Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Dustin Connell Rockets to Early Lead at Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour U.S. Air Force Stage Five at Chowan River 

Date:

Reigning REDCREST Champion weighs in 47 pounds, 8 ounces to lead after Day 1 for Group A – Group B begins competition Wednesday

EDENTON, N.C. (June 4, 2024) – Like the rest of the Bass Pro Tour field, Rapala pro Dustin Connell of Clanton, Alabama, arrived at the Chowan River with no idea what to expect during the Major League Fishing (MLF) Bass Pro Tour U.S. Air Force Stage Five at the Chowan River Presented by WIX Filters . Turns out, as is the case just about everywhere, he didn’t need much time to find a healthy population of bass in the coastal river.

Connell, already a winner at Stage One on Toledo Bend and REDCREST on Lay Lake this year, boated 19 scorable bass totaling 47 pounds, 8 ounces during the first day of qualifying. That gives him a 16-pound, 5-ounce cushion over Mark Daniels Jr. of Tuskegee, Alabama , atop the leaderboard in Group A. Behind Connell, the standings are much more tightly bunched, with second through fifth place separated by 3-11.

Overall, the debut day of national tournament competition on the Chowan River yielded plenty of scorable bass – 24 of the 39 anglers in Group A totaled at least 10 pounds – plus a few big ones. Six largemouth over 5 pounds hit the scales, headlined by pro Martin Villa’s 7-7, which earned him the $1,000 Berkley Big Bass Bonus.

The six-day tournament, hosted by the Town of Edenton , the Chowan County Tourism Development Authority and Harbor Towns Cruises, showcases 79 of the top professional anglers in the world, competing for a purse of $659,000, including a top payout of $100,000 and valuable Fishing Clash Angler of the Year (AOY) points in hopes of qualifying for the General Tire Heavy Hitters all-star event and REDCREST 2025, the Bass Pro Tour championship.

Link to Photo Gallery of Group A’s Day 1 Qualifying Round Afternoon Highlights on Chowan River

The 39 anglers in Group A will now have an off day from competition Wednesday, while the 39 anglers competing in Group B will begin their first day of competition. Group A will resume competition on Thursday.

While Connell had never visited the Chowan River prior to official practice for Stage Five, he entered Tuesday with a lofty goal: stack enough weight on SCORETRACKER® that he could devote the second day of qualifying entirely to practice.

Mission accomplished.

With more than 30 pounds of cushion over 10th place, Connell’s spot in the Knockout Round should be secure. That’s key for two reasons: Every additional chance to scout new water on the vast, cover-rich Chowan River is especially valuable given the field’s lack of history on the fishery, and the wind is forecast to blow hard out of the southwest on Thursday. With wind being the primary driver of current and water level on the Albemarle Sound tributary, that could drop the water and change the bite.

“I really wanted to catch them good today just because I know that we’ve got a lot of wind coming in on Thursday, on our (Group A’s) second day,” Connell explained. “And I didn’t want to put myself in a bind on Thursday trying to fight the wind. It may blow right down the chute. The wind tide changes a lot of things. So that was what I really wanted to do today is just go ahead and make this cut and be done with it.”

While the Chowan doesn’t have a strong natural current, Connell used the moving-water knowledge he honed growing up on the Coosa River in Alabama to identify a few likely locations during practice based on the wind current. It didn’t take long for those areas to produce Tuesday, as Connell landed five scorable bass for 12-11 in the first hour.

“I love fishing current, so I understand what current does to fish; I know how they act,” Connell said. “Coming here, I’ve never seen the place before. I had three days of practice, and I just kind of found me an area that I liked and then I just went from there.”

As the day progressed, Connell successfully expanded his pattern elsewhere. His most frenetic flurry came shortly after noon, when he added 11-7 to his total with five bass in just 13 minutes. By the end of the day, he had returned to practice mode, running new water.

While Connell didn’t want to reveal any details about how he’s catching his fish, he did say he’s optimistic he can continue to replicate his success in more areas. Don’t expect SCORETRACKER® to reflect that when he returns to the water Thursday, though.

“I don’t plan on catching any,” Connell said. “I’m just going to go practice and see what I can muster up.”

Overall, Connell likes what he’s seen from the Chowan River during its first few days hosting a field of touring pros.

“This place is incredible,” he said. “It’s full of bass, and it’s a very unique place just because of the salt content and the way these fish move. They’ll eat crabs, they’ll eat shad, it just depends on what section of the river you’re in. But it’s a very, very healthy fishery.” 

The top 20 pros in Group A after Day 1 on Chowan River are:

1st:        Dustin Connell, Clanton, Ala., 19 bass, 47-8
2nd:       Mark Daniels Jr., Tuskegee, Ala., 12 bass, 31-3
3rd:        Martin Villa, Charlottesville, Va., 13 bass, 29-14
4th:        Stephen Browning, Hot Springs, Ark., 13 bass, 28-12
5th:        Dylan Hays, Hot Springs, Ark., 12 bass, 27-8
6th:        Fred Roumbanis, Russellville, Ark., 12 bass, 25-2
7th:        Alton Jones Jr., Waco, Texas, nine bass, 24-7
8th:        John Hunter, Shelbyville, Ky., 11 bass, 23-9
9th:        James Elam, Tulsa, Okla., seven bass, 17-9
10th:      Mark Davis, Mount Ida, Ark., eight bass, 17-7
11th:      Nick LeBrun, Bossier City, La., seven bass, 17-6
12th:      Marty Robinson, Lyman, S.C., seven bass, 16-2
13th:      Justin Lucas, Guntersville, Ala., six bass, 14-12
14th:      Bryan Thrift, Shelby, N.C., seven bass, 14-12
15th:      Wesley Strader, Spring City, Tenn., seven bass, 14-1
16th:      Gary Klein, Mingus, Texas, six bass, 14-1
17th:      Jacob Wall, New Hope, Ala., seven bass, 13-14
18th:      Mark Rose, Wynne, Ark., six bass, 13-6
19th:      Chris Lane, Guntersville, Ala., six bass, 13-2
20th:      Colby Schrumpf, Highland, Ill., eight bass, 13-2

A complete list of results can be found at MajorLeagueFishing.com.

