KISSIMMEE, Fla. – The Bryan College duo of Conner DiMauro of Longwood, Florida and Justin Botts of Bluff City, Tennessee, grabbed the early lead Tuesday after Day 1 of the 2023 Abu Garcia College Fishing Presented by YETI National Championship at Lake Toho Presented by Lowrance. The Lions team brought a five-bass limit to the scale weighing 27 pounds even, giving them a 3-pound, 8-ounce lead over the second-place University of Montevallo team of Brandon Berry and Hunter Bright, both of Helena, Alabama.
DiMauro graduated in 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in business and is currently a graduate student at Bryan College, working on his MBA and Botts is a senior marketing major.
As was the case with most of the field, DiMauro said the pair made quite the run during Day 1 of competition, locking down to Lake Kissimmee.
“We were boat number 152 at takeoff this morning, and when we got to the lock, we were number 138 in line to lock down,” said DiMauro. “We stopped and fished for an hour in Lake Toho while waiting to lock, caught 3 or 4 fish, and still waited back at the lock for almost an hour before getting through.”
DiMauro said they got to their spot on Lake Kissimmee about 10 a.m. and were able to fish there until around 1:30 p.m. before heading back to the lock – a total of only 3½ fishing hours.
“We caught a good bag on Lake Kissimmee, but once we got back to Toho, we just started idling and looking around,” said DiMauro. “We found a little bit of grass and were able to upgrade and cull one more fish before we came to check in.”
The duo said they spent most of their day targeting isolated grass clumps on their electronics.
“We caught two bass between 7 and 8 pounds within a couple hundred yards of each other,” said DiMauro. “We caught one of them flipping and caught the other one on a 6-inch soft plastic swimbait, just winding it through the pads.
“We got on a pattern by the end of the day today and started running it in some isolated groups of lily pads,” DiMauro continued. “Thankfully, we were able to dial it in and keep our baits in the best areas to get quality bites.”
Botts said they plan to lock down again on day 2, go straight to their main spot on Lake Kissimmee, and stay there as long as they can before heading back.
“One of the boats not far behind us got caught at the lock and was 7 minutes late to check-in,” said Botts. “We know locking is a risk, but it’s a risk we are willing to take to get to some of our good areas.”
This event marks the third College Fishing National Championship qualification for 22-year-old Botts and the fifth for 23-year-old DiMauro.
“We are going to keep an open mind going into tomorrow, just like we did today,” DiMauro said. “We only really hit one area today on Kissimmee, and we have three or four spots that we’ve gotten some good bites in so we’ll see how the day plays out. We’ve got a lot of water to cover, but we’re just going to fish slow.
“The good bites happen fast,” DiMauro continued. “You get in a little area and it’s just one after the other, but then you might go for an hour without a bite. So, you just got to keep a good mindset about it and take your time.”
The 14th annual College Fishing National Championship is a three-day event – hosted by the Kissimmee Sports Commission – featuring the top 198 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.
The full field of 198 teams compete on Tuesday and Wednesday, with only the top 10 – based on two-day cumulative weight – advancing to Championship Thursday. The National Champions will be crowned Thursday based on the cumulative three-day weight total.
The Top 10 teams after Day One on Lake Toho are:
For a full list of results, visit MajorLeagueFishing.com.
Overall, there were 843 bass weighing 1,919 pounds, 4 ounces caught by 188 teams Tuesday. The catch included 146 five-bass limits.
Anglers will take off from Big Toho Marina, located at 69 Lakeview Dr. in Kissimmee at 7 a.m. ET each day of competition. Weigh-ins will be held at the marina starting at 3 p.m. and will be livestreamed daily. Fans are welcome to attend the event or tune in to the weigh-in and follow the online coverage at MajorLeagueFishing.com.
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.