Posted by Z3 MEDIA STAFF on 08/18/2017

Story by Matt Pangrac

Moore, OK - In 2017, a group of five young anglers with remarkably similar backgrounds introduced themselves to the bass fishing world in a big way.

Justin Atkins, Dustin Connell, Jordan Lee, Matt Lee, and Jesse Wiggins are all from Alabama.  They’re all between the ages of 27 and 28.  Four of the five had notable careers at the collegiate level.  They all fish on either the Bassmaster Elite Series or the FLW Tour. They all knew each other before become professional anglers. Including this year, these five anglers have a total of nine years of experience on the Bassmaster Elite Series and FLW Tour.  

They have dominated the 2017 season of professional bass fishing.    

It started in January when Jesse Wiggins won the Bassmaster Southern Open on the Harris Chain of Lakes.  

Two months later, Jordan Lee executed the biggest comeback in Bassmaster Classic history to take the Classic title on Lake Conroe.  

Just over a month after the Classic, Dustin Connell edged out Kevin VanDam to win the Elite Series stop on Ross Barnett in early May.   

Justin Atkins became the most recent victor in the group with his Forrest Wood Cup victory on Lake Murray last week.   

Don’t forget Matt Lee’s three Top 12 finishes in 2017 Elite Series competition,   Atkins’ 3rd Place finish in the 2017 T-H Marine BFL All-American, Jordan Lee’s 10th place position in the TAOY standings, or the fact that Connell is currently leading the Elite Series Rookie Of the Year race with just two stops left.   

Since the beginning of 2017, these five have combined for over $1,080,000 in tournament earnings and hold the titles of Bassmaster Classic champion, Forrest Wood Cup champion, Elite Series champion, Bassmaster Open champion, and current Elite Series Rookie Of the Year leader. They have combined for seven Top 12 finishes in Elite Series competition and two Top 10 finishes in FLW Tour competition.  

Not too shabby for eight-and-a-half months of work between five guys who live within a seven-hour round-trip of each other.  

Name: Justin Atkins
Hometown: Florence, Alabama
Age: 27
School: Mississippi State University
2017 Forrest Wood Cup Champion
3rd Place T-H Marine BFL All-American
22nd place finish in 2017 FLW Tour AOY standings
2 top 10 finishes in FLW Tour in 2017
2017 Tournament Earnings: $382,100

Name: Jordan Lee
Hometown: Grant, Alabama
Age: 28
School: Auburn University
2017 Bassmaster Classic Champion
2 Top 10 finishes in Elite Series competition
10th place in Toyota Angler Of the Year standings
2017 Total Earnings: $376,500

Name: Dustin Connell
Hometown: Clanton, Alabama
Age: 27
School: University of Alabama
1st Place Elite Series at Ross Barnett
9th Place in Toyota Angler OF the Year standings
Leading the Elite Series Rookie Of the Year race
2017 Total Earnings: $151,500  

Name: Jesse Wiggins
Hometown: Addison, Alabama
Age: 27
1st Place in 2017 Bassmaster Southern Open on the Harris Chain
3rd Place finish in Elite Series on Cherokee Lake
31st place in Toyota Angler Of the Year standings
2017 Total Earnings: $127,533

Name: Matt Lee  
Hometown: Guntersville, Alabama
Age: 28
School: Auburn University
34th Place in Toyota Angler Of the Year standings
3 Top 12 finishes during 2017 Elite Series season  
Total earnings: $45,500

“I have no idea how many tournament fisherman there are in the world, or even in the Southeast,” said Dustin Connell, “but what are the chances that all of us end up fishing either the Elite Series or FLW Tour and that we all know each other and then we all win during the same year?”  

Matt Lee echoed Connell’s thoughts.  “It’s pretty crazy,” he opined.  “We all grew up watching this stuff on TV and going to these tournaments.  Now my brother is the Bassmaster Classic champion and my good friend (Justin Atkins) is the Forrest Wood Cup champion.”  

While Connell became friends with Justin Atkins and the Lee brothers through college fishing, Jordan Lee’s first meeting with Justin Atkins happened literally by chance.   In January of 2011, Jordan fished the Costa FLW Series tournament Lake Okeechobee as a co-angler and actually drew Justin Atkins (who was competing on the pro side) as his boater for the day.  The two hit it off and became friends.  

Little did anyone know that less than seven years later the two anglers would simultaneously hold the two biggest trophies in professional bass fishing.  

“I guess you could say that we are all really competitive because we are all kind of came up with the same level of experience at the same time,” explained Connell.  “At least for me, there’s a drive to ‘out do’ the other guys, but at the same time I genuinely root for them and want to see them win.  I think we have all pushed each other to become better anglers.”