A pair of youngsters, including Dayton's Michael Neal, showed up the old pros in the first FLW Tour bass tournament that wrapped up Sunday on Lake Okeechobee in Florida.
Rookie pro Drew Benton from Panama City, Fla., came out on top. Benton’s day four bag of fish weighed 13 pounds, 4 ounces. With a total of 75 pounds, 7 ounces, his winning margin was nearly 5 pounds. The 24-year-old will take a $100,000 check with him back to Panama City.
Neal steadily climbed the leaderboard all week. He started the tournament in 22nd with a 15-pound, 7-ounce limit. On day two, he sacked his big stringer, a 22-pound, 12-ounce catch that brought him up to sixth. Each of the final two days he crept up a few notches with limits in the teens. Sunday, his official weight for five bass was 13 pounds, 1 ounce, ending with a total of 67-12 and $30,000 for the third-place spot.
Neal and Benton were pitted against well-known anglers such as Roland Martin, Scott Martin, Zell Rowland, Jimmy Houston, Larry Nixon and longtime FLW pro Andy Morgan (also from Rhea County). Morgan finished the tournament in 14th place.
Neal worked a unique program where he targeted areas that were adjacent to deep water. On Okeechobee, deep water is considered 5 feet or more. Although he was working the outside edge earlier in the week, he moved inside from time to time during the final round.
“I fished the edge of a ditch in Eagle Bay Island, near the Kissimmee River,” said Neal, a junior majoring in computer science at Bryan College. “I was strictly throwing moving baits—a swim jig and swimbaits around scattered grass looking for a reaction bite.”
Neal described it as a go-between area, as the fish were either prespawn or postspawn. Though certain portions were more productive, the entire stretch was roughly a mile long.
“The swim jig accounted for most of my big fish,” Neal said.
The second-year pro learned to work moving baits through the grass from Brett Hite, whom he drew as a co-angler at the 2008 FLW Tour opener on Lake Toho.
“That was a crash course in grass fishing. I’ve taken that lesson and I applied it here this week," he said.
The next FLW event will be held on Lewis Smith Lake in Jasper, Ala., March 7-10.
Click here information about the FLW Tour.