Consistency is hard to beat in Florida and when you are dealt with cold-front conditions it’s even more coveted. After two days on the Harris Chain for the Abu Garcia College Fishing presented by YETI National Championship presented by Lowrance, McKendree University’s Nathan Doty and Jacob Louis backed up their 22-pound, 10-ounce performance from day one with another 20-2 today to take the lead. With 42-12 overall, Doty and Louis will take a 5-1 lead over Bryan College’s Conner DiMauro and Cole Sands into the final day.
Having never fished in Florida before, the McKendree duo knew they’d have to lean hard on the two small areas they found in practice. They knew they could get bites from their offshore spots, but didn’t know the caliber of fish that lived there. As it turns out, good fish live there, and they've had both their places entirely to themselves so far.
“We showed up on our first spot and we sat there all day,” says Doty.
Yesterday, McKendree’s bag had a kicker – one over 7 pounds – though today, they caught all quality. That can be a rare feat in Florida.
“Yesterday we had one that was quite a bit bigger than everything else, 7 ½, 8 pounds, but everything today seemed to be about the same quality,” Louis says. “We had one 12-incher left about 11:30 and we figured we might as well get rid of it and caught our smallest one we ended up weighing – probably right under 3 pounds. The fish in the area are all prespawn and pulling up.
“Yesterday we actually caught them out off the spot farther, it’s not deeper, just farther out in the lake. Today it wasn’t happening out there, we had two little 12-inchers at 10 o’clock and we started inching up on the spot and the grass started getting thicker and they were sitting in there today.”
Aside from moving closer to the bank to catch their fish, the Bearcats also had to tweak their techniques to match the changing conditions.
“We didn’t have to change the bait, but the bait style,” Doty explains. “Yesterday we caught a lot of fish on a Speed Worm, but cranking it. Today, with that cold morning, we had to slow down a bunch.”
Doty is throwing a Zoom Ultravibe Speed Worm, while Louis is using a Gambler Burner Worm. They don’t plan on changing anything heading into Friday, where they’ll be fighting for a shot at a national title.
While all the teams competing this week had high hopes for a chance at the championship crown, McKendree is one day away from actually accomplishing their goal. What makes it even sweeter is that this is Louis’ final college event since he graduated last year.
“I figured we could probably do well,” says Doty. “We like to flip a lot and thought the fish may be spawning when we came down here. The weather came and threw some things off, but I had high expectations. I know this is [Louis’] last tournament, so we were going to give it our all no matter what and as of now it’s turning out.”
2. Bryan College – Conner DiMauro & Cole Sands – 37-11 (10)
Dayton, Tenn., may be a long ways from the Harris Chain, but Bryan College’s Conner DiMauro and Cole Sands aren’t lacking experience on this pond. DiMauro actually grew up outside of Orlando, so the duo already had an idea of what they should look for this week.
During practice, they spent the majority of their time idling and looking for offshore grass, and actually caught the bulk of their 20-1 day-one bag from places they didn’t even fish in practice. Today, they just kept an open mind.
“Today we went to our limit-hole and only caught one fish – a 3 ½-pounder – and that was at 11,” Sands says. “Then we pulled up to a patch of eelgrass we didn’t fish in practice and I caught one over 6 off it, hopped a couple lakes over and caught one off a dock, then scooted out and fished grass. We’re just junk fishing and doing whatever feels right.”
The best part about their strategy is that they feel confident they can catch fish all across the chain, while other teams are committed to certain lakes. That may come in handy tomorrow if fishing gets tough.
“We've got a lot of stuff to run, we haven’t even hit all of our stuff yet,” DiMauro adds. “We’ve gotten lucky each day with a couple things going right for us, like a big fish yesterday, so we just need some more stuff to go right for us tomorrow and we’ll be OK.”
3. Sam Houston State – Jayce Garrison & Mason Hoke – 37-3 (10)
Moving up one spot, the Bearkats duo brought 16-10 to the scale to go with their 20-9 from day one, and though their weight slipped some, they are still around the right quality.
“We changed areas today,” Garrison says. “We fished a bank line we fished in practice, but haven’t fished in the tournament yet and I caught a 4 and (Hoke) had like an 8 follow his bait to the boat on the same cast. We had another magical hour like we did the first day.”
Like McKendree, Sam Houston only has two primary areas. If they can get the quality that lives there to bite, they could have another 20-something-pound bag, or more.
“We pulled up on our first stretch and fished for five casts,” Garrison adds. “Our first stretch got blown out, so we moved to a new stretch.”
Also like McKendree, changing techniques was crucial on the cold, blustery day.
“We actually went a little more finesse than what we’ve been doing,” Hoke says.
“We’re around them, dude,” says Garrison. “We had like three bites that were all giants and just none of them made it to the boat. If it happens tomorrow it’ll be fun and we’re just excited to get out there.”
4. Georgia College – John Garrett Pearson & Rudy Pearson – 37-2 (10)
Another school climbing the leaderboard on day two, Georgia College’s John Garrett Pearson and James Pearson were one of the few teams to improve upon their day-one bag. Catching 18 even Wednesday, the Pearson cousins sacked 19-2 to make a solid move.
“We caught them the same way as yesterday,” says John Garrett. “We’re just flipping a black and blue [Yamamoto] Senko in the bank grass, it's pretty straight forward.”
“The bite this morning was slow, but it definitely picked up and the fish have gotten bigger since we were there in practice,” adds Rudy, who’s a sophomore management major.
Flipping is right up the Pearsons' ally given that their home lake is Seminole. While the duo has never fished a tournament solely within the state of Florida, the two knew to stick to their strengths and what they like to do and it’s paying off.
While other teams are working offshore grass and making decent runs, the Georgia College duo are basically the polar opposite. That’s got them hopeful they can keep improving their bag for one more day.
“We fished in Harris and Little Harris on the first day, but today we stuck to Little Harris and just fished it all day,” John Garrett continues, who’s a sophomore marketing major.
“If we just get some sun up and a little bit of wind, it helps us out a lot,” Rudy says. “Today we found two or three spots we hadn’t fished at all and caught two or three of our keepers there, so hopefully we can pound these four or five spots all day tomorrow.”
5. Slippery Rock University – Nathan Quince & Cody Neal – 36-6 (10)
Sitting just outside the top-10 cut on day one with 17-7, Nathan Quince and Cody Neal improved their bag on day two and climbed all the way to fifth thanks to a nearly 19-pound limit.
Quince has been to Florida a handful of times and even came down for a week of prepractice, but despite the prep work the pair wound up stumbling on something during the first day of the tournament. They caught their weight the first day and left them biting. Today, they picked up right where they left off.
“We didn’t change anything today really,” Quince says, who’s fishing in his fourth straight National Championship. “We just kinda dialed in more where they are sitting in the area we are fishing. Same bait, same everything as yesterday. We thought it was going to be tough, but we pulled in there this morning and caught them pretty quick and then [Neal] caught a big one and we had a limit by 9:20 and it kept rolling from there.”
They are fishing an area they’ve had all to themselves, likely due to the fact they are making an hour and a half run. They leaned on their school of fish pretty hard today, and though they learned more about where the fish are setting up, they aren’t sure what it has left to offer. But they’re more than ready to make the run one last time and find out.
Top 10 teams: