Friday, June 7, 2024

2024 U.S. Air Force Stage Five Presented by WIX Filters on Chowan River Group A: Connell earns another Qualifying Round Win

Dustin Connell maintained his lead throughout the day to finish with 33 bass weighing 74 pounds, 5 ounces. Photo by Phoenix Moore.

By Tyler Brinks 


EDENTON, N.C. — Windy conditions on the Chowan River enabled the trailering policy for the day, but the blustery weather couldn’t stop the anglers from catching piles of bass at U.S. Air Force Stage Five Presented by WIX Filters. It certainly didn’t slow down Mercury pro Dustin Connell (who had every intention of spending his second day on the water “practicing”), as he sacked up another 14 bass for 26 pounds, 13 ounces on the day. His two-day total was 74-5, more than 20 pounds ahead of Alton Jones Jr. with 53-6 for the Qualifying Round.

As with all elimination days on the Bass Pro Tour, there was plenty of drama on SCORETRACKER® as anglers made clutch catches while jockeying for position. The improved fishing also helped, as many anglers posted big numbers and made runs toward the top. Two anglers with more than 30 pounds – Justin Lucas and Gary Klein – jumped into the Top 10 and will advance to Saturday’s Knockout Round.

The fishing appears to be improving on the Chowan River and connected waters, or the anglers are just putting the puzzle pieces together better. Either way, things are looking good for a stellar finish to this event.

Connell expands areas

Connell’s Day 3 total was the fifth best on the day, made even more impressive by the fact that he was actively searching for new areas. Nothing he had previously fished was part of his plan on Thursday.

“I really like this place,” he said. “I went practicing all day and didn’t intend to reel them in like that. This place has a lot of fish, and I feel like I’m figuring this place out. I ran new stuff all day and maybe added 25% more to what I’d already found.”

Even catching a solid weight, Connell doesn’t regret leaning on them the way he did. 

“I didn’t catch a lot of big ones – a few 2s and only one over 3 pounds,” he said. 

Connell surmised that the key to the fishery in its late-spring condition is to be in the right areas, and that there are big congregations of fish in small areas, mixed in between voids of any activity.

“You can fish for a mile and not catch a fish and then get into one little stretch and it’s like ‘Oh, here they are,'” he said. “This place is area-based and finding those key little areas with the groups of fish. I feel really good about what I’ve found and how it will hold up for the rest of the tournament.”

Klein and Lucas make moves

Both Klein and Lucas were safely within the cut to get paid, but each wanted more. They each got it done and will advance to the Knockout Round, with Klein jumping from 16th to eighth and Lucas vaulting from 13th to fourth to end the day.

They were the only two anglers to eclipse the 30-pound mark. Lucas did it with a strong final frame and Klein did most of his damage during Period 2.

“The day started off good and then I went through a long dead period where I basically learned a lot of bad stretches,” Lucas said. “This afternoon, the bite was on fire and I hope to build off of that. The whole key here is getting on the right rotation because so many of us are fishing the same stretches. Not every one has fish, but if you hit the right area, you can get right quickly.”

Klein’s 30-pound total exceeded his expectations, and while he felt safe at the end of Period 2, the cut line got a little too close for comfort.

“I thought based on my practice and first day that 18 pounds would be a very good day for me,” he said. “I was surprised catching 30 today, but also encouraged. I was 10 pounds ahead of the cut at the end of the second period and thought there was no way I wouldn’t make it, and I was sort of lollygagging. Then, it got to within 4 pounds of me and I lost two nice ones before finally got another one. That’s the intensity of this format; you have to fish clean with flawless execution to compete against these guys.”

What’s next for Stage Five

Friday is another chance for big moves as Group B will return to the Chowan. Ten more anglers will advance to meet the 10 from Group A in Saturday’s Knockout Round.

Jacob Wheeler leads with 47-5 and Michael Neal is in 10th with 24-11. It gets closer the further you look down SCORETRACKER® with Jeff Sprague in 15th with 16-14 and Ron Nelson in 20th with 16-0. Keep up with the action on MLFNOW! tomorrow through Sunday from 7:45 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. ET each day.

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