Connell’s keys to the win

PRATTVILLE, Ala. — One name never disappeared from the top of the scoreboard at the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open presented by Allstate. It was a notable achievement. The Alabama River made restarting daily tournament strategies commonplace for the 200 pros.

The only angler who literally rolled with the flow was Dustin Connell, who won the tournament with 55 pounds, 1 ounce. The Alabama angler led the tournament from start to finish. He even caught the heaviest single day weight at 22-3.

Connell’s keys to winning on the Alabama River: 

Key #1: Local knowledge

River success demands double the commitment of time over what is spent on impoundments. The reason is simple: bass are structure oriented and flowing water keeps fish on the move.

Connell, 24, is beyond his years as a skilled river bass angler. A native of Clanton, you’ll find him on a central Alabama river system nearly every weekend. Local knowledge paid big dividends during a week when conditions changed daily and sometimes hourly.

Case in point is Connell’s choice of fishing locations. For the first two days he made a nearly 50-mile run that required time-consuming lock passage. He found success fishing current breaks in the current-swept tailrace. The spot produced 36 pounds and showed little sign of letting up.

That run of success begs the question of why Connell fished the complete opposite direction and miles away on the final day.

“I knew from past experience there would be more current up there, “ he said.

The anglers had roughly 70 miles of water, and most of it fishes the same way. That made knowledge of specific areas key.

Key #2: Current ways

Understanding the nuances and intricacies of moving water proved another key. Connell’s skills at reading water enabled him to be on spot when the current made his areas most productive.

“Without current I would not have won this tournament, “ he said.

Spotted bass go dormant without moving water. Rivers are native territory. Long before man built hydroelectric dams to tame rivers it’s where the fish originated.

On the first day the current was strongest below R.F. Henry (Jones Bluff) Lock and Dam. That explains why Connell sacked the heaviest single weight of the week. The flow slowed the next day. The slowdown lowered his weight.

The combination of local knowledge and keen understanding of current made the move logical on the crucial final round.

“I knew there would be more current there,” he said. There was never any doubt that I’d change areas,” he said.

Key #3: All spots, all the time

Not surprisingly Connell targeted spotted bass. With the largemouth in spawning mode, many anglers chose them over spots. Connell never considered such a move.

“Largemouth are tough to pattern on the river because of the water fluctuations in Spring,” he said. “I knew that if the water went up that sight and bed fishing wouldn’t happen.”

He was correct. The river gained elevation each day and with it the ability to see bedding bass. The final day was notable with a jump of 4 feet. The rise in current made the spotted bass more active to keep Connell in contention all week.

Connell’s final area has sharply defined ledges and a steep bottom. By contrast, the other area is defined by shallower water and flatter bottom contour.

“The fish tend to spread out more down there,” he said of the tailrace area. “That makes them a lot harder to find.”

Key #4: Bait choices

Connell used a textbook lineup of three lures to catch fish in the current.

A Spro Fat Papa 70 crankbait enabled him to cover water while triggering reaction bites when the action slowed.

“It’s hard to beat on river ledges with hard, gravel bottoms,” he added.

He used a homemade 3/4-ounce jig as a cleanup lure.

“I never left an area without throwing the jig,” he said. “It was my clean-up bait.”

Rounding out the lineup was a spinnerbait with tandem willowleaf blades.

“When the water started muddying up on the final two days it solved a lot of problems” he said.

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