Some days out on the water, it's like you can do no wrong. Googan Baits pro Dustin Connell had himself one of those days Friday. Connell, of Clanton, Alabama, caught 12 fish weighing 36 pounds, 15 ounces, to win REDCREST 2021, the Bass Pro Tour championship and earn the top prize of $300,000 at Lake Eufaula in Eufaula, Alabama. Connell grabbed the lead in the second period and never looked back, winning by a 5-pound, 11-ounce margin over second-place pro Michael Neal of Dayton, Tennessee, who caught 10 bass totaling 31 pounds, 4 ounces, good for $60,000.
"I still can't believe this, I really can't," said an emotional Connell on-stage after being awarded the REDCREST trophy. "This is truly what dreams are made of. I look around and I see guys like Jacob (Wheeler), (Bryan) Thrift, Ott (DeFoe), and I am just so blessed to be fishing against these guys. It's an honor just to be here and compete. To come out of here with a win, this is a dream come true."
Connell's quest to get to Championship Friday was not easy. On Monday, the first day of competition, Connell caught five bass totaling 15 pounds, 5 ounces to finish the day comfortably in 12th place. Tuesday, Connell only managed two bass and squeaked into the top 20 cut in 19th place to barely advance.
"I threw a swim jig all day long on day two, and it just wasn't happening," Connell said. "I caught a 5-pounder on a crankbait and I am so lucky – had that fish not bit, I would not be here today."
In Wednesday's Knockout Round, Connell started to put the pieces to his winning pattern together.
"I pulled out a jerkbait at 10:30 (a.m.) in the Knockout Round and fired out my first cast and I watched two fish follow it up and was like, 'huh'. Then I fired it out again and caught one. Then I caught a 3-pounder on it. I ended up throwing it for the rest of the Knockout Round and caught them pretty good and ended up finishing second.
"Near the end of the Knockout Round, I knew I was and had made the Championship Round," Connell continued. "So, I spent the last 45 minutes idling in one area and marking every single brush pile that I could. I was going to fish them all on the final day."
On Friday, Connell returned to the brush piles with his unnamed crystal-shad-colored jerkbait.
"Every fish that I caught today came on the same deep-diving jerkbait," Connell said. "The key was that it had to be deep-diving – not because it runs deep but because I needed it to get down in the water column quicker."
Connell threw the jerkbait on a 6-foot, 6-inch Favorite Fishing Rush jerkbait rod, with an unnamed 6:3:1 reel and 12-pound-test Seaguar INVISX fluorocarbon line. He took the lead midway through the second period and never gave it up. At one point in Period 3 he was catching them so well that his hand was cramping up.
"I would have caught some fish, but I would not have won this tournament without my Lowrance ActiveTarget," Connell said. "I literally watched every single fish that I caught today come out of the brush piles and eat it on it.
"I was shook up the entire third period," Connell went on to say. "It got real for me when there was 10 minutes left. I was standing on the deck and just praying. All the work, the time that I have spent learning, the sacrifices my family has made… it all came down to that moment. I haven't been this emotional in a long time. I am so incredibly thankful and blessed. I'll say it again – this is my dream, come true."
The top 10 pros at REDCREST 2021 on Lake Eufaula finished:
1st: Dustin Connell of Clanton, Ala., 12 bass, 36-15, $300,000
2nd: Michael Neal of Dayton, Tenn., 10 bass, 31-4, $60,000
3rd: Jacob Wheeler of Harrison, Tenn, nine bass, 25-6, $48,000
4th: Zack Birge of Blanchard, Okla., seven bass, 24-1, $30,000
5th: David Dudley of Lynchburg, Va., six bass, 18-12, $27,000
6th: Takahiro Omori of Tokyo, Japan, five bass, 11-6, $24,000
7th: Ott DeFoe of Blaine, Tenn., four bass, 10-15, $23,000
8th: Anthony Gagliardi of Prosperity, S.C., three bass, 8-1, $18,000
9th: Bryan Thrift of Shelby, N.C., two bass, 6-15, $16,000
10th: Mark Davis of Mount Ida, Ark., one bass, 2-15, $15,000
Full results for the entire field can be found at MajorLeagueFishing.com.