Thursday, March 9, 2023

2023 Bass Pro Shops REDCREST Presented by Shore Lunch on Lake Norman Day 1: Cornell Secures Lead!

Dustin Connell is off to a solid start at Bass Pro Shops REDCREST
 Presented by Shore Lunch. Photo by Garrick Dixon. 

By Tyler Brinks


CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Coming into Bass Pro Shops REDCREST Presented by Shore Lunch, many predicted that spotted bass specialists would be hard to beat. Early in this event, that prediction seems to be “spot on” as spot guru and 2021 REDCREST champion Dustin Connell finished Day 1 with the lead and a total of 16 pounds, 7 ounces.

A Connell last-second catch

of a 3-7 spotted bass broke a tie with fellow spotted bass expert Brent Ehrler. The two were deadlocked for much of the afternoon, but that final catch propelled Connell to a half-pound lead over Ehrler. Connell will lead the field going into the second day of competition at Lake Norman.

Connell feels good about prespawn pattern

Spring is in the air and bass are spawning, but Connell is doing his best to avoid sight fishing and is instead utilizing his electronics. That was part of his plan in the morning and he plans to stick with it for the rest of the event.

“All of the fish I’m catching are prespawn fish and that’s what I was targeting,” Connell said. “I don’t feel like I’m a good sight fisherman, so I didn’t even want to try it. I 100% don’t think this event will be won with spawning fish. The weather isn’t set up for it, so I chose to target those prespawn fish.”

The areas and places Connell is fishing remind him of his home waters on the Coosa River Chain, and he immediately felt comfortable when he arrived in North Carolina for practice.

“It sets up just like back home, and I can look and see the areas they are in, where they are going to, and where they ought to show up next,” Connell said. “I feel like I can roll up and call my shot if I find the right places.”

Spotted bass proved to be Norman’s dominant species, but several solid largemouth were caught today. Still, Connell is banking on spots.

“I caught two largemouth today, but they were (secondary) to the spotted bass,” he said. “They didn’t make it for my best five, and I don’t plan to even try fishing for them all week.”

While a lead after the first day is nice, Connell knows it will take more work to become the first two-time REDCREST winner.

“It feels good, but there’s four more days of this stuff,” Connell said. “I’ll need to find more areas and have them ready for when it counts on the final three days. But you have to make it there first, and I feel like I did my job today. You have to take it one day at a time.”

With a lead and a cushion of 6-6 over 20th place, Connell admits he’ll take it easy on Thursday and look for more areas.

“I’m thinking I’ll need to pop about 8 pounds to make that cut, and hopefully I can do that early on,” Connell said. “I plan to run all new water tomorrow and feel like I’ll be able to get enough bites doing that to weigh a limit. I will make sure I’m safe and within the cut first, then I’ll worry about practicing and looking for more areas.”

Ehrler in a good position

With wins on prime spotted bass fisheries that include Smith Lake (Alabama), Lake Hartwell (South Carolina), Table Rock Lake (Missouri), Lake Shasta (California), and a Forrest Wood Cup victory on Logan Martin (Alabama), Ehrler can legitimately claim to be one of the kings of the species.

He knows how they act and how to catch bigger fish to separate himself from the back. Ehrler did that on Day 1, but was also helped by a 5-4 largemouth that boosted him further up SCORETRACKER®.

“I was fortunate to catch that big one and those fish go a long way in a place like this with both species,” Ehrler said. “You have to catch a big one every day here to separate yourself. The two species are generally in different areas of the lake and on different cover, but I’ve been surprised both ways. I’ve been fishing in places I thought largemouth should be and only caught spots, so it can be tricky sometimes.”

Coming into the day, Ehrler had a goal of 12 pounds. 

“I caught a quick limit, but it took me a lot longer than I thought it would to get comfortable,” he admitted, adding that the overall fishing quality is excellent. “There are a lot of fish in the lake and the water is warm and the fish are pulling up. It’s about as good of a time as you can have to be here fishing, and I think even with the rain and cold that is coming, not much will change and they will keep biting.”

Like Connell, Ehrler feels that he will need to expand his areas if he has a chance to win.

“It’s a five-day event and you can’t expect to fish the same areas every day because you’ll run out of fish by the third or fourth day,” he said. “I feel like I’ll need another 10 pounds tomorrow to be safe and can then start looking for new water. But, I hate to say that and get eliminated, so I have some thinking to do tonight for my plan for the morning.”

A numbers game

Norman is notorious for tight weights and that was the case to kick off this year’s REDCREST. The range between 10 and 13 pounds comprised the bulk of the field: Zack Birge is 10th with 12-15 and Dakota Ebare is 34th with 10-0.

It’s incredibly close and should be the same again on Day 2. The Toro Cut Line will likely show tight weights until the end, making kicker bass even more crucial.

Edwin Evers’ 6-0 largemouth was the biggest catch today to go with Ehrler’s 5-4 and a trio of 4-pounders caught by three other anglers. Fish of that caliber will be difference-makers the rest of the week.

Looking ahead

The tournament continues Thursday morning as all 40 anglers return to Lake Norman. Coverage begins at 7:15 a.m. ET at and lines go in at 7:30 a.m. ET. The group is led by Connell and Ehrler, followed by Evers, Jacob Wheeler, and Cody Meyer to round out the top five.

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