By MLF Communications Staff
Michael Neal has long been considered one of the best pros in the world without a signature professional win. For 9 years, Neal has made a name in the pro bass-fishing world with his consistency – always near the top of the leaderboard, but never ON the top.
Wednesday, in the final MLF Bass Pro Tour event of 2021 at Michigan's Lake St. Clair, he finally came out on top.
Neal caught 58 smallmouth bass totaling 168-11 – a new Bass Pro Tour Championship Round record for the heaviest one-day weight – to win by a 76-02 margin, which is also a new BPT record.
“What a week! I really am not sure what to say at this point,” Neal joked in his post-game interview. “The first win of my career. I won the (Pro Circuit) Angler of the Year title earlier this year, but this is my first actual tournament win and it feels really, really good to get the monkey off of my back.
"I’ve had so many 2nd-place finishes – I finished second this year at REDCREST. I never would have expected my first win would be with smallmouth. I’ve never been a smallmouth guy – I grew up on the Tennessee River fishing offshore. But I’ll take it.”
Neal caught his fish mainly off of one key area near the mouth of the Detroit River in Lake Erie – a spot that he described as a massive grass flat with some high spots, rock and depressions mixed in. He estimated that the flat was about three-quarters of a mile long and loaded with smallmouth.
“I came here on day 2 of practice, really because I was just sick of fighting the wind,” Neal said. “I doubled up on a crankbait, then caught one or two more, then left. I really had no idea what this area really held. On day 1 of the tournament, this was actually my fourth stop. And you can see what was here … it was just crazy.
“I got to catch them on a little bit of everything,” Neal continued. “I caught some on a vibrating jig, a dropshot rig and a crankbait. The crankbait was by far my No. 1 bait. And they all had Gamakatsu G Finesse treble hooks that were designed by Aaron Martens. Even though he couldn’t be out here with us this week, I want to give a special shoutout to Aaron for designing those hooks. You’re going to lose some fish when you’re fishing smallmouth, no matter what, but I caught the majority of them and those hooks were key.”
Neal earned the top prize of $100,000, but most important to him was the giant red BPT winner’s trophy.
“It feels so good to finally win. I caught tons and tons of fish, had a great time and broke several records this week,” Neal went on to say. “But records are meant to be broken and I’m sure someone else will break them the next time we go to another phenomenal smallmouth fishery.
“I’m really looking forward to getting that trophy. I’m way more excited about the trophy than I am the money at this point. Just to have that – nobody can ever take that away from you. I’ll spend the money, but now I’ve got the trophy to take home and have forever.”
Fred Roumbanis won Wednesday’s $1,000 Berkley Big Bass Award, weighing in a 5-02 smallmouth that bit his medium-diving crankbait in Period 2. Andy Morgan won the $3,000 Berkley Big Bass award for the largest bass of the event with his 6-05 largemouth that he caught in the Knockout Round.
The event featured anglers competing with a 2-pound minimum weight requirement for a bass to be deemed scorable. Minimum weights are determined individually for each competition waters that the Bass Pro Tour visits, based on the productivity, bass population and anticipated average size of fish in each fishery.
Television coverage of the tournament will premiere at 7 a.m. ET Nov. 13 on the Discovery Channel. New MLF episodes premiere each Saturday morning on the Discovery Channel, with additional re-airings on the Outdoor Channel and the Sportsman Channel.
(Figure at far right indicates weight of angler's heaviest fish for the round)
1. Michael Neal -- 168-11 (58) -- 4-08 -- $100,000
2. Alton Jones Jr. -- 92-09 (30) -- 4-03 -- $45,00
3. Scott Dobson -- 85-12 (31) -- 4-02 -- $38,000
4. Adrian Avena -- 77-09 (26) -- 4-04 -- $32,000
5. Jacob Wheeler -- 73-06 (27) -- 4-09 -- $30,000
6. David Dudley -- 52-03 (19) -- 4-00 -- $26,000
7. Fred Roumbanis -- 51-03 (16) -- 5-02 -- $23,000
8. Gary Klein -- 43-09 (14) -- 4-10 -- $21,000
9. Andy Morgan -- 40-03 (14) -- 4-02 -- $19,000
10. Wesley Strader -- 27-02 (11) -- 3-05 -- $16,000