Winning Baits

How Dustin Connell caught ’em at Toledo Bend

After winning THREE MLF Bass Pro Tour tourneys in 2022, last year the format changed to 5 fish and for whatever reason Dustin couldn’t climb outta the teens. Not bad by any means, but not close to 2022. Well as you know the BPT format is back to (almost) every fish counts, and DC came outta the gate with his tail on fire. Here’s how he won again.

Going in and practice

> “I went over there to pre-practice in Dec and it was incredible. The water was clear and a lot of those fish were in the main lake.

> “I showed up [for practice], tried that and the groups of fish were not there. The fish had dispersed…singles and every now and then you’d see a double or triple.

> “…just certain little zones the fish would be in. The bait had to be there. In practice the bait moved every day…depending on wind, clouds, all that. The bait would leave overnight…here today and gone tomorrow.

> “Practice went really well…that was before all that mud came in. The mud was in the back of the creeks from the get go, then it started easing out into the main lake probably the 2nd day of practice. …continued to slide out of the creeks and muddied up the main lake.

> “But the bait was really relating to that mud. …pulled them up in the water column and the fish were a little bit easier to catch. …little bit of stain kept the fish shallower, above 20′.

> “The fish in gin clear water were in 30-40′ – it was really hard to make a good cast and get the bait to ’em.

> “When I went over there to pre-practice I fully expected that the tournament would won that way [fishing for suspended fish around bait]. These fish were still in their wintertime pattern. A lot of fish in the main lake don’t know it’s 60-70 degrees up top.

> “I came into this with the whole idea that the tournament would be won that way, and I practiced that way this fall [at home].

> “I went into the tournament with the idea of keeping an open mind, not getting locked in too much. I’d run around checking and eventually run into some.”

How fished the tourney

> “The 1st day I fished in Lowe’s Creek right across from the boat ramp, and Slaughter Creek. I caught ’em really good early – the bait was up high and the fish were swimming good. Later it would get better…81 lbs on day 1.

> “Day 2 [he was so far ahead] I just went and practiced. I ran all over the lake. I tried to check water color. I’d roll into areas, side scan and down scan just looking for bait. When I’d finally get in an area with bait, I’d catch ’em and leave. …waypoint that area, the next day run I’d run in there and the bait was not there. It went like that all week.

> “You had find the bait to find ’em. There’s so many bass in Toledo, overnight they can flood a place [so] bait was key.”

He mentioned he tended to favor windy pockets.


He only fished a Damiki/mope rig but used 3 different baits:

> Rapala CrushCity Freeloader (albino shad and TN shad) – “I caught many 5-lbers that week on that bait. I would change color based on water color…’albino shad’ in muddier stuff….”

> The Freeloader was fished on a 5/16- or 3/16-oz VMC Hybrid Swimbait Jighead – “What’s cool about that jighead, it’s got a twist lock on it so I could catch like 10 fish on 1 bait, making me way more efficient. If you’re in an area with fish swimming everywhere, every cast counts.”

> Rapala CrushCity Mooch Minnow (gizzard shad, new/not yet out) – “That bait’s more finesse, subtle. I did a ton of damage on that little [3″] bait. I caught a 7, three 5s and couple more on that Mooch Minnow. The final day it was the main bait for me.”

> The Mooch Minnow was fished on a new/not yet out 1/4-oz VMC Tungsten Hybrid Swimbait Head.

> “I would change over to that smaller bait when I got little bit cleaner water. They bit it better. The Freeloader was really good in a little bit of stain. It has a bigger profile – I could get them to react on it better.

> “Another bait I was throwing was a 3.5-inch pearl shad-color bait. I’d throw that bait around that muddy water too…white around that muddy water. I didn’t have that color of Mooch Minnow because it’s so new.”

> 7′ 2″ MH Favorite Hex Rod, 15-lb Seaguar Smackdown Flash Green Braid, 12-lb Seaguar Gold Label fluoro.

The last day he was catching them near the surface over 12′ near “big groups of shad”:

> “Those fish are mainly feeding by sight so they gotta see it.”


He fished a typical FFS pattern for suspended fish:

> “The biggest key for that is making really good pitches. I spent all fall trying to get my mechanics right and getting all my transducers set up. When you made a pitch on a fish, it was critical to make that first pitch [on the money] because if not the fish will swim too close to the boat and that would mess him up and he wouldn’t bite.

> “The fish are naturally are attracted to your boat because they’re curious. They’ll be swimming to your boat…if they broke that threshold of like 30′ [away from the boat] they wouldn’t bite. You had to make a really accurate cast and that’s what separates a lot of the guys.

> “Once you get your cast down, it comes like second nature.”

Shout outs

> Miller Tech lithium batteries – “I stayed on my trolling motor hardcore all day. I have a lot of confidence in that battery. I spent all day looking and hunting for them…never ran ’em dead.”

> Lowrance ActiveTarget – “I’ve become really good with it. I’ve learned a lot about fishing with it and use it a lot.”

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