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Dustin Connell Wins Group B Qualifying Round At B&W Trailer Hitches Stage One At Toledo Bend Presented By Power-Pole

Alabama pro catches two-day total of 121-7 to win Group B Qualifying Round, field of 20 set for Saturday’s Knockout Round

Many, LA – Pro Dustin Connell of Clanton, Alabama, wrecked them again on Day 2 for Group B, maintaining his position atop the leaderboard, with a two-day total of 40 bass weighing 121 pounds, 7 ounces, to win Thursday’s Qualifying Round at the Major League Fishing (MLF) Bass Pro Tour B&W Trailer Hitches Stage One at Toledo Bend Presented by Power-Pole.

Reigning Fishing Clash Angler of the Year (AOY) pro Matt Becker of Ten Mile, Tennessee, finished the round in second place with a two-day total of 30 bass weighing 100-2, while pro Michael Neal of Dayton, Tennessee , finished in third, with 27 bass weighing 95-6. Leesburg, Ohio’s Cole Floyd caught 29 bass weighing 95-5 to end in fourth, while General Tire pro Alton Jones, Jr,. of Waco, Texas, also advanced to the Knockout Round in fifth place with a two-day total of 30 bass weighing 94-14.

Link to Hi-Res Photo of Qualifying Group B Winner Dustin Connell
Link to HD Video – Fish-Catch Highlights of Group B Qualifying Round Day 2 on Toledo Bend 
Link to Photo Gallery of Group B’s Day 2 Qualifying Round Highlights on Toledo Bend

The remaining 20 anglers – the top 10 from each group – now advance to Saturday’s Knockout Round, where weights are zeroed, and anglers compete to finish in the top 10 to advance to the Championship Round on Sunday. In Sunday’s final day Championship Round, weights are zeroed, and the highest one-day total wins the top prize of $100,000.

Connell and the other anglers leading the pack in Group B got their work done early during their second day of competition. 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 Becker.

Yet despite the likes of Connell, Becker and 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 pro Jesse Wiggins ultimately claiming the final spot thanks to a pair of catches in the final minutes.

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.”

Toledo Bend’s big bass proved a bit more elusive Friday. For the first time all week, no fish over 7 pounds hit the scales. But Group B’s anglers made up for it with quantity.

The 40-angler field combined to catch 347 scorable bass for a total weight of more than 1,000 pounds. Both of those marks were the highest since the opening day of Stage One. Seventeen anglers racked up more than 30 pounds, the most of any day so far, with five eclipsing the 50-pound mark. As a result, the cut line climbed all the way from 30-13 at the start of the day to 70-10 at the end.

That should portend even more explosive action during the Knockout Round. With the forecast calling for overcast, rainy conditions, Connell predicted Saturday will bring the best bite yet.

“They’re going to bite really, really good,” he said.

The top 10 pros from Group B that now advance to Saturday’s Knockout Round on Toledo Bend are:

1st:          Dustin Connell, Clanton, Ala., 40 bass, 121-7
2nd:        Matt Becker, Ten Mile, Tenn., 30 bass, 100-2
3rd:         Michael Neal, Dayton, Tenn., 27 bass, 95-6
4th:         Cole Floyd, Leesburg, Ohio, 29 bass, 95-5
5th:         Alton Jones Jr., Waco, Texas, 30 bass, 94-14
6th:         Jeff Sprague, Wills Point, Texas, 30 bass, 81-1
7th:         Mark Daniels Jr., Tuskegee, Ala., 27 bass, 79-1
8th:         Anthony Gagliardi, Prosperity, S.C., 22 bass, 75-4
9th:         Brent Chapman, Lake Quivira, Kan., 27 bass, 73-7
10th:       Jesse Wiggins, Addison, Ala., 23 bass, 70-10

Eliminated from competition are:

