Dustin Connell Earns Group A Qualifying Round Win at U.S. Air Force Stage Five at Chowan River

Reigning REDCREST Champion boats two-day total of 74-5 to win Group A Qualifying Round, Top 10 pros advance to Saturday’s Knockout Round

EDENTON, N.C. (June 6, 2024) – Windy conditions on the Chowan River enabled the trailering policy Thursday at the Major League Fishing (MLF) Bass Pro Tour U.S. Air Force Stage Five at the Chowan River Presented by WIX Filters, but the blustery weather couldn’t stop the anglers from catching piles of bass.  It certainly didn’t slow down Mercury pro Dustin Connell of Clanton, Alabama, (who had every intention of spending his second day on the water “practicing”), as he sacked up another 14 bass for 26 pounds, 13 ounces on the day. His two-day total was 74-5, over 20 pounds ahead of General Tire pro Alton Jones Jr. of Waco, Texas, with 53-06 for the Qualifying Round.

As with all elimination days on the Bass Pro Tour, there was plenty of drama on SCORETRACKER® as anglers made clutch catches while jockeying for position. The improved fishing also helped, as many anglers posted big numbers and made runs toward the top. Two anglers with more than 30 pounds, Justin Lucas of Guntersville, Alabama, and Gary Klein of Mingus, Texas , jumped into the Top 10 and will advance to Saturday’s Knockout Round.

The fishing appears to be improving on the Chowan River and connected waters or the anglers are just putting the puzzle pieces together better. Either way, things are looking good for a stellar finish to this event.

The top 10 anglers advancing from Group A will now have an off day from competition Friday, while the 39 anglers competing in Group B will complete their two-day Qualifying Round. The top 10 anglers from each group 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 the Championship Round. In Sunday’s final day Championship Round, weights are zeroed, and the highest one-day total wins the top prize of $100,000.

Dustin Connell’s Day 3 total was the fifth best on the day, made even more impressive by the fact that he was actively searching for new areas. Nothing he had previously fished was part of his plan on Thursday.

“I really like this place,” he said. “I went practicing all day and didn’t intend to reel them in like that. The Chowan River has a lot of fish, and I feel like I’m figuring this place out. I ran new stuff all day and maybe added 25 percent more to what I’d already found.”

Even catching a solid weight, Connell doesn’t regret leaning on them the way he did.

“I didn’t catch a lot of big ones – a few 2s and only one over 3 pounds,” he said.

Connell surmised that this fishery is about being in the right areas and that there are big congregations of fish in small areas, mixed in between voids of any activity.

“You can fish for a mile and not catch a fish and then get into one little stretch and it’s like ‘Oh, here they are,’” he said. “This place is area-based and finding those key little areas with the groups of fish is important. I feel really good about what I’ve found and how it will hold up for the rest of the tournament.”

Both Klein and Lucas were safely within the cut to get paid, but each wanted more. They both got it done and will advance to the Knockout Round, with Klein jumping from 16th to eighth and Lucas vaulting from 13th to fourth to end the day.

They were the only two anglers to eclipse the 30-pound mark. Lucas did it with a strong final frame and Klein did most of his damage during Period 2.

“The day started off good and then I went through a long dead period where I basically learned a lot of bad stretches,” Lucas said. “This afternoon, the bite was on fire, and I hope to build off of that. The whole key here is getting on the right rotation because so many of us are fishing the same stretches. Not every area has fish, but if you hit a good one, you can get right quickly.”

Klein’s 30-pound total exceeded his expectations, and while he felt safe at the end of Period 2, the cutline got a little too close for comfort.

“I thought based on my practice and first day that 18 pounds would be a very good day for me,” he said. “I was surprised catching 30 today, but also encouraged. I was 10 pounds ahead of the cut at the end of the second period and thought there was no way I wouldn’t make it, and I was sort of lollygagging. Then, it got to within 4 pounds of me and I lost two nice ones before I finally got another one. That’s the intensity of this format; you have to fish clean with flawless execution to compete against these guys.”

The top 10 pros from Group A that now advance to Saturday’s Knockout Round on Chowan River are:

1st:          Dustin Connell, Clanton, Ala., 33 bass, 74-5
2nd:         Alton Jones Jr., Waco, Texas, 22 bass, 53-6
3rd:         Mark Daniels Jr., Tuskegee, Ala., 18 bass, 51-7
4th:         Justin Lucas, Guntersville, Ala., 19 bass, 47-14
5th:         Stephen Browning, Hot Springs, Ark., 21 bass, 47-2
6th:         Fred Roumbanis, Russellville, Ark., 20 bass, 44-15
7th:         Martin Villa, Charlottesville, Va., 20 bass, 44-14
8th:         Gary Klein, Mingus, Texas, 17 bass, 44-1
9th:         Dylan Hays, Hot Springs, Ark., 18 bass, 43-12
10th:       John Hunter, Shelbyville, Ky., 19 bass, 42-3

