With MLF's biggest event beginning Wednesday, the reigning champion has his sights set on history.
The third edition of Major League Fishing's REDCREST Championship takes place March 23-27 on Grand Lake in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As a young event for a rather young circuit, REDCREST doesn't only carry implications for its respective season in the Major League Fishing Bass Pro Tour, but also for the league as a whole, as each event inevitably brings a bevy of firsts.
One of the firsts that's still up for grabs is back-to-back titles, which naturally presents a special opportunity for 2021 champion Dustin Connell, who will try to fend off 41 of the world's best anglers beginning for a second-consecutive trophy.
Connell's REDCREST Triumph
The 2021 edition of this championship event faced some severe challenges for Major League officials to make it happen. The pandemic changed the plans of the original site of the event (Tulsa, Oklahoma) after travel restrictions and guest capacity reductions were in place for the planned expo. They shifted the event to Lake Palestine outside of Tyler, Texas, but that didn't work out, either. A historic winter storm hit Texas before that event and caused widespread power outages among other issues.
The show must go on, as they say, and the MLF officials continued their efforts to make the event happen. They again changed it to Lake Eufaula, Alabama, providing home-state pro Dustin Connell a much shorter drive to the lake.
Once he heard the news of the lake change, he went straight to his boat to re-rig all of his rods for the new venue. It proved worthwhile, and led to a victory.
Connell was able to win the most significant event of his career with the help of his forward-facing sonar and a jerkbait. That helped to expose how effective that lure is with the new technology.
As we talked with Connell preceding the 2022 REDCREST Championship, his win the prior year was the first topic discussed.
How did that pattern unfold for you?
DC: Each off-season, I fish as much as I can around the house on Lakes Jordan and Mitchell and that was the predominant bite around brush piles before REDCREST 2021. When the water cleared up on Eufaula, I knew exactly what to do.
Could that style of fishing be a factor again this year?
DC: If the water's clear, definitely. Fishing a jerkbait with forward-facing sonar has changed the way that I fish and it's an effective way to catch them just about any time of year and everywhere we go.
Connell on the Importance of Championship Events
A year later, Connell is still beaming from his accomplishment at the 2021 edition of REDCREST. The $300,000 first-place prize was a nice boost to his bank account, but he sees many other benefits to the win and should realize those rewards for the rest of his career. We asked him about that shift.
How does it feel to be a REDCREST champion?
DC: It's a life-changing deal, and championship events like REDCREST are a staple in bass fishing and helps you have longevity in this game. We are a fairly new tour and there have only been two winners so far, so it's a huge honor to be on that list and to be there right at the beginning. Every time my name is mentioned, "REDCREST Champion" will go with it.
The prize money was nice, but how else do you remember that win?
DC: Winning any tournament is a big deal in this game and it's what we live for. The money is great, but knowing that we got it done that week, every time I look at that trophy, will last forever. The mental side was a big bonus, too, because it proves that I belong at this level of fishing.
Looking Ahead to Grand Lake
Connell isn't intimately familiar with Grand Lake, but he's been there before and knows the layout. Plus, he has an idea of how it will fish. Before the lake went off-limits to competitors, he went there and got reacquainted with the water.
What's your prediction for how the fishing will be during REDCREST?
DC: I think it will be a quality bites deal and we won't catch tons of fish. Catching 10 or so a day will be strong and it will take at least that to win on the final day.
How do you like your odds of going back-to-back?
DC: The way it lines up with fewer guys fishing and the way the groups are set up, the odds of winning REDCREST are better than a regular Bass Pro Tour event, so it could happen. That would be unreal.