By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
This whole two-tour thing is working out quite nicely for Michael Neal.
Neal, who's had a lot of success since turning professional in 2012, is still searching for his first tour-level victory and his first Angler of the Year (AOY) title. Competing on both the MLF Bass Pro Tour and the Pro Circuit this year, he has five more cracks at a win and a legitimate shot at both points crowns before autumn arrives.
The 29-year-old Tennessean on a serious tear heading into this week's BPT event at the St. Lawrence River. Combining both tours, he's compiled three straight finishes in the Top 6 and seven straight of 20th or better. In 11 outings, he's ended up outside the Top 22 just twice.
"The biggest thing is I'm spending more time on the water this year," he said. "In years past I've always just fished one tour and when I'm home, I don't fish (he primarily tends to business as the owner of the Dayton Boat Dock & Grill at Lake Chickamauga). Now, spending all this time fishing, I'm staying in tune with the fish even in different lakes and in different parts of the country. I'm thinking about fishing more and it's paying off.
"I'm planning on doing it again next year unless one of them has really tough travel, liking going out west or something. Travel is my least favorite part of pro fishing, but it hasn't been bad this year. I've been able to get home for one or two days after just about every event without having to stay over another night and as long as it's like that, I'll continue to do it. I figure that while I'm still young and physically able, I might as well take advantage of the (additional) chances to make money."
Practice While Competing
If Neal doesn't fare well during this week's visit to the St. Lawrence, he'll get another crack at it a month from now. He'll attempt to wrap up the Pro Circuit points championship at that second event – he presently holds a 21-point lead over fellow two-tour pro Skeet Reese.
He wants that title more than he wants a tournament win – even a championship event.
"Even though there's a substantial difference in money, I'd rather win the Angler of the Year," he said. "A guy can get lucky and win a tournament, but you can't get lucky and win the Angler of the Year. You've got to be consistent the whole year.
"Angler of the Year, then championship event, then regular-season event is how I'd rank them."
Regardless of where he finishes in the BPT event, he'll spend a couple more days exploring the St. Lawrence in preparation for his late-July return. He has no previous experience on the venue.
"I'll look around out deeper because things are probably going to change quite a bit over a month. It'll cost me a couple more hotel nights and a little bit of gas, but I think it'll be worth it."
No One-Trick Pony
If there's one thing that Neal has proven this year, it's that his game is quite versatile. He's done well throwing a swimjig around grass, fishing offshore, doing the finesse thing – you name it.
"I've done a little bit of just about everything, but I've done it with the mentality that I'm going to go out and fish the way I want to fish and not necessarily the way I'm supposed to fish," he said. "It used to be that everybody thought I was an offshore guy and now everybody on the BPT thinks I'm a finesse guy – everybody's got an opinion about what my strengths are.
"I feel like I can pick up any rod and use any technique to grind out a good finish doing what I want to do."
> Neal's previous best finish in an AOY race was 7th on the 2014 FLW Tour. He was 11th on last year's BPT list.