Eliminated from competition are:

11th:       Wesley Strader, Spring City, Tenn., 16 bass, 38-4
12th:       Luke Clausen, Spokane, Wash., 16 bass, 36-6
13th:       Nick LeBrun, Bossier, La., 15 bass, 36-5
14th:       Jacob Wall, New Hope, Ala., 19 bass, 36-2
15th:       David Dudley, Lynchburg, Va., 18 bass, 35-10
16th:       Bryan Thrift, Shelby, N.C., 16 bass, 35-9
17th:       Chris Lane, Guntersville, Ala., 15 bass, 35-0
18th:       James Elam, Tulsa, Okla., 13 bass, 34-0
19th:       Anthony Gagliardi, Prosperity, S.C., 13 bass, 33-5
20th:       Mark Davis, Mount Ida, Ark., 13 bass, 31-9
21st:       Spencer Shuffield, Hot Springs, Ark., 15 bass, 31-0
22nd:      Nick Hatfield, Greeneville, Tenn., 11 bass, 29-4
23rd:       Colby Schrumpf, Highland, Ill., 15 bass, 27-11
24th:       Terry Scroggins, San Mateo, Fla., nine bass, 24-11
25th:       Jeremy Lawyer, Sarcoxie, Mo., 10 bass, 24-11
26th:       Marty Robinson, Lyman, S.C., 11 bass, 23-6
27th:       John Murray, Spring City, Tenn., nine bass, 20-8
28th:       Mark Rose, Wynne, Ark., eight bass, 17-11
29th:       Bradley Roy, Lancaster, Ky., seven bass, 17-9
30th:       Randy Howell, Guntersville, Ala., six bass, 17-0
31st:       Greg Vinson, Wetumpka, Ala., six bass, 16-11
32nd:      Jonathon VanDam, Kalamazoo, Mich., seven bass, 16-5
33rd:      Kelly Jordon, Flint, Texas, seven bass, 15-13
34th:      Brent Ehrler, Redlands, Calif., seven bass, 13-9
35th:      Boyd Duckett, Guntersville, Ala., seven bass, 13-6
36th:      Jason Vance, Battle Ground, Ind., five bass, 9-11
37th:      Matthew Stefan, Junction City, Wis., two bass, 4-4
38th:      Jesse Wiggins, Addison, Ala., two bass, 3-12
39th:      Dave Lefebre, Erie, Penn., two bass, 3-3

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

Overall, there were 264 scorable bass weighing 627 pounds even, caught by 37 pros Thursday, which included one 7-pounder, one 6-pounder, seven 5-pounders, eight 4-pounders and 35 3-pounders.

Jacob Wheeler of Harrison, Tennessee, is still in the driver’s seat for another Fishing Clash Angler of the Year title, but the anglers right behind him won’t make it easy. Alton Jones, Jr. finished the day in second place and punched his ticket to the Knockout Round along with Connell, who came into the event in third place in the points race.

Toyota pro Terry Scroggins of San Mateo, Florida, earned Thursday’s $1,000 Berkley Big Bass Award with a 7-pound, 2-ounce largemouth bass that he caught on a shaky head during Period 2. 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 the Town of Edenton, the Chowan County Tourism Development Authority and Harbor Towns Cruises, showcases 78 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.

Anglers will launch at 7:30 a.m. ET each day from Pembroke Creek Park, located at 716 W. Queen Street in Edenton. Due to forecasted high winds, MLF has enacted the MLF Trailering Policy for Friday, June 7, 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 Pembroke Creek Park at 7 a.m. ET and will begin fishing at 8 a.m. ET (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 MLFNOW!® live stream and SCORETRACKER® 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. ET. MLFNOW!®  will be live streamed on MajorLeagueFishing.com and the MyOutdoorTV (MOTV) app.

On Saturday and Sunday, June 8-9, from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. MLF welcomes fans of all ages to visit Colonial Waterfront Park, located at 510 S. Broad St. in Edenton, for the MLF Watch Party and Kids Fishing Derby. Fans can watch the pros 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. Additional fishing gear will be provided onsite for the fishing derby or kids can bring their own. 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 U.S. Air Force Stage Five at Chowan River Presented by WIX Filters 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 1-pound, 8-ounce 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 79 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.

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. You can download Fishing Clash for free in the App Store and on Google Play or log on to www.fishingclash.game for more information.

Television coverage of the U.S. Air Force Stage Five at Chowan River Presented by WIX Filters Knockout Round will air as a two-hour episode starting at 7 a.m. ET, on Saturday, Oct. 26 on Discovery, with the Championship Round premiering on Nov. 2. 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, Fishing Clash, Garmin, General Tire, Humminbird, Lowrance, Mercury, MillerTech, Minn Kota, Mossy Oak Fishing, NITRO, Onyx, Plano, Power-Pole, Rapala, REDCON1, Star brite, Suzuki, Toyota, WIX Filters 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.