Dayton’s Michael Neal is breathing a little easier following a strong finish in the first elite FLW Tour Series event on Okeechobee Lake , and looking forward to tournament #2. Neal finished the four-day event with 55 lbs. 15 ozs. landing him in 4th place, and a $20,000 check. Neal was especially pleased with the 4th place finish after a horrible practice.
“It was one of the worst practices I’d ever had,” said Neal. “On the first day of the tournament I had five bites all day long. Fortunately they weighed and they just kind of keyed me in on something that would work.”
Neal has been dubbed “Real Deal” on the FLW Tour, although he really doesn’t know why.
“I can’t remember who called me that first,” he said. “I guess they just liked it because it rhymed and it sort of stuck.”
Neal is always quick to credit his sponsors. Winning checks definitely takes some pressure off, but on the professional tournament circuit, good sponsors mean everything. On Okeechobee he fished the same lure all four days… a black-and-blue TrueSouth Custom Lures TS-4 Swim Jig and Big Bite Baits Cane Thumper for a trailer. He was using a Cashion Fishing Rod model that he helped design for ChatterBaits, with an Ardent Apex Elite reel and 60-pound-test Sunline FX2 braid.
Anglers were tested by wicked high north winds on Lake Okeechobee for two of their four fishing days… sometimes reaching 25 mph and 30 mph. That coupled with harsh post-frontal conditions resulted in Okeechobee bass lockjaw.
“It didn’t feel like Florida, that’s for sure,” he said. “The last day was probably the hardest sustained wind I’ve ever fished in. The wind muddied up the water for lots of people. Florida fish and dirty water don’t mix. They lock up. But I was fortunate in the area I was in, my water stayed clear.”
On Okeechobee Neal was separated from 2nd place by a mere 5 ounces. However the winner, Bradley Hallman from Norman, Okla., blew away the rest of the field with 71 lbs. 2 ozs.
Neal began fishing with the top dogs on the FLW in 2012. However the 24-year-old is still referred to as one of the youngest anglers on the tour, where he was once the youngest. The tour veteran is headed to the next FLW event on South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell beginning March 17. It will be his third FLW tournament on the lake, and he’s done well in previous events there.
“It’s a good lake,” he said. “My first time there was my very first tour tournament and after the first day I was in 3rd place. But then the jitters kind of got to me.”
He placed 19th, in the money, in his second tournament there. The now-seasoned pro says every time you make it into the money, it helps on upcoming tournaments.
“Placing high and taking home a check allows you make some better decisions [in upcoming tournaments] rather than having to force things,” he said. “Of course the main goal every year is to make the championship.”
Neal has qualified to fish the Forrest Wood Cup 3 times. He finished in the Top 10 once. However the young man has fished a total of 68 FLW events, with 3 wins and 14 Top 10 finishes…. bringing him career earnings of $345,712.
Neal’s father is Rhea County Sheriff Mike Neal. From the time his son could barely hold a fishing rod, Mike has shared his son’s bass fishing expertise proudly… with good reason.
Here Neal shares some of his expertise:
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