Winning Baits

How Dustin Connell won the Lay Lake Redcrest MLF Championship

You surprised Dustin won? Yep Lay is a lake he knows real well. But he also won one just 2 tournaments ago – the MLF Bass Pro Tour event on Toledo Bend – and get this: In the last 4 Redcrests, starting from 2021, he’s finished 1st, 4th, 7th and 1st. Pretty dang #stout.

Some guys really shine in the big events and from that record you can see obviously Dustin is one of ’em. And a really dang good fisherman. Here’s how he won it this time.

Going in/practice

> “Going into that tournament…it was raining a day or 2 before practice and I was like, Oh crap here we go. They blowed out the current…the flood gates…all stinking practice.

> “I know from local experience when those gates cut on, all the bait gets pushed out of the middle of that river [because of current]. They pack up up in those pockets…fish were in the drains in those pockets, and that’s where all the boat were at.

> “When the current slowed down…all the bait moseyed out of those pockets and went back out in the main lake and pulled all the fish with them.”


> “The first morning of the tournament I knew that. I ran around and looked at all the bait and was like, Oh they’re all out in the middle now.

> “Me and Michael Neal started on a place together…he was on that deal down there too. And then all these other boats started showing up…so the place started getting really pressured. I saw the pressure it was getting and I opted to get outta there.

> “I had a decent day 1…day 2 I opted go down there and practice some more, make that cut. I needed 4-5 lbs. It was fairly tough and I was like, I don’t know about this. So at about 12:30…I ran up to the Coosa…and wanted to go in there and fish a gravel flat on the lefthand side to see if some of these fish had slid up. Because it was warming, the water temp was 64…it’s any day now [the fish would move up].

> “…no fish on the gravel so I go out in the middle of that bay, the bait was out there and I catch a 4-lb spot. And then I pitched over there and catch a 2-lber…they’re here. But I didn’t need to catch anymore…already in the cut, let’s go practice.

> “That was the day they shut the water down to 2 units upriver. I ran from the Narrows right there at the Coosa, all the way to the dam. It took me like 45 minutes. I had an hour and a half left to fish. I went up there and I caught ’em everywhere I went – on a spinnerbait, on a scrounger, on a swimbait. They were just snapping. …alright, I think I can come up here and smash ’em during the Knockout Round [day 3, weights were zeroed].

> “…the Knockout Round I go up there and was expecting to catch 25 lbs in the first hour or 2 but it was dead. I caught like 10 lbs in 1st period. I was terrible. I was like, What’s going on?

> “I spent the whole day up there until about 2 hours in the last period. None of the guys were really smashing them that good. I ran down about 7-8 miles – I had some really sneaky shoals and offshore places in that river that had some big spots loaded up on them in the past. But I hadn’t checked ’em….

> “The first one I pulled up to, the first cast I catch a 3-lber – that’s when I put that clinic on there and led the Knockout Round. I caught 20 lbs there in like 15 minutes and that was it. …let’s go practice. I had 2 more places they were on, and I found one sneaky place that I’d never even fished before.

> “…the Championship Round I needed to use my time in the morning because they weren’t biting up that river early. I wanted a 2-prong approach. …go down…do my ActiveTarget suspended-fish deal early, and then run up the lake when the sun set those fish up and smash them up there. Without a doubt I thought I was gonna win it like that.

> “Well I get down [to the first hole], the fish are finicky, they’re pressured, they won’t eat the bait, it’s just weird. …this ain’t gonna work. So I left and went back to the Coosa where I caught the 4-lber at [day 2], and caught a 4-lber and two 3-lbers back to back to back. And I went, Uh-oh!

> “…I stayed in that area the whole rest of that period, and I was right there with [MI’s] Ron Nelson. …they’re swimming everywhere here, I need to stay here this whole next period and then go upriver.

> “…I just opted to stay in there and grind that sucker out, be smart, maximize my time and that’s where I won the tournament.”

He described the spot as a bay:

> “…I wouldn’t even call it a drain. …about the size of a football field…2 depressions in there, and all the bait was in there.

> “Big spots were after that bait. The fish were not pressured – the majority of them bit….”


> Day 1: Rapala CrushCity Mooch Minnow (not yet out, “gizzard shad”) on a 1/4-oz VMC RedLine Swimbait Jighead (not yet out), 15-lb Seaguar Smackdown Flash Green Braid to 12-lb Seaguar Gold Label Fluoro leader, Shimano Vanford Reel, 7′ 2″ MH Favorite Hex Spin Rod.

> Days 2 and 3: “I caught a few fish on the Mooch, but the majority was on a spinnerbait. The rest of them was on a Scrounger.” 3/4-oz chart/white double-willow spinnerbait with a Rapala CrushCity Freeloader (albino shad), and a 1/2-oz Scrounger head with the same color Freeloader. Both baits with 17-lb Seaguar InvizX fluoro, Shimano Chronarch (7:1), 7′ 3″ H Favorite Pro Series Rod.

[Sounds like at least some of the Favorite rods are on the softer side of the stated power.]

> Day 4 he fished the Damiki rig with the Mooch Minnow again. “3-4 different sizes of jigheads depending on the depth of the fish.”

He said most of his suspended fish were only 3′ down – his boat was in 10-12′. Several guys mentioned using an 1/8-oz jighead so I asked him about it:

> “The only reason I don’t like a 1/8 is it doesn’t really swim as good. It kinda hops around because it’s so light, so it’s not as natural. I need it swimming. A 1/8 is [more like] jigging…left and right a little bit.”


> He did his “shallow panning” with Lowrance ActiveTarget2. “That was very key for me this week. And Millertech Batteries – those are super strong. I stayed on my trolling motor all day long in that current and they never went dead or anything.”


> “I did run around a lot and ran that boat from dam to dam. That Triton-Mercury setup – I ran a whole tank out one day of practice. I ran around a ton. That’s the new 21XP. I absolutely love this boat. It fishes so good, it handles great. I’m just really comfortable fishing in this boat, and I have a lot of confidence in that.”

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