KISSIMMEE, Fla. (Feb. 22, 2023) – After a three-hour fog delay to begin the day, 195 teams of college anglers set off across Lake Toho with limited time to find big bass and make big moves on the leaderboard to secure a spot in the Top 10 and the opportunity to compete for the National Championship. The Bryan College duo of Conner DiMauro of Longwood, Florida and Justin Botts of Bluff City, Tennessee, narrowly held their lead Wednesday after Day 2 of the 2023 Abu Garcia College Fishing Presented by YETI National Championship at Lake Toho Presented by Lowrance.
The Lions started the day with a 3-pound, 8-ounce lead, but it tightened up as the team faced the weather-shortened fishing and brought only four bass to the scale weighing 13 pounds, 12 ounces.
Their two-day total of 40 pounds, 12 ounces gives them a mere 1-pound, 1-ounce lead over the second-place team from Drury University – Cole Breeden of Lebanon, Missouri and Hunter Baird of Salina, Kansas – who brought a limit to the scale weighing 17 pounds, 7 ounces, to bring their two-day total to 39-11.
While the Bryan College duo locked down to Lake Kissimmee on Day One, they had a decision to make as their fears of getting caught in the lock and losing valuable pounds were compounded by the shortened day.
“We were sitting in the fog delay for about 2 hours, with no clearing in sight, and we just looked at each other and said, ‘You don’t win championships fishing scared’, so once the skies cleared, we ran to the lock,” said DiMauro. “It didn’t pay off for us today, but we were able to scrap something together.
“We caught three of our bass in one of our areas on Lake Kissimmee, but they were little – a lot smaller than they were yesterday – so we were sitting on three fish for about 5 pounds toward the end of the day,” DiMauro continued. “We locked back up and ran on Lake Toho and caught a 7-pounder with about 20 minutes left. It was a miracle.”
DiMauro said they found about 10 clumps of grass right in the middle of Lake Toho, with fish and bait around them.
“I would have loved to have had about 30 more minutes today to fish out there, but it is what it is,” DiMauro said. “We were a little intimidated by the lock after guys got caught in it yesterday and missed their check-in time, so we came back a little early today. That ended up working in our favor because we had about 45 minutes left to fish, and we caught that kicker fish.”
Although a large portion of their two-day catch has come out of Lake Toho, the duo said they still plan to lock down to Lake Kissimmee on Championship Thursday.
“On Toho we really only have one area, so if they don’t respond to our bait tomorrow, then we’re in trouble,” said Botts. “Yesterday we caught the Kissimmee fish on a jerkbait, and today they wouldn’t even react to it. Those offshore fish are too fickle, especially with this wind. The clumps we are talking about aren’t very big, so it’s really difficult to hold on to those spots and fish them in 15 mile-per-hour winds.”
While the pair are staying mum about the specific baits they’re using, they did say the 7-pounder and a 4-pounder from yesterday were caught on a swim jig in the grass and their team philosophy is to keep one guy winding a moving bait in the water, while the other follows it up with a slower presentation – flipping a Yamamoto Senko .
“We are absolutely going to lock back up to Lake Toho later in the day tomorrow, with some time left to fish,” said DiMauro. “We caught two of those big fish on the same clumps of grass, so we will definitely hit them again tomorrow afternoon. We know the potential is there, but also know we can’t just sit on a clump of grass all day.”
Botts said it takes about an hour to run and lock down to Lake Kissimmee, but timing of the lock is the wild card.
“We won’t have to worry about it as much tomorrow because there will be way less boats on the water and all of us should be able to get in the first lock,” said Botts. “We can also push the time a little more, knowing there won’t be nearly as many boats trying to lock back up in the afternoon.”
“We only brought in four fish, but we had five bites within 2 hours, so if we’re going to win, it will be right there,” DiMauro added. “When it’s your time, it’s your time and you can’t do anything wrong to mess it up. I just hope we kept ourselves in it enough and can’t wait to get a full day out there tomorrow.”
The full field of 195 teams competed on Tuesday and Wednesday, with only the top 10 – based on two-day cumulative weight – now advancing to Championship Thursday. The National Champions will be crowned Thursday based on the cumulative three-day weight total.
