By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor

Dustin Connell won 43 percent of the MLF Bass Pro Tour regular-season events that were conducted this year, matching the feat of his good buddy Jacob Wheeler from the previous season.

Wheeler, however, captured the Angler of the Year title when he pulled off his hat trick, and won another points crown this year even without winning an event. Connell finished more than 150 points behind him this season

Connell also excelled in the two specialty events (he finished 4th at the REDCREST Championship and 6th in Heavy Hitters), but ended up 13th on the final points list. His issue was a pair of bombs – 61st in an 80-angler field in the season opener on three relatively obscure Louisiana venues and 77th at Lake of the Ozarks.

The fact that he finished outside the Top 10 in the points isn't costing him any sleep, though.

"I'll trade two crappy events for three wins every year," he said. "Angler of the Year is cool and it's a well-respected title and it's on my radar, but I don't think anybody would honestly trade three tournament wins for it.

"To win events you have to take some risks and to win Angler of the Year you have to make sure you don't bomb. I'm kind of like Tin Cup (the Kevin Costner character in the 1996 movie) – if I fall on my face trying to win, I'm okay with it."

Always Seeks a Pattern

Connell is most comfortable when there's rhyme and reason for what he does on a given tournament day. He's nowhere near the best junk-fisherman in the game – he tries to find a solid pattern and then ride it for all it's worth.

In his two bombs, he was unable to establish anything reliable.

"The first tournament (in Louisiana) was pretty much a crapshoot," he said. Lake D'Arbonne (the site of the qualifying round), you couldn't hardly get a bite anywhere. If you landed on a couple of fish you made the cut and if not you were high and dry – there wasn't a good pattern to be had there.

"At Ozarks I felt like I was on the deadest part of the whole lake – a 4-mile stretch that was just terrible. I'd found some fish on beds in there (during practice), but in the tournament there were certain sections of that lake that were going off and other sections that were dead. The fish were moving up in some places and leaving in others."

Photo: MLF

Connell got the first of his three confetti showers this season at Smith Lake in March.

He knows what he should do in those circumstances, but a stubborn streak sometimes prevents him from doing it.

"Sometimes there isn't a pattern and I need to throw the trolling motor down and go down the bank and catch what's in front of me. The fish don't care how you want to catch them; you have to do what they want and if that means pulling out 8-pound line, that's what you have to do.

"I get caught up trying to find what 80 percent of the bass are doing because that gives you a shot at winning the tournament. At Ozarks, about 20 percent of them were on the bank and the other 80 percent seemed like they were nowhere to be found."

Last was Best

Of Connell's trifecta of victories this year (giving him five in six seasons as a tour-level pro), he's most proud of the last one.

"It's Mille Lacs, for sure," he said. "Smith Lake was kind of a location deal – I found a good area and I ended up doing the right thing in it (dropshotting for bait-chasing fish on a big rock ledge). Cayuga was more or less a very special deal and no one else was doing it; I could run the whole lake and nobody else was doing that pattern (following roaming schools of smallmouth with his electronics and catching them on dropshots). That's very rare to have – I was catching all smallmouth while other guys were keyed on largemouth. It was almost like I was fishing a different tournament and I was very fortunate to capitalize on what I had.

"At Mille Lacs my advantage was going up there for pre-practice and idling and putting in my time on the electronics. I tried to find as many isolated boulders, roads and other 'sneaky stuff' that I could – sneaky stuff was the key word up there. I was watching the weather and fishing the wind and just getting after it. I was running as many places as I could while still being very efficient. I was trying my best to outwork everybody else – if a regular guy was hitting 35 places in a day, I tried to hit 65 or 70."

The 32-year-old resident of Clanton, Ala. plans to compete in quite a few local tournaments this fall and he'll spend a couple of weeks hunting deer. He'll visit Lake Norman in North Carolina (the site of next year's REDCREST) and some other venues on the '23 schedule once it's announced.

"Everyone's goal is to win Angler of the Year and to win tournaments and I just want to continue to become a better angler," he said. "I don't judge my year on what other people did; my ultimate goal is to top whatever I did the year before.

"I want to work hard so that I don't have any regrets. That way if I have a bad finish, I can't be mad at myself."