KISSIMMEE, Fla. – Game-time decisions are what colleges and universities try to teach young men and women every day, whether it’s on the playing field or in a corporate boardroom. Today, many teams fishing the 2023 Abu Garcia College Fishing Presented by YETI National Championship Presented by Lowrance at Lake Toho had to make some of those very game-time decisions, thanks in large part to a three-hour fog delay that grounded the field at Big Toho Marina this morning.
With the fishing day shortened to just five hours of competition, many teams were charged with the decision to either lock down and run to Kissimmee, or just stay put to maximize fishing time in Toho. Not an easy decision when the College Fishing National Championship title is on the line.
The decision was actually an easy one for the team of Conner DiMauro and Justin Botts from Bryan College. The two anglers struck paydirt in Kissimmee on Day 1 with a leading weight of 27 pounds. So, when they faced the idea having just two hours of fishing time in Kissimmee today, they went for it.
“You don’t win championships fishing scared,” DiMauro said. “So, we locked down and made the run.”
Their best area of pads down south didn’t pay off as handsomely as they would have liked, producing just three fish for about 5 pounds before they were forced to run back to make the lock. Once they made it back into Toho, they were left with about 40 minutes to fish; so, the team tried some offshore grass clumps, which produced a fourth keeper. Then, with 20 minutes left in the day, DiMauro saved their tournament lead with a 7-plus-pounder that gave them 13-12 for the day. The team now enters the final day of competition with 40 pounds, 12 ounces, a scant 1-pound, 1-ounce lead over second place. They plan to lock again tomorrow and run to Kissimmee, despite their biggest fish coming from Toho today.
“The winning fish are down there,” Dimauro said of going south. “We don’t have enough places in this lake (Toho) to fish all day. Plus, that offshore bite in Toho is better for us in the afternoon. We will definitely leave time to fish Toho again in the afternoon tomorrow, but we have to lock down and give those big fish down there a chance to put us on top.”
The team closest to catching the leaders are Cole Breeden and Hunter Baird of Drury University. The team weighed in 22-4 yesterday and 17-7 today for a two-day total of 39-11, which all came from Toho. While other teams were stressing the lock decision in the fog this morning, Breeden and Baird weren’t sweating it near as much.
“We committed to Toho mostly based on the afternoon bite,” Breeden said. “We felt like the best bite on Toho was in the afternoon and we didn’t want to be sitting in a lock when the bite picked up in the afternoon, so we decided to stay here the whole time.”
The team prefers to fish offshore grass in the morning with forward facing sonar to get some keepers in the well. In the afternoon, they go for bigger bites punching grass. Yesterday the punching plan paid off with a couple of kickers, but today it did not.
“That fog delay actually put a lot more company in our areas today,” Baird said. “A lot of teams that locked yesterday didn’t today because of the delay, so Toho had more pressure on it today and I think that might have hurt us. Tomorrow, with just 10 boats out here, and some of those probably going to Kissimmee, we feel like we’ll have the best places to ourselves again.
In third place is the team of Peyton Harris and Dalton Head from the University of Montevallo with a two-day total of 39-4. Harris and Head had their eggs in the Kissimmee basket yesterday to catch 20-11. When it came to decision time today, they let the lock line determine their fate.
“We ran straight to the lock and found the line wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be,” Head said. “So, that made the decision for us – we were going. I think only about 50 boats locked through today.”
Once in Kissimmee, the team is pitching reeds and pads very slowly.
“We got one bait locked in our hands and we’re bouncing between spawning fish and post-spawn fish,” Harris said. “We’re fishing up shallower where we think they’re spawning and then we’ll also make a pass on the more outside stuff where we think the post-spawn fish are going.”
Andrew Ready and Vincent Maffei of Weber International University jumped into the top five today on the weight of a gargantuan bass weighing in at 9-15. That brute anchored their limit for 23-6, giving them a two-day total of 38-1.
Ready caught the giant bass fishing a worm in pads in Kissimmee at about 12:30 p.m., it was their fifth fish that filled out their limit.
“It’s all about fishing slow,” Ready said. “You let sit there, then you let it there some more, then wait … and you wait some more. When you want to reel it in and make another throw, you don’t – you just let it sit there even longer. Eventually, one picks it up and moves off with it.”
The comeback story of the day belongs to Lafe Messer and Matt Messer of Kentucky Christian University. The team weighed in just 10-8 on Day 1, but rocketed up into the top five with the biggest limit of the tournament today weighing 27-1, giving them a two-day total of 37-9.