Archives 2020


Fish Dayton’s Michael Neal Edges Lee by 1 Ounce for a $50,000 Check

Published on MajorLeagueFishing.com by Mason Prince  – September 4, 2020

There are not many opportunities in life to catch a $50,000 bass. The season’s Heavy Hitters tournament on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes was an event like we’d never seen before in the history of professional bass fishing: massive payouts for the winner and the biggest bass of each day of competition.

The angler who weighed in the biggest bass of the Knockout Round would take home $50,000. With only about 20 minutes remaining in the round, it looked as though the eventual winner of Heavy Hitters—Jordan Lee—was going to collect the big check with his 8-pound, 14-ounce monster.

As Lee remained comfortable with his big fish and his big lead on SCORETRACKER®, Michael Neal was surprisingly struggling for the majority of the day.

“I went into the round expecting it to be a pretty decent day considering how I did in the first two rounds,” Neal remembered. “I didn’t catch a scorable bass for two periods, so that pretty much sealed my fate in not making the cut for the Championship Round.”

Neal admitted that his head wasn’t really in the game during that final period. With temperatures soaring above 90 and little cloud cover or wind to speak of, he was ready to call it a day and head on in. But there was something about one area in particular that he couldn’t get out of his brain.

“At the start of Period 3, I had one area that I kept circling multiple times just trying to catch enough fish to work,” Neal said. “I caught a couple of 2-pounders, but nothing really to put me in contention. Then, kind of out of nowhere, I ran into that big one.”

On the edge of a hydrilla bed in about 6 feet of water, Neal finally got a big one to bite. With only 20 minutes left in the round, he had a 1/2-ounce Z-Man Black and Blue ChatterBait with a 4 1/4-inch Big Bite Cane Thumper trailer tied on when something big took his bait.

Michael Neal shows off his 8-15 largemouth he caught with 20 minutes remaining in Period 3. (MLF Fishing)

“The fish never jumped the entire time I had it hooked until it got right up next to the boat,” Neal recalled. “I thought it was probably a mudfish or something like that, not a bass. I had no idea what was even leading for big fish of the day because I was so far out of contention. I weighed it and it was 8-15, and that’s when my official told me I had the biggest fish of the day. I looked at him and said, ‘What? Are you serious?’”

Neal’s 8-15 held the top spot for the final 20 minutes as he edged out Jordan Lee by 1 ounce for the biggest bass of the Knockout Round. While he didn’t move on to the Championship Round, a $50,000 check sure is a nice consolation prize.

As for Lee, even though he won the Heavy Hitters event and an Angler of the Year title in 2020, he still thinks about the 1 ounce that cost him some extra cash.

“Losing that big fish of the day by 1 ounce is just brutal,” Lee recapped. “I really thought I had that $50,000 locked up with that 8-14. If someone had caught a 10- or 11-pounder, I would have been able to live with that. But to lose by 1 ounce was just really hard. I’m happy for Michael, but that doesn’t mean it was easy.”

Gross takes the gold at Eufaula

Gross Takes the Gold at Eufaula

EUFAULA, Ala. — After a week of constant adjustments, everything came together perfectly for Buddy Gross on Championship Saturday.

The Bassmaster Elite Series rookie, fishing only his second event on the trail, caught a tournament-best five-bass limit that weighed 27 pounds, 11 ounces and sprang from 10th place to a victory in the DEWALT Bassmaster Elite at Lake Eufaula with a four-day total of 84-8. He earned $100,000 and one of the coveted blue trophies that comes with every Elite Series win.

Instead of the usual routine of being handed the trophy by Elite Series Tournament Director Trip Weldon, Gross received the prize onstage from his family due to strict social distancing measures in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It doesn’t get much better than that,” Gross said. “This is something you dream of as a kid because B.A.S.S. is the epitome of fishing — just the staple of the fishing world. To dream about something like this, and then for it to happen so early in my career, is amazing.”

Gross, who lives in Chickamauga, Ga., made two scouting trips to Lake Eufaula before the event. Each trip, the weather was so rough that he spent all of his time just idling around and marking brushpiles.

During those two trips, he said he marked over 300 of the man-made structures that are so prominent on the fishery.

But when he showed up for the official practice period on Sunday, some of the brush he had marked was gone — presumably washed away by flooding in the area. However, Gross said new brushpiles had already been put in place since his most recent visit.

“I didn’t want to spend time fishing phantom waypoints,” Gross said. “So, I had to start marking those places off the list where brushpiles had washed away. Then as I was doing that, I found brushpiles in places where there weren’t any back before the off-limits period just 35 or 40 days ago.

“The people in this town must be part beaver or something. I’ve never been to a place with so many brushpiles.”

Gross started his week probing the brush with a Zoom Swimmer in the Tennessee shad color and a 5-inch Natural Light Scottsboro Swimmer. That netted him just 16-14 on Day 1 and left him in 43rd place.

The next day, he made possibly his most important adjustment of the week.

“On the second day of the tournament, I switched over to a jig,” he said. “First cast, I got bit. Second cast, I got bit. It was just consecutive. Every brushpile I went to it probably increased my bites by 50 or 60 percent.”

The magic lure was a prototype bullethead jig from Nichols Lures with a green pumpkin Zoom Super Chunk trailer. It allowed him to catch 20-7 on Day 2, 19-8 on Day 3 and then the monster bag of 27-11 during Saturday’s final round.

