Thursday, February 1, 2024

2024 MLF B&W Trailer Hitches Stage One presented by Power-Pole Bass Pro Tour on Toledo Bend: Cornnell Grabs Lead of Group B

Connell cruises to Group B lead with 81-14 on Toledo Bend

Mitchell Forde 

BASS PRO TOUR Press Release 

MANY, La. – As if Dustin Connell didn’t have enough motivation when he took to the water for Group B’s first day of competition at B&W Trailer Hitches Stage One Presented by Power-Pole on Toledo Bend — wanting to start the 2024 season strong, to get back in the Championship Round after making just one Top 10 last year — all he had to do was look at SCORETRACKER®.

Jacob Wheeler, who has roomed with Connell throughout their Bass Pro Tour careers, rocketed to the Day 1 lead in Group A when he landed 28 bass for 91 pounds on Tuesday. Though they wouldn’t compete head-to-head until the Knockout Round, Connell wanted to one-up his close friend.

He nearly pulled it off. Connell reeled in 27 bass totaling 81-14 on Wednesday, easily leading the 40 anglers in Group B. 

“I always try to beat Jacob,” Connell said. “It’s very hard to do. He’s on another level, and he motivates me to become better every day. It’s just cool to see me and him on top.”

Connell headlines a strong leaderboard after Group B’s first day of the Qualifying Round. He’s nearly 20 pounds clear of reigning Fishing Clash Angler of the Year Matt Becker, who sits in second. Two-time Bass Pro Tour winner Alton Jones Jr. lurks in third with 54-2, 7-10 behind Becker.

The full standings can be found here.

Connell’s day could have been bigger

Dynamic conditions on Toledo Bend have made the bite tricky for much of the field, but Connell made it look easy. He found a school of willing biters early and never eased off the throttle. 

Connell boated seven scorable bass for 20-6 in the first hour, then put together an even stronger surge across the second and third periods. Between 10:53 a.m. and 1:58 p.m. (which included a 15-minute period break), Connell stacked 14 bass on SCORETRACKER®, including his biggest of the day, a 6-11. The flurry added 45-13 to his total and gave him some breathing room over Becker.

While Connell was pleased by his performance, he said his total could have been significantly larger. He lost several fish, including the biggest one he hooked.

“I had a good start,” he said. “I told myself before the day started, if I can catch 10 a period, I’ll be probably leading, and I was right there on track. And I lost several fish today. I lost one probably 8 pounds. I lost a 5-pounder, two more 4-pounders. I don’t know what was going on. I think it was just the first day jitters.”

Connell did his damage in an area that he identified a few months ago during pre-practice. However, he had to move around throughout the day to stay on the fish. With dirty runoff from recent rains continuing to flow through Toledo Bend and water temperatures on the rise, the bite is constantly changing.

“I came over here and pre-practiced, and I just found a certain area that I really liked, and I just milled around and caught what I could,” he explained. “Things are changing, though. The water has come up, and it’s dirty (in some areas), and it’s clearing up (in others), and there’s so many different variables right now. I had to move around a decent amount.”

Connell expects that change to continue. While finesse tactics paired with forward-facing sonar have dominated so far — that’s how Connell caught all his fish Wednesday, and per SCORETRACKER® Insider, Becker and Jones employed similar tactics — Connell isn’t willing to guarantee that’s how the first trophy of the year will be won. 

“I think there’s going to be a lot of fish moving, and I wouldn’t doubt this tournament gets won shallow,” Connell said. “That water temperature really gets fish wanting to move up. So, I don’t know. I mean, I would think that (my pattern) would hold, but you just can’t ever tell.”

The good news for Connell is, with a buffer of more than 50 pounds over the cut line, he can use the second day of qualifying to explore new water. He said he plans to spend all of Friday practicing.

“I’m going to be able to expand on Friday,” he said. “I’ll move around a lot, and I’ll have a whole day to look for the Knockout and Championship Rounds. So, I feel really good about it.”

Big bass showing up

While the Bass Pro Tour’s return to every-fish-counts scoring emphasizes catching numbers in addition to size, the field has still managed to put a bunch of Toledo Bend toads on the scales. The 40 anglers in Group B combined to catch five bass that weighed 8 pounds or more Wednesday. A 9-6 boated by Michael Neal took home Berkley Big Bass honors.

That represented an uptick after three 8-plus bass hit SCORETRACKER® Tuesday — and with more warm, sunny weather forecast for the next two days, that trend could continue. That said, the 11-1 behemoth caught by Cliff Crochet on Tuesday will be tough to dethrone as the Berkley Big Bass for the event.

Interestingly, while the number of 8-pounders and the average scorable bass weight both increased Thursday, the number of scorable fish and total weight caught by the field dipped a bit from Group A’s opening day. The cut weight is down, as well, with 36-5 representing 10th place in Group A and Jacob Wall holding that spot with 30-13 in Group B.

What’s next for Stage One

The MLFNOW! livestream will make its 2024 debut Thursday when Group A returns to Toledo Bend for its second day of qualifying. The Top 10 anglers in the group will earn spots in Saturday’s Knockout Round. Group B anglers will then vie for the other 10 spots when they return to the water Friday. 

All the action for the remainder of the event will be streamed from 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. CT each day on or the MyOutdoorTV (MOTV) app.

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