Elite profile: Connell committed to fishing early

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Shaye Baker

Editor's note: With Dustin Connell's huge win this week in the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Elite at Ross Barnett, Bassmaster.com wanted to share his rookie profile article again.

Did you ever wonder how some of today’s young bass pros have become such advanced anglers so early in life? The secret for many of them, including 25-year-old Alabamian Dustin Connell, is that they committed to the sport of tournament bass fishing early in life.

At age 7, Connell was a frequent fisherman at ponds and small lakes near his parents’ home in Clanton, Ala., which is where he resides today. When Connell was 14 years old, you could find him fishing Lay Lake from a canoe nearly every afternoon.

Connell credits his brother James for teaching him much of what he knows about bass fishing. They began fishing money tournaments together, mainly on the Coosa River lakes, the same year James got his first bass boat. James was 16. Connell was an enthusiastic 12-year-old.

“We fished three tournaments a week,” Connell says. “It just took off from there. It was all I wanted to do.”

The brothers claimed their first tournament victory when Connell was 14. The milestone event happened at Mitchell Lake. Connell recalls that the pot might have been about $500. If he had not set his sights on becoming a professional bass angler before the Lake Mitchell win, it became something he considered seriously after pocketing his share of the winnings.

When Connell was old enough to drive, he paid $4,000 for his first bass boat, a 16-foot Champion powered by a 90 hp Mercury outboard. The money for the boat came from his tournament winnings.

Despite his bass fishing addiction, Connell made time to play center field and pitch for the Chilton County High School Tigers baseball team.He was a good enough that he considered playing college ball. However, when he arrived as a freshman at the University of Alabama in 2009 he opted instead to join the Alabama Crimson Tide bass fishing team.

“I loved it,” Connell says of being a member of the fishing team. “We traveled everywhere.”

Connell won some of the team’s qualifying events and was the Angler of the Year for three years running. On the weekends that he wasn’t competing in a college tournament, he fished open tournaments on the Coosa River.

Since graduating from he University of Alabama with a marketing degree in 2012 Connell has made his living as a Coosa River fishing guide and by competing in area bass tournaments. He loves to fish for spotted bass in the Coosa River’s flowing waters. Fishing offshore structure is also in his wheelhouse.

“I love getting out deep and throwing swimbaits, crankbaits and stuff like that,” Connell says.

In 2015 Connell won a Bassmaster Southern Open on the Alabama River. His victory didn’t earn a berth to the Bassmaster Classic because he failed to fish all three tournaments on the Southern Open’s 2015 schedule.

Connell signed on to fish all three Bassmaster Southern Open tournaments for 2016. He finished 19th at the first event on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes, 24th at Smith Lake and 15th on Douglas Lake. He finished the Southern Opens in fourth place in the point standings and qualified for the Bassmaster Elite Series.

“My main goal this year was to qualify for the Elites,” Connell says.

His Southern Open win on the Alabama River last year helped him land some of the sponsors he now has. They include: Triton Boats, Mercury Marine, 6th Sense Lures, Airport Marine. Edwards Jewelers and JJ’s Magic.

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