KISSIMMEE, Fla. – The final weigh-in of 2023 Abu Garcia College Fishing Presented by YETI National Championship Presented by Lowrance at Lake Toho took more twists and turns than a roller coaster at nearby Disney World. Indeed, the College Fishing Championship finalists saved the best for last at Big Toho marina, providing a thrilling ending for the fans, friends, families and fellow team anglers in attendance.
To start the big bass show, the team of Brett Jolley and Cade Nettles of East Texas Baptist University, who entered the day in 10th place, dropped the first bag of the day on the scales weighing a whopping 25 pounds, 13 ounces to momentarily take the lead.
Minutes later, LSU’s Beau Landry and Peyton Matherne sauntered up to the stage and shocked the crowd with an eye-popping 28-7 that brough the crowd to their feet and put them in the lead.
Not long after that, Andrew Ready and Vincent Maffei of Webber International University threw down 27-6 for yet another lead change.
But the big bass parade was not over yet. Peyton Harris and Dalton Head of the University of Montevallo had a little something more for the crowd, laying down 27-11 to take the lead over again and hold onto it for the win. In all there were five limits over 20 pounds and four of those were over 25 pounds.
Harris and Head played the College National Championship to perfection in terms of steadily climbing the leaderboard, getting in striking range, and delivering the knockout blow on the final day. Their score card started with a “modest” 20-11 for sixth place on Day 1. Despite a three-hour fog delay on Day 2, they scratched up 18-9 to sneak into third place. Then, with all systems go and no fog or lock delays on the final day, they rocketed to the finish line with the 27-11 and won the event by a scant 8 ounces.
“This is incredible,” Peyton said in a winning melee as his fellow teammates from Montevallo stormed the stage to congratulate he and Head. “We knew in practice we had found something special in Kissimmee. It was a place loaded with fish – prespawn, spawn and postspawn fish, all using the same place. Dalton and I decided to manage the place the best we could and not catch too many the first two days. We agreed that when we got to 20 pounds each of the first days, we would leave them alone until the end.”
“We met our goal the first day by 11:30 and decided to quit fishing in the area,” Head added. “Then, with the fog delay the second day, we only had two hours to fish down there, but still managed to catch 18. Last night, we could not wait to get out there and really step on the gas to see what the area would produce – now we know.”
The team’s day started with a 6-pounder and ended with a 9-pounder, with other big bass caught in between.
“The primary area was a big grass flat about a half-mile long and a hundred yards wide,” Harris said. “It had a lot of pad clusters, haygrass and little clumps of reeds mixed in – it was just perfect habitat for all three stages of spawning fish.”
All of their fish during the week came on either a Yamamoto Senko or a Strike King Ocho (Okeechobee Craw), Texas rigged with a 3/0-flipping hook and topped with a 3/16-ounce weight.
“I think the biggest thing for us was staying way back off the clusters of pads and casting to them instead of flipping to them up close,” Harris said.
“The other key was to fish super slow,” Head added. “We would make repeated casts to specific clusters and just work them slow until we would eventually get a bite.”
For their win, sophomores Harris and Head earned berths into the 2023 Toyota Series Championship as pros. In addition, they take a Phoenix 518 Pro with a Mercury and $10,000 cash back to their University of Montevallo bass club in Montevallo, Alabama.
“We can’t thank the University of Montevallo enough,” Harris said. “Both of us sought out Montevallo as a university because of its impressive fishing program. We knew in order to become better anglers, we needed to go somewhere where we could fish with the best college anglers in the country. Fishing with the best pushes us to be our best. And that’s why we are here today.”
University of Montevallo – Peyton Harris and Dalton Head – 66-15 (15)
Webber International University – Vincent Maffei and Andrew Ready – 65-7 (15)
Louisiana State University – Beau Landry and Peyton Matherne – 61-6 (15)
Drury University – Hunter Baird and Cole Breeden – 59-15 (15)
East Texas Baptist University – Brett Jolley and Cade Nettles – 58-8 (15)
Bryan College – Justin Botts and Conner DiMauro – 56-12 (14)
Kentucky Christian University – Lafe Messer and Matt Messer – 52-1 (15)
Bryan College – Andrew Fisher and Elijah Kirk – 49-6 (15)
Adrian College – Matthew Davis and Sam Shoemaker – 47-3 (15)
University of Montevallo – Brandon Berry and Hunter Bright – 42-3 (15)