Big Bag Boosts Bryan College's Conner DiMauro, Justin Botts into Day 1 Lead at College Fishing National Championship - Major League Fishing
Big Bag Boosts Bryan College’s Conner DiMauro, Justin Botts into Day 1 Lead at College Fishing National Championship
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Big Bag Boosts Bryan College’s Conner DiMauro, Justin Botts into Day 1 Lead at College Fishing National Championship

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February 21, 2023 • Rob Newell • Abu Garcia College Fishing

KISSIMMEE, Fla. – Day 1 of the Abu Garcia College Fishing Presented by YETI National Championship Presented by Lowrance at Lake Toho went just about as expected. Warming waters continued to usher big bass into the shallows, where many of the top collegiate teams were waiting to tease them with everything from soft plastics to ChatterBaits. 

In all, six limits over 20 pounds were brought in, as well as several bass in the 8-pound range. Bryan College seems to have Florida figured out with two teams in the Top 5. The University of Montevallo is also heavily represented atop the leaderboard with three teams in the Top 10.

Leading the way is Bryan College’s team of Conner DiMauro and Justin Botts with 27 pounds. DiMauro, who is working on his MBA at Bryan, is no stranger to captaining his team to College Fishing National Titles. He already has a Bassmaster College Series trophy to his name from the Harris Chain of Lakes in 2020 and would like to add an MLF College Fishing National Championship to his collection, as well. His teammate, Botts, who’s a senior in Business Marketing, sure wouldn’t mind doing the same.

This morning, Botts and DiMauro had to put their plans to run to Kissimmee on hold due to their late boat number. They fished in Toho for an hour and then headed to the lock, where they waited another hour to lock through.

“We were boat number 152, and when we finally made it into the lock, they told us we were boat number 138 to come through the lock, which gives you some idea of just how many people went down morning,” Dimauro said. “We finally got to start fishing at about 10 o’clock and left to come back up at 1:30. After we came back into Toho this afternoon, we did upgrade once.”

Despite giving up over three hours of fishing time for locking and travel, it didn’t take long to catch most of their weight thanks to two 7-plus-pounders.

“We caught those two big ones within a couple hundred yards of each other,” Dimauro said. “Those two fish were fat; they were females that looked like they hadn’t spawned yet.”

Botts pointed out that there’s a lot of risk to assume when locking. Several teams incurred late penalties on Day 1 due to getting caught up in the lock juggernaut this afternoon. Despite the risk, the team plans on locking again tomorrow. 

“We do lose a lot of fishing time, but when you hit the right stretch, it can happen so fast,” Dimauro added. 

Montevallo’s Brandon Berry and Hunter Bright gave up valuable fishing time to lock down to Kissimmee – a decision that paid off to the tune of 23-8 and second place after Day 1.

In the current runner-up spot is the University of Montevallo team of Brandon Berry and Hunter Bright, who brought in 23-8 that, for most of weigh-in, looked like it might be good for the top spot. Both Berry and Bright are freshmen majoring in Marketing. 

The team started their day on Toho on a spot where they felt an early bite was working. Once that bite didn’t happen, they locked down and went south. 

“At about 11 o’clock, we hit one small stretch and caught a 3 1/2-pounder, an 8-pounder and a 7-pounder – all pretty close to each other,” Bright said. “It wasn’t a matter of dropping the trolling motor and fishing; it was more like drop the Power-Poles and fish – that’s how small the spot was.”

In third place heading into Day 2 is the team of Matthew Davis and Sam Shoemaker of Adrian College with 23-4. They chose to stay in Lake Toho to maximize fishing time and avoid the risk of the locks. 

“We just didn’t want to fool with that,” Davis said of the locks. “Kissimmee is fishing good right now, but if you get down there and are late getting back because of the locks, it can cost you. There are a lot of big bass that live here in Toho – the kind it takes to win. Plus, this lake is not getting near as much pressure.”

The team started with moving baits in the low-light hours and fog this morning to catch a few keepers early. Once the sun got up high in the sky, they shelved their moving baits and went up shallow to fish some slower presentations. Tomorrow, they plan to stick with Toho again.

A handful of quality keepers on Day 1 have Drury University’s Cole Breeden and Hunter Baird in fourth heading into moving day.

Cole Breeden and Hunter Baird of Drury University hold down fourth with 22-4. Rounding out the top five is Elijah Kirk and Andrew Fisher of Bryan College with 21-8, thanks in large part to a 9-pounder that smashed a topwater bait early this morning. With that, the team decided to stay in Toho to fill out their limit and ended up culling several times. They said they plan to stay in Toho again tomorrow. 

Current Top 10 

1. Bryan College – Justin Botts, Conner DiMauro – 27-0 (5)

2. University of Montevallo – Hunter Bright, Brandon Berry – 23-8 (5)

3. Adrian College – Matthew Davis, Sam Shoemaker – 23-4 (5)

4. Drury University – Cole Breeden, Hunter Baird – 22-4 (5)

5. Bryan College – Elijah Kirk, Andrew Fisher – 21-8 (5)

6. University of Montevallo – Peyton Harris, Dalton Head 20-11 (5)

7. University of Montevallo – Ryan Thomas, Will Thomas – 19-7 (5)

8. Florida Gateway College – Seth Slanker, Jackson Swisher – 19-6 (5)

9. Carson-Newman University – Hayden Gaddis, Ben Cully – 18-12 (5)

10. Dallas Baptist University – Mark Harris, Jacob Witkowski – 18-7 (5)

Complete Results