LEESBURG, Fla. — With over a 15-pound lead heading into the final day of the Carhartt Bassmaster College National Championship presented by Bass Pro Shops at the Harris Chain of Lakes, the Bryan College duo of Cole Sands and Conner Dimauro rode to their starting spot with music blaring, singing and laughing to combat the anxious excitement they were feeling.
Sands and Dimauro secured their wire-to-wire victory in dominating fashion, catching 29 pounds Saturday to increase their total weight to 84-12, beating the second-place team of Cole Thompson and Benson Dowler by almost 26 pounds and earning $5,000.
The previous year at the National Championship at Chickamauga Lake, Sands and Dimauro also led the first two days, but ultimately lost the tournament by a pound.
“I think there is a saying that says the ‘thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,’” Sands said. “Last year we got to feel what defeat tasted like. Just to come back is like a storybook ending. To win this one, there is no better way to go out from Bassmaster college fishing than to win this trophy in the fashion we did.”
Their weight shattered the previous record of 72-13 in a three-day College Series event. The previous record was set at the St. Lawrence River in 2019.
Sands and Dimauro caught the majority of their fish this week, including all of their weight on Day 3, on an offshore spot on Lake Beauclair. During practice, the duo located a grassline that consisted of hydrilla and eelgrass using their Humminbird electronics that also had a hard bottom located next to the grass. Dragging Carolina rigs through the grass and onto the hard bottom triggered the bigger fish into biting.
“That’s a spot that has been producing. It is a spot people have been catching them on forever and people will be catching them on forever,” Dimauro, a Florida native, said. “We were dragging our Carolina rigs and it would get mushy and it was either a fish or a piece of grass.”
While they moved to a different area for a brief period on Day 3, their best spot produced giant bass every day of the tournament, including a fish Sands estimated to be over 8 pounds that anchored their Day 3 bag.
Sands said he used a plum melon color 6th Sense Ridge Worm starting on Day 2 and caught the majority of his big fish with it on Day 3, including the 8-pounder. Dimauro used a mix of a Bitter’s Bait and Tackle 10-inch worm and a green pumpkin Senko with the tail dyed chartreuse.
Sands landed their first fish, one that weighed around 5 pounds, within the first 45 minutes of their day and had one fish in their livewell for the next hour.
“We didn’t get bit for the first 45 minutes and we were like, ‘Oh no, this again. We aren’t going to catch a limit today on the last day of a National Championship,’” Sands said. “That first 5-pounder that bit let us settle down a little bit. Then we went a while without another bite.”
After catching two more small keepers, Sands landed their biggest fish of the day around 9:45 a.m., despite breaking his rod at the beginning of the fight. The duo quickly filled their limit and caught several more 5- and 6-pound fish before the bite stalled around noon.
Sands and Dimauro also qualify for the College Classic Bracket scheduled for Nov. 17-19 on Alabama’s Lay Lake, along with the other Top 4 finishers from the National Championship. This will be their second time competing at that event.
“This is a dream come true to win this tournament, but you make your career at the next stage,” Dimauro said. “That lines up a career if you are able to win that on the final day. That’s what we really want.
“Obviously, we really wanted to win, but the ultimate goal coming into this tournament was a Top 4.”
After starting the day in eighth place, Thompson and Dowler caught 22-8 for a three-day total of 58-14, lifting them into second-place and into the Classic Bracket. Their Day 3 bag was anchored by an 8-10 largemouth and another bass that Dowler estimates was over 7 pounds.
“We came into this thing with a rough practice,” Dowler said. “I’m excited. Lay is pretty much my home lake and I used to fish it growing up all the time.”
Thompson said they were targeting eelgrass and hydrilla in 6 to 7 feet of water, with the top of the grass coming up to about 3 feet. They triggered bites using a squarebill and a Queen Tackle Switch Blade.
“It was coming through the grass great,” Thompson said. “I’m pretty sure the main forage in this lake is needlefish, so we dialed that pattern in and that’s why those moving baits were so effective.”
Georgia Southern University’s Ty Black and Avry Thomason caught 18-1 on the final day to finish third with 57-10 total, punching their ticket to the Bracket. The duo caught their fish on a Strike King 6XD crankbait around the bridge that separates Harris Lake from Little Harris Lake.
“In 15 minutes, I caught a 4 1/2 and then he caught a 3 1/2,” Black said. “About 1:30, I caught one about 5 pounds and that bumped us up to what we got. It was a tough day, honestly. We stayed on that bridge for about six hours and we grinded through them.”
Trevor McKinney and Blake Jackson from McKendree University caught 19-1 on the final day, lifting them to fourth place with 53-1 and making them the final team to qualify for the Bracket.
Bryce Henley and Reese Kingston from Brewton-Parker College won the Carhartt Big Bass of the tournament with a 9-3 lunker they landed on Day 2. They received a $500 Carhartt gift card.
The Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Championship presented by Bass Pro Shops was hosted by GO Sports, Visit Lake and the City of Leesburg.