6-03 smallmouth that bit a dropshot rig in Period 3. Hot Springs, Ark. pro Stephen Browning earned the $3,000 Berkley Big Bass award for the overall largest bass of the event with his 6-08 smallmouth that he weighed on Day 3 of competition.
The tournament featured anglers competing with a 2-pound minimum weight requirement for a bass to be deemed scorable. Minimum weights are determined individually for each competition waters that the Bass Pro Tour visits based on the productivity, bass population and anticipated average size of fish in each fishery.
(Figure at far right indicates weight of angler's heaviest fish for the round)
1. Dustin Connell -- 82-09 (20) -- 6-03
2. David Walker -- 82-05 (23) -- 5-10
3. Michael Neal -- 78-03 (21) -- 5-13
4. Dakota Ebare -- 50-12 (14) -- 5-04
5. James Elam -- 43-06 (12) -- 4-12
6. Mark Daniels Jr. -- 42-14 (11) -- 4-10
7. Justin Lucas -- 30-05 (10) -- 4-14
8. Alton Jones -- 23-02 (6) -- 5-04
9. Jesse Wiggins -- 22-03 (7) -- 5-04
10. Adrian Avena -- 20-13 (6) -- 4-05