Friday, February 2, 2024

2024 MLF B&W Trailer Hitches Stage One presented by Power-Pole Bass Pro Tour on Toledo Bend: Connell Secures Lead in B!


Mitchell Forde 

BASS PRO TOUR Press Release 

MANY, La. — Dustin Connell and the other anglers leading the pack in Group B got their work done early during their second day of qualifying at B&W Trailer Hitches Stage One presented by Power-Pole. Connell boated 13 bass for 39 pounds, 9 ounces Friday — 31-12 of that coming before noon — to bring his two-day total to 121-7. That easily led the group, 21-6 ahead of Matt Becker.

Yet despite the likes of Connell, Becker and Alton Jones Jr. devoting much of the day to exploring new water, SCORETRACKER® lit up early and often with quality Toledo Bend bass, foreshadowing a no-holds-barred slugfest when the Top 10 finishers in Group B meet the 10 best from Group A in Saturday’s Knockout Round. Meanwhile, a tightly bunched battle around the elimination line delivered drama throughout the third period, with Jesse Wiggins ultimately claiming the final spot thanks to a pair of catches in the final minutes.

Complete results can be found here.

For Connell, Friday was less about how much weight he could add to his total and more about how much of Toledo Bend’s massive surface area he could explore. He burned 30 gallons of gas running new water, focusing on areas that might not have produced during practice but could now hold baitfish and bass based on changing water clarity and wind direction.

He found plenty of fish in the process, as evidenced by his 13 keepers, including one new area he has “high hopes in.”

“I burned a lot of gas, and I ran all over the place just trying to find a new, fresh area that’s good now that the water’s starting to clean up,” Connell explained. “I was trying to play the wind direction and really find the bait, because the bait is moving around a lot. So I just went practicing all day, and I just caught what I caught practicing. It was a fun day.”

Connell’s technique isn’t a secret. Like most of the field, he’s using forward-facing sonar to find groups of suspended bass offshore, then casting to them with a soft plastic minnow on a jighead. Eight of the 10 anglers who advanced out of Group B have caught most of their weight doing something similar.

Connell’s plastic of choice has been the Rapala CrushCity Freeloader, the same bait Jacob Wheeler leaned on to win Group A. He said the pintail minnow is particularly effective in off-color water and when targeting bigger bass, making it perfect for Toledo Bend.

“I’m throwing it around some dingy water, and I think that bait has a lot of drawing power,” he said. “It has a great action, also. I mean, that’s one of the hottest techniques on the market, and that bait is really, really good.

With so many anglers beaming offshore, Connell said Toledo Bend’s bass are showing signs of pressure. That’s one reason getting an entire day to scope out fresh schools should benefit him during the Knockout Round. He also believes the pressure and stained water have put a premium on presenting the bait accurately — something he spent the offseason perfecting.

“The fish are getting smart,” Connell said. “They’re getting used to seeing that kind of stuff, they’re getting used to hearing the transducers. The biggest key with this whole deal is being able to make a really good cast and know where your bait is at. It’s just all mechanics. … I’ve been doing it all fall for literally three days a week and just practicing this technique, because I came into this tournament anticipating it to be this way. So that’s what I’ve been doing, and practice makes perfect.”

With weights zeroing overnight, Connell knows he’ll have to come out swinging during the Knockout Round. But he’s optimistic that he can catch enough weight to earn a spot in the 10-angler Championship Round without playing all his cards.

“I want to finish in like fifth place, just enough to be alright,” he said. “And you never know, may get to practice some tomorrow. I just want to finish in the Top 10, I don’t care if it’s 10th.”

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