The top 10 teams that now advance to Championship Thursday on Lake Toho are:
1st: Bryan College – Conner DiMauro of Longwood, Fla., and Justin Botts of Bluff City, Tenn., nine bass, 40-12
2nd: Drury University – Cole Breeden of Lebanon, Mo., and Hunter Baird of Salina, Kan., 10 bass, 39-11
3rd: University of Montevallo – Peyton Harris and Dalton Head, both of Montevallo, Ala., 10 bass, 39-4
4th: Webber International University – Andrew Ready of Auburndale, Fla., and Vincent Maffei of Lake Wales, Fla., 10 bass, 38-1
5th: Kentucky Christian University – Lafe and Matt Messer, both of Warfield, Ky., 10 bass, 37-9
6th: Adrian College – Matthew Davis of Morenci, Mich., and Sam Shoemaker of Martinsville, Ind., 10 bass, 37-9
7th: University of Montevallo – Brandon Berry and Hunter Bright, both of Helena, Ala., 10 bass, 33-2
8th: LSU – Beau Landry of Brusly, La., and Peyton Matherne of Walker, La., 10 bass, 32-15
9th: Bryan College – Elijah Kirk of Chattanooga, Tenn., and Andrew Fisher of Calhoun, Ga., 10 bass, 32-14
10th: East Texas Baptist University – Brett Jolley of Kingwood, Texas and Cade Nettles of Stonewall, La., 10 bass, 32-11
For a full list of results, visit MajorLeagueFishing.com.
Overall, there were 843 bass weighing 1,916 pounds, 2 ounces caught by 170 teams Wednesday. The catch included 115 five-bass limits.
The final 10 teams will launch Thursday from Big Toho Marina, located at 69 Lakeview Drive in Kissimmee at 7 a.m. ET. Thursday’s championship weigh-in will be held at the marina starting at 3 p.m. and will be livestreamed. Fans are welcome to attend the event or tune in to the weigh-in and follow the online coverage at MajorLeagueFishing.com .
The 14th annual College Fishing National Championship is a three-day event – hosted by the Kissimmee Sports Commission – featuring the top 195 college bass fishing teams from across the nation competing in an internationally televised, no-entry fee tournament for a $33,500 prize package, including a new Phoenix 518 Pro bass boat with a 115-horsepower Mercury outboard.
In addition to the boat package, both members of the winning team and the runners-up at the 2023 Abu Garcia College Fishing National Championship will advance to the 2023 Toyota Series Championship where they will compete as pros for a top prize of up to $235,000. In addition, the winning team’s highest finishing team member at the Toyota Series Championship will advance to REDCREST 2024 to compete against the world’s best pros for the sport’s top prize of $300,000.
Both members of the third-place team at the College Fishing National Championship will advance to the 2023 Toyota Series Championship to compete as co-anglers for a shot at winning a $33,500 Phoenix 518 pro with a 115-horsepower Mercury outboard.
Abu Garcia College Fishing Presented by YETI teams compete in three regular-season qualifying tournaments in one of five conferences – Central, Northern, Southern, Southeastern and Western. The Top 10 teams from each division’s three regular-season tournaments and the Top 20 teams from the annual Abu Garcia College Fishing Open advance to the following year’s Abu Garcia College Fishing Presented by YETI National Championship.
Proud sponsors of the 2023 MLF Abu Garcia College Fishing Presented by YETI include: 4WP, 13 Fishing, Abu Garcia, B&W Trailer Hitches, Black Rifle Coffee Company, E3, Favorite Fishing, Fox Rent a Car, General Tire, Grundens, Lawless Lures, Lew’s, Lowrance, Mercury, Mossy Oak, Onyx, Phoenix, Polaris, Power-Pole, Strike King, Tackle Warehouse, T-H Marine, Wiley X and YETI.
For complete details and updated tournament information, visit MajorLeagueFishing.com. For regular College Fishing updates, photos, tournament news and more, follow MLF5’s social media outlets at Facebook, Instagram and YouTube .
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