Connell Cruises to Early Lead at MLF Bass Pro Tour at Toledo Bend
Alabama pro leads Group B by 21 pounds, 2 ounces after Day 1, Group A to wrap up two-day Qualifying Round Thursday

MANY, La. (Jan. 31, 2024) – After dancing around the top spot throughout the day, pro Dustin Connell of Clanton, Alabama , went on an afternoon flurry to pull away from the pack and grab the early lead for Group B after Day 1 of the Major League Fishing (MLF) Bass Pro Tour B&W Trailer Hitches Stage One at Toledo Bend Presented by Power-Pole. Connell and pro Matt Becker of Ten Mile, Tennessee, set the pace for Group B, both slipping in and out of the number one spot throughout the morning, as each had tallied more than 50 pounds of bass by the end of the second period. Connell pulled ahead during Period 3 to finish the day with 27 bass weighing 81 pounds, 14 ounces. Becker ended the day in second, with 18 bass weighing 61-12.
Link to Hi-Res Photo of Qualifying Group B Leader Dustin Connell
Link to Photo Gallery of Group B’s Day 1 Qualifying Round Highlights

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.

If Connell didn’t have enough motivation when he took to the water for Group B’s first day of competition 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 the SCORETRACKER® leaderboard for the event.

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 the two pros won’t compete head-to-head until the Knockout Round, Connell wanted to one-up his close friend – and he nearly pulled it off.

“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.”

While dynamic conditions on Toledo Bend have made the bite tricky for much of the field, Connell made it look easy, boating seven scorable bass for 20-6 in the first hour, then putting 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 pounds per period, I’ll probably be 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, 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 – 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 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 elimination line, he can use the second day of qualifying to explore new water. He said he plans to spend all day Friday practicing.

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

The 40 anglers in Group B will now have an off day from competition Thursday, while the 40 anglers competing in Group A will wrap up their two-day Qualifying Round. Group B will finish their Qualifying Round on Friday.

The top 20 pros in Group B after Day 1 on Toledo Bend are:

1st:          Dustin Connell, Clanton, Ala., 27 bass, 81-14
2nd:        Matt Becker, Ten Mile, Penn., 18 bass, 61-12
3rd:        Alton Jones Jr., Waco, Texas, 16 bass, 54-2
4th:         Brent Chapman, Lake Quivira, Kan., 19 bass, 52-14
5th:         Michael Neal, Dayton, Tenn., 12 bass, 46-14
6th:         Cole Floyd, Leesburgh, Ohio, 14 bass, 45-4
7th:         Jared Lintner, Covington, Ga., 15 bass, 39-12
8th:         Mark Daniels Jr., Tuskegee, Ala., 12 bass, 35-1
9th:         David Walker, Huntingdon, Tenn., 10 bass, 31-8
10th:      Jacob Wall, New Hope, Ala., 10 bass, 30-13
11th:      Nick Hatfield, Greeneville, Tenn., eight bass, 29-12
12th:      Dave Lefebre, Erie, Penn., nine bass, 29-5
13th:      Andy Morgan, Dayton, Tenn., eight bass, 24-13
14th:      Jesse Wiggins, Addison, Ala., seven bass, 24-11
15th:      Anthony Gagliardi, Prosperity, S.C., seven bass, 24-6
16th:      Randy Howell, Guntersville, Ala., nine bass, 23-15
17th:      Brandon Coulter, Knoxville, Tenn., six bass, 21-15
18th:      Shin Fukae, Osaka, Japan, eight bass, 21-5
19th:      Matthew Stefan, Junction City, Wis., four bass, 20-15
20th:      Grae Buck, Green Lane, Penn., four bass, 19-5

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

Pro Michael Neal of Dayton, Tennessee, earned the $1,000 Berkley Big Bass award after a 9-pound, 6-ounce largemouth bit his jig in Period 3. Berkley awards $1,000 to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass each day, and another $3,000 bonus to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass of the tournament.

The 40 Anglers in Group A compete in their two-day Qualifying Round on Tuesday and Thursday – the 40 anglers in Group B on Wednesday and Friday. After 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. 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 Friday, Feb. 2, Toledo Bend Lake Country will host an Education Day in conjunction with the tournament at Cypress Bend Park, where 260 eighth-grade students from local area schools will have the opportunity to learn about lake ecology, casting techniques and the Toledo Bend fishery. Bass Pro Tour pros will be onsite throughout the event providing instruction and working with students.

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 FacebookX,  Instagram 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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