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.
“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.”