|RIDGELAND, Miss. — Twenty-six-year-old Bassmaster Elite Series rookie Dustin Connell took over the lead on Friday’s second round of competition at the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Elite at Ross Barnett.
Connell of Clanton, Ala., caught a five-bass limit that weighed 16 pounds, 11 ounces pushing his two-day total to 36-7, which is less than 2 pounds ahead of second place.
A big wind picked up during the afternoon pushing sustained speeds of 20 mph, with gusts near 30. On a relatively shallow lake like Mississippi’s Ross Barnett Reservoir, that means muddy water and big waves — something all of the competitors will have to deal with on Saturday’s semi-final round.
“The wind won’t affect my fishing spots, but it will affect my travel time to and from where I’ll be spending my day,” Connell said. “What’s concerning me is that the water level is rising and getting muddier.”
The young angler mentioned that the water conditions seemed to be worsening, but the bass were still active and willing to attack multiple presentations.
“I feel like the bass are holding tighter to the structure, which is requiring repetitive casts to the same spot,” he said. “I have a lot of locations where I know I can catch fish, and I’m confident the fish are big enough for me to stay in the lead. But, if the wind gets worse, making it back to weigh-in will be my biggest concern.”
Connell said he’s excited to be leading an event on the Elite Series during his first year as a touring pro.
“I was humbled to have several boats following me around today,” Connell said. “It wasn’t but a few years ago I was one of those guys following my heroes around. Now, I’m living that dream. It’s important for me to keep my focus and fish smart, and not worry about who’s going to win. Tomorrow, I’m just going fishing.”
Kentucky angler Mark Menendez jumped to second place by weighing in 17-11 for a total of 34-11. He said fishing in tough conditions requires intense focus.
“To be honest, I’m not sure how well my pattern will hold up tomorrow,” Menendez said. “But I know that if I focus on making the best cast possible, as often as possible, I will catch fish. The forecasted winds tomorrow will have an impact on my spots; I’m just hoping I can continue to be consistent. Ross Barnett bass are used to wind and mud, they’ll still bite.”
After weighing 11 pounds for a two-day total of 33-14, Brandon Card of Knoxville, Tenn., fell to third place on Friday after leading the derby’s opening day.
“I think the fishing pressure where I’ve started over the past couple days is taking its toll,” Card said. “The wind and muddy water that is affecting a bulk of the field won’t be as big of an issue for my initial spot. But where I’ve been fishing later in the day will most likely be blown out tomorrow. Hopefully I can get a quick limit early in the morning and build from there.”
Rounding out the Top 10: Dave Lefebre (33-14), Bobby Lane (32-8), Mark Davis (31-14), Keith Poche (31-2), Jonathon VanDam (30-14), Jared Lintner (30-12) and Ish Monroe (30-9).
Lester remains in the lead for the Phoenix Boats Big Bass award thanks to the 7-2 largemouth bass he caught during Thursday’s opening round.
Competition will resume Saturday with the Top 51 anglers taking off at 6:15 a.m. CT from Madison Landing. The weigh-in will be held at Old Trace Park at 3:15 p.m.
The event is hosted by the Ridgeland Tourism Commission.
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