Overall, there were 242 scorable bass weighing 547 pounds, 10 ounces caught by 38 pros Thursday, which included one 7-pounder, one 6-pounder, four 5-pounders, 10 4-pounders and 20 3-pounders.

One of the few things Connell hasn’t accomplished during his Major League Fishing career is claiming an Angler of the Year crown. Arriving at the Chowan River in third place of this year’s Fishing Clash Angler of the Year race , he looks like he’ll have a legitimate shot down the stretch.

Connell entered Stage Five 25.5 points behind leader Jacob Wheeler and 13.5 behind Alton Jones Jr. While Wheeler is competing in Group B this week, Jones is also positioned to make the Knockout Round, although he still has a bit of work to do Thursday to secure his spot among the Top 10. Jones finished the day in seventh place with 24-7.

Martin Villa of Charlottesville, Virginia, earned Tuesday’s $1,000 Berkley Big Bass Award after a 7-pound, 7-ounce largemouth bit his wacky rig in Period 1. Berkley awards $1,000 to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass each day, and another $3,000 bonus to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass of the tournament.

The 39 Anglers in Group A compete in their two-day Qualifying Round on Tuesday and Thursday – the 39 anglers in Group B on Wednesday and Friday. After each two-day Qualifying Round is complete, the anglers that finish first through 10th from both groups 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 Sunday’s Championship Round. In the final-day Championship Round, weights are zeroed, and the highest one-day total wins the top prize of $100,000.

Anglers will launch at 7:30 a.m. ET each day from Pembroke Creek Park, located at 716 W. Queen Street in Edenton. Each day’s General Tire Takeout will be held at the park, beginning at 4 p.m. Fans are welcome to attend all launch and takeout events and also encouraged to follow the event online throughout the day on the MLFNOW!® live stream and SCORETRACKER® coverage at  MajorLeagueFishing.com.

The MLFNOW!® broadcast team of Chad McKee and J.T. Kenney will break down the extended action live on the final four days of competition from 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. ET. MLFNOW!®  will be live streamed on MajorLeagueFishing.com  and the MyOutdoorTV (MOTV) app.

On Saturday and Sunday, June 8-9, from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. MLF welcomes fans of all ages to visit Colonial Waterfront Park, located at 510 S. Broad St. in Edenton, for the MLF Watch Party and Kids Fishing Derby. Fans can watch the pros live on the MLFNOW! big screen, enjoy free food, enter to win hourly giveaways and cheer on their favorite pros. The first 50 kids 14 and under will receive a free rod and reel from Pure Fishing each day. Additional fishing gear will be provided onsite for the fishing derby or kids can bring their own. The final 10 Championship Round Bass Pro Tour anglers will be on hand at the trophy celebration on Championship Sunday to meet and greet fans, sign autographs and take selfies.

The U.S. Air Force Stage Five at Chowan River Presented by WIX Filters features the MLF catch, weigh, immediate-release format, in which anglers catch as much weight as they can each day, while also feeling the pressure and intensity of the SCORETRACKER® leaderboard. The tournament features anglers competing with a 1-pound, 8-ounce minimum weight requirement for a bass to be deemed scorable. The MLF Fisheries Management Division determines minimum weights for each body of water that the Bass Pro Tour visits, based on the productivity, bass population and anticipated average size of fish in each fishery.

The Bass Pro Tour features a field of 79 of the top professional anglers in the world, competing across seven regular-season tournaments around the country, for millions of dollars and valuable points to qualify for the annual General Tire Heavy Hitters all-star event and the REDCREST 2025 championship.

Fishing Clash, an interactive 3D fishing simulation game that’s played by more than 80 million people worldwide, is the official AOY sponsor of the Bass Pro Tour, Tackle Warehouse Invitationals, Toyota Series and Phoenix Bass Fishing League. You can download Fishing Clash for free in the App Store and on Google Play or log on to www.fishingclash.game for more information.

Television coverage of the U.S. Air Force Stage Five at Lake Eufaula Presented by WIX Filters Knockout Round will air as a two-hour episode starting at 7 a.m. ET, on Saturday, Oct. 26 on Discovery, with the Championship Round premiering on Nov. 2. New MLF episodes premiere each Saturday morning on Discovery, with re-airings on Outdoor Channel.

Proud sponsors of the 2024 MLF Bass Pro Tour include: Abu Garcia, B&W Trailer Hitches, Bass Pro Shops, Berkley, BUBBA, Epic Baits, Fishing Clash, Garmin, General Tire, Humminbird, Lowrance, Mercury, MillerTech, Minn Kota, Mossy Oak Fishing, NITRO, Onyx, Plano, Power-Pole, Rapala, REDCON1, Star brite, Suzuki, Toyota, U.S. Air Force and WIX Filters.

For complete details and updated information on Major League Fishing and the Bass Pro Tour, visit MajorLeagueFishing.com. For regular updates, photos, tournament news and more, follow MLF’s social media outlets at Facebook, XInstagram and YouTube.



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