Weeks after brain surgery, Fothergill puts up impressive Day 1 performance at Bassmaster College Classic Bracket

Several weeks before the start of the 2023 Bassmaster College Classic Bracket presented by Lew’s, Easton Fothergill was lying in a hospital bed in Alabama after undergoing emergency surgery to remove part of an infected abscess on his brain, wondering if he would be feeling well enough to make the trip to Milford Lake in Kansas for a chance at making a dream come true.

Not only has Fothergill made almost a full recovery, the University of Montevallo senior was the top performer in the opening round of the College Classic Bracket with a five-bass limit weighing 10 pounds, 15 ounces. He defeated fellow Montevallo angler Jack Alexander (9-8) to move into the semifinal round.

“There were a lot of emotions this morning,” he said. “I had a feeling that I had never felt before when we were leaving the ramp. The nerves I had were something I had never experienced. It was a crazy feeling. I was a little worried I would be trigger-happy on my first fish, but I was able to catch a couple that calmed me down pretty quickly.”

Fothergill will face off against Auburn University’s Hayden Marbut on Sunday while Auburn’s Tucker Smith and Montevallo’s Brody Robison go head-to-head on the opposite side of the bracket.

The winner of the College Classic Bracket will punch his ticket to the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota scheduled for March 22-24 on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees near Tulsa.

A whirlwind of emotions greeted Fothergill before takeoff. But once he arrived at his starting spot, he quickly filled a limit, catching mostly smallmouth. He also landed one nice largemouth, and while that may have been surprising for some watching Bassmaster LIVE on FS1, Fothergill said he caught two green fish in practice that were significantly bigger.

The bass he caught in the morning bit in inches of water and were relating to a specific type of rock that Fothergill searched for most of practice. Three different baits were responsible for his bites on Day 1.

His productive morning was particularly surprising after only managing to catch what he defined as two tournament-quality bass each day of practice.

“That calmed my nerves. I knew I was sitting good after that and I was way ahead of schedule,” Fothergill explained. “I could just calm down and do my thing the rest of the day. I felt like I only needed a couple more bites when I left that spot.

“Almost everything I caught today was on these tiny rock patches that are different from everything around it.”

As the day progressed, Fothergill made several key culls along a windblown bluff wall, adding a key 2-pound smallmouth to his total with just a couple hours of fishing left.

“I’ve noticed as the day progresses they start to slide off the drops a little,” Fothergill said.

Marbut, who will be Fothergill’s Day 2 opponent, caught the second-biggest bag of the day, a limit of smallmouth weighing 10-12. He anchored that bag with a smallmouth weighing over 3 pounds, a bass that ultimately lifted him over Bethel’s Levi Mullins (10-1).

Unlike Fothergill, the Auburn junior suffered a slow start, filling out a small limit before the halftime break.

“I had been getting some good bites every morning of practice and thought I would be able to run that, but didn’t end up catching a whole lot. I think I caught one bass doing what I initially thought I could do to catch a limit,” Marbut said. “I think I had 6 pounds or so at halftime and knew that wasn’t going to cut it. I was able to make a couple of adjustments and catch a few more.”

Most of his bites came between 12 and 15 feet of water. His afternoon adjustment also yielded his biggest bite, a smallmouth he saw on his forward-facing sonar.

“That fish saved my day and really helped me go to the next round,” Marbut said. “I was fishing a little rock place I found in practice and didn’t see a whole lot. I fished it for 10 or 15 minutes and finally saw one on my LiveScope. I threw over to it and it nosed down on my bait and ate it. I didn’t even know if it was a bass after catching so many little ones. It felt so big.”

Robison, meanwhile, caught 10-11 to advance past Montevallo’s Nick Dumke, who landed an 8-1 limit. Smith, an Auburn senior, caught 8-11 to narrowly defeat Bethel’s Matthew Cummings, who caught 8-3 in the opening round.

The remaining four anglers will launch from Farnum Creek Boat Ramp at Acorns Resort beginning at 7 a.m. CT and end their fishing day at 3 p.m. The final weights will be revealed at the boat ramp at 3:30 p.m. Bassmaster LIVE will be broadcasting live on FS1 starting at 7 a.m. CT until 10 a.m. before shifting to Bassmaster.com for the afternoon session from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m.

In addition to the Classic berth, the College Classic Bracket winner will receive a prize package that includes full use of a Toyota Tundra, Nitro boat and paid entry fees into the St. Croix Bassmaster Opens.

Sunday’s matchups

(1) Easton Fothergill vs. (4) Hayden Marbut

(3) Tucker Smith vs. (7) Brody Robison

The event is being hosted by the Geary County, Kansas Convention and Visitors Bureau.