UPCOMING EVENT: YETI College Fishing - 2019 - Sam Rayburn Reservoir

FISHING LEAGUE WORLDWIDE

Norman Practice with the Real Deal

Michael “Real Deal” Neal is fresh off a second-place showing in the Forrest Wood Cup and an eighth-place finish in the Walmart FLW Tour Angler of the Year race. In other words, the young pro’s star has never been brighter. For a look at how the Dayton, Tenn., angler approaches a day of practice, we jumped in the boat with him on the final prep day for the Walmart FLW Tour Invitational presented by Lowrance on Lake Norman.

 

Arriving at McCrary Creek Access Area around 7 a.m., Neal quickly readies his boat before slipping it into the water. He turns on his electronics while idling out past the Catawba Queen paddle wheel boat and explains that he’s basically got his tournament plan set. Today is about taking chances and hoping to find something a little different.

 

His first stop is an offshore shoal right on the main drag. Neal picks up a topwater and begins to bomb it around in search of some schooling activity. Though a few gar surface and a couple of small fish rise, the big spots aren’t playing at the moment.

“Make sure you take a picture that 15A so they know where not to go,” says Neal.

Neal tosses his topwater again at the next shoal, which is just a short ways away, then quickly picks up a drop-shot as his graph lights up with suspended fish. A few drops on them and he’s flummoxed. They might not be bass, but whatever species they are, none of them have any interest in the finesse worm wiggling around in front of them.

Neal’s next move is into the cove where the Marshall Steam Station discharges hot water into the lake.

 

In the “hot hole” Neal soon finds a school of fish, but he’s again unable to coax a bite. Though one will occasionally move with his drop-shot, the fish seem to have a case of lockjaw this morning, or perhaps heat stroke. The water temperature climbs past 97 degrees near the discharge. Eventually Neal fishes right up into the riprap-covered discharge canal, where he fires a buzzbait around shallow and drags his drop-shot on the deeper side with no success.

A few more casts, and it’s go time.

 

Heading up the lake, Neal idles through the Highway 150 bridge and then speeds on to a rare cove without development on Norman. He’s right up on the bank now. Neal pitches a worm to a few stumps and then starts firing with a topwater. Moving quickly, he’s looking for a wolf pack of bass up cruising.

“I fished for two point something miles the first day of pre-practice,” says Neal. “I never picked the trolling motor up, and I never had a bite. I think finding that little stretch where they live is key.”

 

At first, pickings are pretty slim when Neal approaches the back of the cove. That is, until a bass blows up in the middle.

He grabs a walking bait and fires it out as quick as he can.

“That brings back some memories there,” says Neal, as a bass slams the bait. He’d just spent four days at the Cup hitting breaking schoolers on the nose with a topwater.

Neal unhooks the feisty spot quickly so he can fire back out. Oddly enough, that seems to have been the only bass in the school, so with no more action, Neal continues on down the bank.

 

It’s not long before Neal spots a group of three bass following his bait. Then on the way out of the cove, a bass blasts his topwater but fails to hook up. Of course, that was a purposeful miss. Neal is throwing a small River2Sea Whopper Plopper with the hooks bent in to avoid burning any potential fish. Despite the doubled-over trebles, a few minutes later, one determined spotted bass pops the bait and somehow manages to stick just long enough to be lifted up almost over the gunwale of the boat. Noting the flaw in his plan, Neal picks up a pair of pliers to re-bend the hooks before getting back into action.

 

Neal spends a few more minutes burning up the bank before it’s time for a change. He trolls out to where a school of spots had been busting to get a look at them, marks them quickly but again fails to capitalize with his drop-shot. After a quick bait change and a little more ‘video game fishing,’ Neal cranks up and heads off to the next spot.

 

At his next stop, which is just across the way from Scott Canterbury, Neal tosses his walking bait over a rocky point for a few minutes before moving on to an isolated brush pile, where he strikes out again with the drop-shot. Despite being able to see fish and brush mixed together on his screen, Neal can’t seem to make the fish respond, even to another worm change.

 

Unlike some pros (Bryan Thrift), Neal isn’t carrying a whole ton of rods on deck, just a few rigged with topwaters, a flipping bait and a jig, a soft jerkbait, and a couple of spinning rods. With just that collection, he’s well equipped for most of what Norman can dish out.

 

The next move is up another creek to sample some brush piles Neal marked in pre-practice. Rigging up a shaky head, Neal hits the first brush pile perfectly with his cast. Too perfectly – he’s hung and has to re-rig almost instantly.

“I've idled every dock in this cove looking for brush,” says Neal. “There wasn't as much as you'd think there'd be that was substantial. That stuff in about a foot of water under the walkways I didn't count, and a lot of what you mark is just a little piece or one Christmas tree.”

Still, there is evidently enough brush to be worth fishing, and Neal quickly runs though five waypoints. One brush pile that was invisible to him in pre-practice is nearly out of the water, but as good as it looks, there doesn’t seem to be any bass. After joking that the bass here must be allergic to brush, Neal makes another move.

 

With most of the morning gone, Neal has failed to discover a new groundbreaking pattern, but the day isn’t done. The budding superstar drops me back at the ramp and then heads out for another swing at Norman. With a slew of top finishes in his past, Neal is still hunting a Tour-level win, and any tournament could be the one. 

Tags: michael-neal  lake-norman    jody-white  pre-tournament  2016-09-15-lake-norman 

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