On Saturday, another slight logistical adjustment was necessary for him to find the quality of fish he needed to jump from 10th place and surpass Alabama pro Scott Canterbury who entered the day with more than a 4-pound lead.

“I had started off fishing new brush this morning, just places I hadn’t fished,” Gross said. “On the deeper ones, I just didn’t get bit.”

Then he moved to an area with shallower brush in Pataula Creek.

“On the first shallow brushpile I fished, I hung one and lost it,” he said. “Then on the second one, I caught a 6-13 that was my biggest fish of the day. I said right then, ‘This is gonna be the deal all day.’

“My best brushpiles today were the ones in 5 1/2 to 6 feet.”

The season has been one of ironic twists for Gross.

Considered one of the best anglers on Lake Chickamauga, he was deeply disappointed when Elite Series tournaments scheduled for that fishery were cancelled in February and then again in April. He thought that might be his best chance for a win this season, but Eufaula helped take the sting out of those two curves thrown to the professional fishing world — first by flooding on the Tennessee River and then by the COVID-19 outbreak.

This week, Gross wouldn’t have even qualified for Saturday’s final Top 10 if North Carolina pro Shane LeHew hadn’t been penalized several ounces for weighing in dead fish and then 2 pounds for accidentally making a cast with six bass in his livewell.

Crazy things also happened to Gross on the water.

“The first day of the tournament, I was running brushpiles so fast that I was fishing with my lifejacket on,” he said. “I had a 7-pounder at the boat, and I reeled my lanyard up into my reel. That fish was out there jumping, so I tried to just muscle through it. All that did was make it worse.

“That fish eventually got off — and I thought [for] sure that would cost me a lot. But I guess when something is meant to be, it’s meant to be.”

TowBoatUS Battle of Chickamauga High School postponed to September 24-25

Due to COVID-19 Virus, this tournament has been postponed to September 24-25

Registration has opened for the 2020 TowBoatUS Battle of Chickamauga High School Classic.  This signature event presented by CATCH Ministry and will blast off in #BassTownUSA, Dayton, Tennessee, on April 4.


Past events have shattered records and attracted anglers from around the nation to compete in what has become known as the “most exciting high school event in the nation”.

“We’re extremely excited and working hard to make this year’s event the best yet,” says Fish Dayton, Director John Bamber who’s encouraging competitors to register now.

With an actual cannon firing during blast-off, a championship belt, and weigh-in on a full concert stage equipped with “hot seat”, high school anglers enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime experience and opportunity to compete on Lake Chickamauga, one of the hottest trophy-sized bass lakes in the nation.

Throw in monster prizes and a cash pool larger than 100% of registration fees thanks to many sponsors: including title sponsor TowBoatUS, Bass Pro Shops, Real Deal Tackle, Bunch Marine, Shimano, Academy Sports and Outdoors, Frogg Toggs, and Solar Bat to name a few, and you can easily see how past events shattered all-time bass tournament records.

Shane and Stacey O’Neil of TowBoatUS upped the ante last year with a $2,000 check which was awarded to Chase McCoullough and Tyler Padgett of Coahulla Creek High School as they were crowned 2019 champs.

“Proud to be a sponsor for this event since the beginning.  This is by far our favorite tournament of the year!” says Stacey O’Neil of TowBoatUS.

In 2017, a field of 347 boats and 1,033 participants was easily the largest in tournament history.  The event also broke many B.A.S.S. records such as largest five fish limit and biggest bass in a high school event.

In 2015, Soddy Daisy High School’s Elijah Cartwright and Jacob Thomas dropped a five fish limit worth 32.59 pounds on the scales to win the inaugural title.

But it’s not the trophy-sized bass, championship belt, or bright lights that brings scores of volunteers from CATCH Ministry to support and help organize the event.

“For us, it’s about sharing the gospel for us.  We’re just excited to be able to have an impact and opportunity to make a difference in these young lives,” says CATCH Ministry’s Kevin Johnson.

“These kids are worth the effort and that’s why we do what we do,” adds Keith Gombash of CATCH Ministry who as the event’s stage announcer, knows how to bring out the Elite Series Pro in all competitors – even the shy ones.

In addition to the high school event, there will also be junior event for younger anglers that runs concurrent with the high school event.  Juniors will weigh-in on the same stage one hour earlier.

Organizers are encouraging anglers to register now, so go ahead and book stay at one of Dayton’s angler-friendly lodging options.

Registrants will also receive an $8 voucher to use at their choice at one of Dayton’s participating restaurants.

There will be a mandatory Safety and Rules meeting at the Dayton Boat Dock & Grill on Friday, April 3, at 7 PM EST.



Dayton is also the perfect place for families to visit and support their favorite high school angler.  Since the first Battle of Chickamauga Classic in 2015, there has been over 13 million dollars in private capital invested in lodging and dining alone.

As event sponsors, Dayton’s new Sleep Inn & Suites and Holiday Inn Express fully support high school fishing and have ample accommodations guests and their boats.

Register or learn more about the TowBoatUS Battle of Chickamauga here. Learn more on their Facebook page or by contacting John Bamber with the Rhea County Economic and Tourism Council at 423-775-6171 or john@rheaecd.com.