Following many years of planning and anticipation, the Bassmaster Elite Series added a stop at Ross Barnett Reservoir on its 2017 tour. The anglers were promised big bass in a growing fishery and scored a late spring date for the event during the last week of April.

Barnett did not disappoint, although the anglers were faced with some severe weather than postponed the final day of the event from Sunday to Monday, pushing the conclusion to May 1.

Rookie Dustin Connell of Clanton, Ala., emerged the winner with 64 pounds, 13 ounces, but had to fight off a challenge by late-charging Kevin Van Dam who finished 2 pounds, 3 ounces behind.

“I knew I needed to find something different and a long way from the crowds that would build on a smaller fishery like this,” said Connell, a 26-year-old guide who specializes in spotted bass. “When I arrived for official practice, I caught a 4- and a 5-pounder right away, and then I put my rods down.”

To save his bass for the competition days, Connell spent the rest of his practice viewing similar spots with his Lowrance sonar and GPS units.

Connell caught most of his fish on a swim jig but later relied on a frog to get him over the hump after weather conditions changed, and the Pearl River rose and muddied overnight before the final round.

Mississippi angler Cliff Pace, who did not finish as well as he would have liked in the event, said the Rez made as good a showing as it could. Pace said he agrees with the MDWFP assessments over the growing bass fishery that is supported by Barnett Reservoir, but the problem becomes too much fishing pressure in a large event like the one held by the Elite series.

“The lake is just not big enough to support that much fishing pressure,” Pace said. “When you have 110 boats with the best bass anglers in the country fishing the same areas for seven days, that takes its toll.”

Pace said in his experience on Ross Barnett it regularly takes over 20 pound bags to win a tournament, showing that the lake has a good population of quality fish.