11th:      Nick Hatfield, Greeneville, Tenn., 21 bass, 66-14
12th:      Greg Vinson, Wetumpka, Ala., 24 bass, 66-10
13th:      Dylan Hays, Hot Springs, Ark., 22 bass, 66-9
14th:      Jacob Wall, New Hope, Ala., 20 bass, 65-3
15th:      David Walker, Huntingdon, Tenn., 22 bass, 63-8
16th:      Shin Fukae, Osaka, Japan, 20 bass, 59-5
17th:      Jared Lintner, Covington, Ga., 18 bass, 50-14
18th:      Adrian Avena, Vineland, N.J., 18 bass, 49-1
19th:      Takahiro Omori, Tokyo, Japan, 17 bass, 47-12
20th:      Matthew Stefan, Junction City, Wis., 12 bass, 45-14
21st:      Chris Lane, Guntersville, Ala., 16 bass, 43-14
22nd:     Dave Lefebre, Erie, Penn., 13 bass, 40-8
23rd:      Andy Morgan, Dayton, Tenn., 14 bass, 39-11
24th:      Mark Rose, Wynne, Ark., 13 bass, 37-12
25th:      Ron Nelson, Berrien Springs, Mich., 11 bass, 34-7
26th:      Marty Robinson, Lyman, S.C., 13 bass, 33-0
27th:      Randy Howell, Guntersville, Ala., 13 bass, 32-12
28th:      Josh Bertrand, Queen Creek, Ariz., 11 bass, 31-5
29th:      Gerald Spohrer, Gonzales, La., 10 bass, 29-8
30th:      Grae Buck, Green Lane, Penn., six bass, 28-7
31st:      Jason Vance, Battle Ground, Ind., 11 bass, 27-0
32nd:     Matt Lee, Cullman, Ala., eight bass, 25-9
33rd:      Brandon Coulter, Knoxville, Tenn., seven bass, 24-5
34th:      Skeet Reese, Auburn, Calif., eight bass, 20-11
35th:      Jacopo Gallelli, Florence, Italy, five bass, 14-8
36th:      Britt Myers, Lake Wylie, S.C., two bass, 7-8
37th:      Colby Schrumpf, Highland, Ill., two bass, 6-14
38th:      James Watson, Lampe, Mo., three bass, 6-11
39th:      Terry Scroggins, San Mateo, Fla., two bass, 5-2
40th:      John Murray, Spring City, Tenn., zero bass, 0-0

A complete list of results can be found at MajorLeagueFishing.com.

Overall, there were 347 scorable bass weighing 1,020 pounds, 12 ounces caught by 38 pros Friday, which included 35 4-pounders, 9 5-pounders and three 6-pounders.

Friday’s $1,000 Berkley Big Bass Award was awarded to pro Jacob Wall of New Hope, Alabama, who weighed in a 6-pound, 14-ounce largemouth that bit his swimjig early in Period 1. Berkley awards $1,000 to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass each day, and a $3,000 bonus to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass of the tournament. 

The six-day tournament, hosted by Toledo Bend Lake Country and the Louisiana Office of Tourism, showcases 80 of the top professional anglers in the world, competing for a purse of $659,000, including a top payout of $100,000, and valuable Fishing Clash Angler of the Year (AOY) points in hopes of qualifying for the General Tire Heavy Hitters all-star event and REDCREST 2025, the Bass Pro Tour championship.

The 40 Anglers in Group A competed in their two-day Qualifying Round on Tuesday and Thursday – the 40 anglers in Group B on Wednesday and Friday. Now that each two-day Qualifying Round is complete, the anglers that finish first through 10th from both groups advance to Saturday’s Knockout Round. In the Knockout Round, weights are zeroed, and the remaining 20 anglers compete to finish in the top 10 to advance to Sunday’s Championship Round. In the final-day Championship Round, weights are zeroed, and the highest one-day total wins the top prize of $100,000.

Anglers will launch at 7:30 a.m. CT each day from Cypress Bend Park, located at 3462 Cypress Bend Drive in Many. Due to forecasted high winds, MLF has enacted the MLF Trailering Policy for Saturday, February 3, meaning pros can trailer their boats and drive them to any ramp on the fishery closer to where they plan to start fishing. Pros taking advantage of the MLF Trailering Policy will leave Cypress Bend Park at 7 a.m. CT and will begin fishing at 8 a.m. CT (Lines In) with the full field.

