5X3 sat down with FLW Pro Michael Neal to pick his brain and see what the "Real Deal" is really all about.
Michael, we know that you are the ripe old age of 24. What do you feel made you such a good angler at such an early age?
I feel like what has made me into what I am is a combination of two things: good mentors and time on the water. I have memories of fishing since I was five years old. Between my dad, uncle, and grandfather, I had awesome mentors that were more than willing to take me fishing whenever we got the chance. Everyone knows that in fishing, there is no substitution for time on the water. I have been fortunate to have access to a boat since I could drive to spend as much time on the water. Of course, I had to work fishing in around school, but I went as much as possible. Growing up in east Tennessee I have been exposed to all different types of water and lakes. This is an advantage as well having fished everything from deep clear reservoirs to shallower river systems with grass.
We know that you also own a restaurant and large tackle shop in Dayton, Tennessee. How hard is to balance that along with the tour?
At times it can be a little hectic, but overall it is not too bad. I am fortunate to have a couple long-time employees to really help me out while I’m gone. I don’t really do much with the restaurant even when I am home because she takes such good care of it. With the bait shop, it is just a matter of making sure that there is enough stock to carry over until I get back.
If you could only take one bait with you on tour next year what would it be?
With the schedule we have next year, there are two different baits that come to mind: a jig or a swimbait. Between the two, I would have to pick a Big Bite BB Kicker 4.25” in Blue Gizzard. A swimbait is a very versatile bait that I would be able to fish from Spring through Fall around a variety of cover and depths. Not to mention that a swimbait is generally a big fish bait. Who knows, maybe I should try it and see how it goes.
What is the biggest mistake that you see weekend anglers make when it comes to fishing, especially anglers that don’t have a lot of time to practice?
I would say the biggest mistake that I see is going to the same places all year and expect the same results. For instance, going back to a place that you caught 25 pounds off of in March on a lipless crankbait is probably not going to produce the same results in June. There is always time to go hit your favorite spots, but if you spend a portion of each day fishing new water, you can often find a new honey hole.
Besides fishing what are some of your other hobbies?
The only other hobby I really have is hunting. I like all sorts of hunting, just like I like all sorts of fishing. I’m getting ready for dove season here at the house in between tournaments. I’ve got two more tournaments this year, then it will be time to trade in the bass rods for crappie rods and pick up the deer rifle. I just like being able to be outside and enjoy Mother Nature. The mountains of east Tennessee are a place that I can go get away from everything and just relax.
What is one word of fishing advice that was passed down to you that you still use today?
I can remember fishing a night tournament with my uncle and instead of actually reeling in the line while fishing a worm I just spun it quickly with my hand. The word of advice he gave me was to always stay focused and never get lackadaisical. In fishing, sometimes one bite can change a bad day to a good day or a 10th place to a win. In order to capitalize on every bite and every second we get in a tournament, we have to maintain focus all day and never stray from it. This was something that was engrained in me early on and I am definitely a better angler because of it.
When practice fishing, what percentage of time is spent actually fishing and what percentage of time is used scanning and doing research of the lake?
Each lake has its own amount of research with some having a lot and some having none. For instance, at Okeechobee I spend a lot of time on Google Earth looking for pockets of open water deep in the reeds that are not visibly seen from the main lake. Another instance would be at Lake Norman where you can see the docks that are dredged and which ones aren’t. This makes up for a lot of time on the water trying to figure out the same things. On offshore tournaments, there is no time spent on Google Earth by me. In a regular “shallow” tournament all of my time is spent fishing instead of graphing and scanning the lake. However, at places like the Tennessee River during the summer months, all of my time is spent scanning and looking for fish rather than fishing. I never make a cast unless I see fish so I could spend 11 out of the 12 hours of a practice day idling and not fishing.
What’s the craziest thing that you have ever caught while fishing?
The craziest thing that I have caught was an older mainframe computer. It was on Chickamauga in Soddy Creek by the Highway 27 bridge. I’m sure that it was either stolen or there was just something on it that nobody wanted out. I caught it throwing a crankbait around the bridge and actually hooked the wires on one of the trebles. Somehow, I wound up pulling it up and getting my bait back. The bad part about it is was that was the only thing I caught there.
We know that you have had some amazing tournaments this year. A 2nd at Pickwick, 2nd at the FLW Cup and a great finish in Angler of the Year. What is more important to you at this point in your career, a tournament win or an AOY title?
At this point, it would be a win. Later on, I would say that it would be an AOY title. I have been close to winning several times, but I have not been able to pull one off yet. Hopefully, I have a long career ahead of me where there would be plenty of time for an AOY so I would like to go ahead and get the first win out of the way now.
We have noticed in some of your pictures of your boat there is a large Eeyore sticker between the seats of your boat. Can you explain to us what that is all about?
For some reason, people have told me that I do not get excited enough fishing or having a good finish in a tournament. I guess they believe that I have an “Eeyore-like” personality. I honestly do get excited, I just do not show it on the outside. I am much more introverted than most people so I guess that is where it stems from. I have accepted it at this point.