Calm nerves, spending time on the water and a deep love for fishing are serving Connell well competing against the best anglers in the world.
Alabama’s Dustin Connell has often been called a “fish head,” which essentially means his life revolves around fishing.
“I would agree with that assessment,” says the Clanton, Alabama, native.
Connell, 29, also said he fishes for two main reasons – he simply loves to fish and it’s his occupation.
Connell competes on Major League Fishing’s Bass Pro Tour and finished fifth at last week’s Stage One tournament on Lake Eufaula in Alabama. Connell landed six bass in the Championship Round for an even 24 pounds. He won the previous day’s Knockout Round to qualify for the finale – his third such qualification in only 10 events of the Bass Pro Tour’s young history. Connell won the Knockout Round in last year’s season-opener on Lake Kissimmee as well.
Stage One was the first event of the 2020 Major League Fishing tournament season, but Connell has been fishing almost year-round.
“I love fishing so much that I just can’t not go,” he said. “I fished all winter. I feel like it keeps me in the groove. My casting mechanics are better, and it keeps me sharp mentally. If I don’t fish for a couple of weeks, then I am not as sharp as I can be. I hunted deer up in Illinois for two weeks, but that’s the only real break I took.
“Some anglers do better by getting away from fishing. They will not fish the whole four-month offseason. I don’t see how they do that. They say it’s so they won’t get burned out, but that doesn’t work for me. I think it’s like shooting free throws – repetition is critical.”
Connell was married in November, but that fact has not slowed down his fishing. “She (his bride, Victoria) knows that this is my job, it’s my profession,” said Connell.
Like any successful tournament angler will tell you, success and the ensuing prize money don’t happen overnight. Competing as a college angler was critical to Connell’s growth as an angler. He competed for the University of Alabama fishing team while earning a bachelor’s degree in marketing. He graduated in 2012 with a 3.2 GPA and set his sights on a career as a professional tournament bass angler.
“College fishing helped me get comfortable fishing in big tournaments,” said the former Crimson Tide angler. “Up until college, I had just fished 30-boat tournaments around the house. College events were often over 200 boats. College fishing also helped me by competing at a lot of different lakes, so I learned a ton.
“I fished the first few years out of a 16-foot Champion bass boat with a 90hp Mercury Force motor. Then I moved up to a Triton TR18 with a Mercury 150hp EFI and fished in it until I graduated and began fishing the Bassmaster Opens. After fishing all those events in a little bit smaller rigs, compared to now having the best equipment, I don’t get nervous anymore. That’s a big deal – not getting nervous.”
In 2015, Connell won a Bassmaster Open on the Alabama River and worked his way onto the national fishing scene. He qualified for the Bassmaster Elite Series through a fourth-place finish in the Bassmaster Southern Open standings in 2016. In 2017, he won the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament on Ross Barnett in Mississippi. It was just his fourth career top-level tournament.
Connell continued to fish the Bassmaster Elite Series in 2018 and switched to the new Bass Pro Tour in 2019. His success has fueled his desire to fish even more and figure out ways to continue his ascent in the angling world.
Connell said he’s a big fan of Mercury outboards.
“Ever since I started bass fishing, I have fished with a Mercury – all seven boats I have owned,” he said. “Once you get confident with a motor, you don’t want anything else.
“The hole shot helped me a lot at Eufaula. I ran a 24-pitch prop, and even with three people in the boat – each boat has a boat official and camera operator in the finals – and all that equipment, we were constantly running around, and I was able to get up on plane quickly. We were able to run 68 mph with three people and all our gear in the boat. I’ve had no issues with my motor, and that gives me peace of mind. Going back to what I said about nerves. I’m not nervous out there.”
Calm nerves, spending time on the water, and a deep love for fishing are serving Connell well competing against the best anglers in the world. He’s showing no signs of slowing.