KISSIMMEE, Fla. – The Kissimmee Chain of Lakes did not disappoint at the 2023 Abu Garcia College Fishing Presented by YETI National Championship Presented by Lowrance at Lake Toho. The event, held Feb. 21-23, fell perfectly during a huge wave of big bass that had moved up to spawn. With that, the College Fishing National Championship qualifiers were treated to some of the best bass fishing Florida has to offer. Fog delays and lock lines cost anglers premium fishing time the first two days. However, when the field was cut to 10 on the last day and there was no time lost to fog or lock lines, the finalists brought a parade of big limits to the stage. In all, half the Top 10 caught limits more than 20 pounds and four of the limits were more than 25 pounds.
When it came to the lures that fooled most of the big fish, soft plastic stick baits of various types did most of the damage while ChatterBaits, swim jigs and jerkbaits got their licks in, too. Here is a closer look at the best lures of the 2023 College Fishing National Championship.
1. The University of Montevallo’s Peyton Harris and Dalton Head climbed the leaderboard all three days, from 6th to 3rd and then to victory lane. In the end, they saved the best for last, bringing in 27-11 on the final day to claim the title, money and a Phoenix boat. All their big catches 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. They spent their week fishing a mix of pads, reeds and haygrass.
“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 slowly until we would eventually get a bite.”
2. Vincent Maffei and Andrew Ready of Weber International University finished runner-up by a slim 8 ounces, also winning a new Phoenix bass boat. After getting out of the gates on Day 1 with just 14-11, the team tried to make up ground for the win by weighing 23-6 on Day 2 and then a huge stride at the finish line with 27-6. The team spent the week in Kissimmee fishing scattered pads and reeds. Their go-to lures were the Gambler Ace or Fat Ace in junebug and bruised copper colors. The stick baits were pegged with 3/16-ounce and 1/4-ounce weights and fished on 20-pound fluorocarbon or 50-pound braid, depending on the thickness of the cover.
3. LSU’s Beau Landry and Peyton Matherne brought in the biggest limit of the event on the final day, weighing 28-7. That giant bag of bass came from Lake Cypress on a small stretch of reeds. The key lure was a hand-poured 5-inch Senko-style stick made by Landry that he calls “Beaudacious.”
“I make them from a type of plastic that floats,” Landry said. “I think a floating bait is easier for bass to see and eat because of the way the tail floats up off the bottom. So many soft stick baits just lay on the bottom in the silt. This one looks different in the way it stands up. Our two best colors were junebug and junebug red.”
They also used 3/16-ounce tungsten screw-in weights made by Wicked Weights and coated the homemade plastics in Bait Fuel scent, which they felt made a big difference as well.
4. Hunter Baird and Cole Breeden of Drury University spent their week fishing offshore grass in Lake Toho. The magical mix of vegetation was hydrilla with coontail and pepper grass mixed in. Their top choice in the grass was a Berkley Stunna 112 fished on Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon and a Neko-rigged 4 1/2-inch Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Hit Worm. For thicker clumps, they Texas-rigged the bigger Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Mag Hit Worm Magnum under a 1/8-ounce weight.
5. Brett Jolley and Cade Nettles of East Texas Baptist University jumped to the fifth-place spot on the last day with a big catch of 25-13. The team wrangled that limit on a Zoom Magnum UltraVibe Speed Worm (watermelon candy, tail dipped in Chartreuse) as well a couple bonus bites on a SPRO Bronzeye Poppin’ Frog in killer gill. They rigged the Speed Worm on a 1/4-ounce Elite Tungsten weight with a 4/0 flipping hook on 50-pound braided line and fished it slowly around Kissimmee grass and pads.
6. Justin Botts and Conner DiMauro of Bryan College lead the event after two days, thanks to a huge 27-pound limit on the first day. The team had a two-part strategy that included fishing Tiger Lake in the mornings and then locking back up into Toho in the afternoons to ‘Scope fish off a couple of key offshore grass clumps.
The primary attack in Tiger was pitching a pair of soft stick worms in a mix of pads and reeds. The soft stick baits included a 6-inch Bitter’s Mega Sling (blueberry blue) and a 6-inch Berkley PowerBait MaxScent The General (black/blue) with 3/8- or 1/2-ounce tungsten weights, depending on wind and vegetation density. The team relied on 65-pound Yo-Zuri SuperBraid to wrench the fish out of the vegetation. Several fish also came on a Bitter’s Big Swimmer (sunfish) rigged on 6/0 Owner Flashy Swimmer. The forward-facing sonar work was done with a Yo-Zuri 3DB Jerkbait 110.
7. Lafe and Matt Messer of Kentucky Christian University started the week in 87th place with 10-8 on Day 1. But after a terrible start, they decided to stay on Toho the second day, which resulted in a 27-1 limit. The brothers ‘Scoped offshore clumps of hydrilla and targeted them with Berkley Stunna 112 jerkbaits.
8. Andrew Fisher and Elijah Kirk of Bryan College went against the slow stick worm grain by staying in Toho and throwing winding baits all week. Their winding arsenal included Gambler Big EZ swimbaits and 1/2-ounce Z-Man Evergreen ChatterBait JackHammers in white and B Hite delight. They seined offshore grass with a pair of lipless rattlers as well – a SPRO Aruku Shad 75 and a Yo-Zuri Rattl’n Vibe, both in gold. They also used a junebug Zoom Fluke like a frog, working it across the tops of thicker mats.
9. Matthew Davis and Sam Shoemaker of Adrian College spent the week in Toho using a combination of winding baits in the low light in the morning and then punching mats in the afternoon. For the winding gig in coontail, they used a pair of 1/2-ounce Z-Man Evergreen ChatterBait JackHammers. One was black and blue paired with a matching Gambler Little EZ and the other was a golden shiner color matched with a Yamamoto Zako. A Gambler Big EZ in Copperfield with a 5/0 VMC Heavy Duty Swimbait Hook got some playing time, too. For punching in the afternoons, the go-to bait was a Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver under a 1 1/4-ounce VMC tungsten weight.
10. Montevallo’s Brandon Berry and Hunter Bright fished the week in both Cypress and Kissimmee. They used a combination of big swim jigs to run outside grass lines while covering water and then slowed down to needle any fishy-looking pads or reeds with a stick worm. The swim jig was a 1/2-ounce model fitted with a large 6-inch boot-tail trailer in a golden shiner color. However, most of their weight came fishing a Yamamoto Senko (black and blue) with either a 1/8- or 3/16-ounce weight on 20-pound fluorocarbon.