Each day’s General Tire Takeout will be held at the park, beginning at 4 p.m. Fans are welcome to attend all launch and takeout events and also encouraged to follow the event online throughout the day on the SCORETRACKER® leaderboard and event coverage at MajorLeagueFishing.com.

The MLFNOW!® broadcast team of Chad McKee and J.T. Kenney will break down the extended action live on the final four days of competition from 7:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. CT. MLFNOW!®  will be live streamed on MajorLeagueFishing.com and the MyOutdoorTV (MOTV) app.

On Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 3-4, from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. MLF invites fans of all ages to visit Cypress Bend Park for the MLF Watch Party. Fans can watch the action from the water live on the MLFNOW! big screen, enjoy free food, enter to win hourly giveaways and cheer on their favorite pros. The first 50 kids 14 and under will receive a free rod and reel from Pure Fishing each day. The final 10 Championship Round Bass Pro Tour anglers will be on hand at the trophy celebration on Championship Sunday to meet and greet fans, sign autographs and take selfies.

The B&W Trailer Hitches Stage One at Toledo Bend Presented by Power-Pole features the MLF catch, weigh, immediate-release format, in which anglers catch as much weight as they can each day, while also feeling the pressure and intensity of the SCORETRACKER® leaderboard. The tournament features anglers competing with a 2-pound minimum weight requirement for a bass to be deemed scorable. The MLF Fisheries Management Division determines minimum weights for each body of water that the Bass Pro Tour visits, based on the productivity, bass population and anticipated average size of fish in each fishery.

The Bass Pro Tour features a field of 80 of the top professional anglers in the world, competing across seven regular-season tournaments around the country, for millions of dollars and valuable points to qualify for the annual General Tire Heavy Hitters all-star event and the REDCREST 2025 championship.

Bass Pro Tour anglers will also compete throughout the 2024 season for the prestigious Fishing Clash Angler of the Year(AOY) award and its $100,000 payday. Fishing Clash – an interactive 3D fishing simulation game that’s played by more than 80 million people worldwide – is the official AOY sponsor of the Bass Pro Tour, Tackle Warehouse Invitationals, Toyota Series and Phoenix Bass Fishing League. 

Television coverage of the B&W Trailer Hitches Stage One at Toledo Bend Presented by Power-Pole Knockout Round will air as a two-hour episode starting at 7 a.m. ET, on Saturday, July 20 on Discovery, with the Championship Round premiering on July 27. New MLF episodes premiere each Saturday morning on Discovery, with re-airings on Outdoor Channel.

Proud sponsors of the 2024 MLF Bass Pro Tour include: Abu Garcia, B&W Trailer Hitches, Bass Pro Shops, Berkley, BUBBA, Epic Baits, Garmin, General Tire, Humminbird, Lowrance, Mercury, MillerTech, Minn Kota, Mossy Oak Fishing, NITRO, Onyx, Plano, Power-Pole, Rapala, StarBrite, Suzuki, Toyota and U.S. Air Force.

For complete details and updated information on Major League Fishing and the Bass Pro Tour, visit MajorLeagueFishing.com. For regular updates, photos, tournament news and more, follow MLF’s social media outlets at FacebookXInstagram and YouTube.

About Major League Fishing

Major League Fishing (MLF) is the world’s largest tournament-fishing organization, producing more than 250 events annually at some of the most prestigious fisheries in the world, while broadcasting to America’s living rooms on CBS, Discovery Channel, Outdoor Channel, CBS Sports Network, World Fishing Network and on demand on MyOutdoorTV (MOTV). Headquartered in Benton, Kentucky, the MLF roster of bass anglers includes the world’s top pros and more than 30,000 competitors in all 50 states and 17 countries. Since its founding in 2011, MLF has advanced the sport of competitive fishing through its premier television broadcasts and livestreams and is dedicated to improving the quality of life for bass through research, education, fisheries enhancement and fish care.

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