ST. CLAIR SHORES, Mich. – It was never close, Sunday. After jumping out to a big lead on Day 1 Friday, pro Michael Neal of Dayton, Tennessee, backed it up with another big day on Day 2 Sunday weighing in 33 smallmouth bass totaling 102 pounds, 3 ounces to coast to the win in the Group A Qualifying Round at the Major League Fishing (MLF) Bass Pro Tour CarParts.com Stage Seven at Lake St. Clair Presented by Covercraft in St. Clair Shores, Michigan.
Neal’s two-day Qualifying Round total of 69 bass weighing 223 pounds even broke numerous Bass Pro Tour records – Neal became the first angler to ever weigh back-to-back 100+ pounds of bass in both days of the Qualifying Round, and his final weight of 223 pounds was the heaviest two-day Qualifying Round total in Bass Pro Tour history. Neal’s Qualifying Round margin-of-victory of 76 pounds, 14 ounces also shattered the record as the largest margin-of-victory in the four-year history of the Bass Pro Tour.
“Without a doubt, the winning fish are right here in this area,” Neal said in his post-game interview. “I’ve had two fantastic days of fishing. It’s a ½- to ¾-mile stretch, and there are just tons and tons of fish here. And they’re good sized. I’ve been able to maintain a 3-pound average over two days and have caught 100 pounds there two days in a row.
“Wednesday is going to be a shootout, for sure, and I have a hard time believing that it won’t take over 100 pounds to win the Championship Round. So, we’re just going to have to come back out here Wednesday and see how it goes one more day,” Neal continued.
Neal caught his fish on a variety of baits, but credited his hooks as being the key so far for him this week.
“I’ve caught them on a variety of different things so far. I caught them on a drop-shot rig with a spinning rod. I’ve caught them on a vibrating jig, And I’ve caught them on a crankbait. A lot of my bigger fish have come on the crankbait.
“One of the keys this week has been swapping out my hooks,” Neal went on to say. “I’ve been putting on a number 2-sized Gamakatsu G Finesse treble hook. It’s super smooth but super strong. I’ve changed all of my jerkbaits and crankbaits to it. It’s the only hook I’ll throw on these smallmouth. And it’s special because Aaron Martens designed it. He couldn’t be here competing with us this week, but we want him to know that he is in all of our thoughts and prayers, and I hope he’s been able to watch and know that his hook has put a lot of fish in my boat this week.”
B&W Trailer Hitches pro Russ Lane of Prattville, Alabama, caught a two-day total of 48 bass weighing 146-2 to finish the round in second place. Academy Sports + Outdoors pro Jacob Wheeler of Harrison, Tennessee, boated a two-day total of 46 bass weighing 124-11 to end the round in third place. After starting the day in 8th place, pro Brett Hite of Phoenix, Arizona , weighed in the second-heaviest weight of the day totaling 68-10 to vault into fourth place with a two-day total of 36 bass for 117-3. Rounding out the top five is pro Bryan Thrift of Shelby, North Carolina, who caught a two-day total of 34 bass weighing 115-5.
The top 20 anglers from Group A will now enjoy an off day, while the 40 anglers in Qualifying Group B will complete their two-day Qualifying Round of competition on Monday. The Knockout Round, featuring 38 anglers competing to finish in the top eight, will take place on Tuesday. Wednesday’s Championship Round will feature Neal, Monday’s Group B winner, and the top eight anglers from the Knockout Round competing in a final-day shootout for the top prize of $100,000.
The top 20 pros in Qualifying Group A that now advance to Tuesday’s Knockout Round on Lake St. Clair are:
1st: Michael Neal, Dayton, Tenn., 69 bass, 223-0 – ADVANCES TO CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND
2nd: Russ Lane, Prattville, Ala., 48 bass, 146-2
3rd: Jacob Wheeler, Harrison, Tenn., 48 bass, 131-13
4th: Brett Hite, Phoenix, Ariz., 40 bass, 118-4
5th: Bryan Thrift, Shelby, N.C., 36 bass, 117-3
6th: Jesse Wiggins, Addison, Ala., 34 bass, 115-5
7th: Gary Klein, Mingus, Texas., 34 bass, 95-15
8th: Gerald Spohrer, Gonzales, La., 31 bass, 95-5
9th: Adrian Avena, Vineland, N.J., 28 bass, 85-2
10th: Fletcher Shryock, Guntersville, Ala., 30 bass, 84-12
11th: Luke Clausen, Spokane, Wash., 29 bass, 83-2
12th: Ish Monroe, Oakdale, Calif., 29 bass, 81-3
13th: Bradley Roy, Lancaster, Ky., 25 bass, 76-2
14th: Matthew Stefan, Junction City, Wis., 22 bass, 72-9
15th: Kevin VanDam, Kalamazoo, Mich., 25 bass, 72-6
16th: Skeet Reese, Auburn, Calif., 22 bass, 70-13
17th: Paul Elias, Laurel, Miss., 22 bass, 68-3
18th: Anthony Gagliardi, Prosperity, S.C., 24 bass, 67-1
19th: Jeff Sprague, Point, Texas, 23 bass, 63-3
20th: James Watson, Lampe, Mo., 20 bass, 62-12
A complete list of results can be found at MajorLeagueFishing.com.