Tennessee’s Michael Neal Leads Top Ten to Championship Round at MLF U.S. Air Force Stage Two

Dayton Pro Catches Five-Bass-Limit Weighing 16-14 to Win Knockout Round on Cherokee Lake, Final 10 Anglers Set for Championship Thursday in the Competition for $100,000

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Tenn. (March 22, 2023) – Pro Michael Neal of Dayton, Tennesseecaught 11 scorable bass Wednesday – his best five weighing 16 pounds, 14 ounces – to win the Knockout Round and advance to the final day of competition at the Major League Fishing (MLF) U.S. Air Force Stage Two Presented by Power-Pole on Cherokee Lake.

After taking over the lead in the first period, the back-to-back Tackle Warehouse Pro Circuit Angler of the Year (AOY) winner rose to the top of a stacked field going into Thursday’s Championship Round. Among the star-studded field of pros competing in the Championship Round are four past Bass Pro Tour winners, three Bass Pro Tour rookies and four Tennessee natives, including four-time  Bass Pro Tour winner Ott DeFoe of Blaine, Tennessee, and reigning two-time Bass Pro Tour AOY Jacob Wheeler of Harrison, Tennessee .

Neal’s limit weighing 16 pounds, 14 ounces gives him a 7-ounce cushion over second place pro Dakota Ebare of Brookeland, Texas, who ended the day with a five-bass-limit weighing 16-7. Pro Keith Poche of Pike Road, Alabama, sits in third place with a limit weighing 16-4, while Bass Pro Shops pro DeFoe advanced in fourth with five scorable bass totaling 16-2. Abu Garcia pro Justin Lucas of Guntersville, Alabama weighed in five bass totaling 16 pounds even to round out the top five.

The final 10 anglers are now set, and competition resumes Thursday morning with the Championship Round. In the Championship Round, weight carries over from the Knockout Round and the angler with the heaviest two-day total will win the top prize of $100,000.

Neal dropped to sixth place in the first period before rising to first and was able to hold the top spot throughout the day, despite never upgrading his fish in the final period. That did, however, let the field close in on him.

“This is definitely where you want to be at the end of the day, in first, but I feel like I haven’t figured out enough to come back out and duplicate it,” said Neal. “One area is really all you need though, especially in a five-fish tournament, so hopefully it’s as good to us tomorrow as it’s been today. But if it’s not, I’ll go down swinging.”

With four pros within 14 ounces of the Tennessee native going into the Championship Round, and only 3 pounds separating the top 10, all 10 pros going into the final round are easily still in contention for the win.

“I just have to regroup and stay positive for tomorrow, that’s going to be the main thing,” said Neal. “With everyone bunched up right here at the end, and stacked up at the top, it’s anybody’s ball game. Pretty much whoever catches the biggest bag tomorrow will win, no matter what place you ended in today.

“Things are going to change a little bit. We had clouds and rain today, but tomorrow’s going to be really warm and sunny, so that might hurt some guys and help others,” Neal continued. “I just hope I’m one of the ones it helps.”

Neal said he hopes the warmer temperatures and sunshine will push the fish out a little deeper, out toward bait where he caught them in practice on Cherokee Lake.

“I just have to keep an open mind and figure out how to catch another 17 pounds or so to win,” said Neal. “I had at least a shot at an 18 or 19 pound-bag with that first one I had hooked this morning and lost – but that’s how it goes, especially smallmouth fishing. You can’t catch every single one you hook.”

The top 10 pros from Wednesday’s Knockout Round that now advance to Thursday’s Championship Round on Cherokee Lake are:

1st:           Michael Neal, Dayton, Tennessee, five bass, 16-14
2nd:          Dakota Ebare, Brookeland, Texas, five bass, 16-7
3rd:          Keith Poche, Pike Road, Ala., five bass, 16-4
4th:           Ott DeFoe, Blaine, Tenn., five bass, 16-2
5th:           Justin Lucas, Guntersville, Ala., five bass, 16-0
6th:           Matt Becker, Ten Mile, Tenn., five bass, 15-5
7th:           Spencer Shuffield, Hot Springs, Ark., five bass, 14-2
8th:           Jacob Wheeler, Harrison, Tenn., five bass, 14-2
9th:           Nick LeBrun, Bossier City, La., five bass, 13-15
10th:        Todd Faircloth, Jasper, Texas, five bass, 13-13
Finishing in 11th through 40th place are:
11th:        Kevin VanDam, Kalamazoo, Mich., five bass, 13-10, $10,000
12th:        Jacob Wall, New Hope, Ala., five bass, 13-1, $10,000
13th:        John Hunter of Shelbyville, Ky., five bass, 12-15, $10,000
14th:        Brent Ehrler, Redlands, Calif., five bass, 12-12, $10,000
15th:        David Dudley, Lynchburg, Va., five bass, 12-4, $10,000
16th:        Jared Lintner, Covington, Ga., five bass, 12-4, $10,000
17th:        Anthony Gagliardi, Prosperity, S.C., four bass, 12-3, $10,000
18th:        Andy Morgan, Dayton, Tenn., five bass, 12-3, $10,000
19th:        Greg Vinson, Wetumpka, Ala., five bass, 11-14, $10,000
20th:        Chris Lane, Guntersville, Ala., three bass, 11-13, $10,000
21st:        Adrian Avena, Vineland, N.J., five bass, 11-13, $10,000
22nd:       Bradley Roy, Lancaster, Ky., five bass, 11-0, $10,000
23rd:       Brett Hite, Phoenix, Ariz., four bass, 10-12, $10,000
24th:        Edwin Evers, Talala, Okla., five bass, 10-12, $10,000
25th:        Cliff Pace, Petal, Miss., five bass, 10-12, $10,000
26th:        Mark Rose, Wynne, Ark., five bass, 10-6, $10,000
27th:        Jonathon VanDam, Kalamazoo, Mich., three bass, 9-6, $10,000
28th:        Josh Butler, Hayden, Ala., three bass, 8-0, $10,000
29th:        Dustin Connell, Clanton, Ala., three bass, 7-12, $10,000
30th:        Jeremy Lawyer, Sarcoxie, Mo., four bass, 7-11, $10,000
31st:        James Elam, Tulsa, Okla., two bass, 6-4, $10,000
32nd:       Alton Jones, Sr., Lorena, Texas, three bass, 6-1, $10,000
33rd:       Fletcher Shryock, Guntersville, Ala., two bass, 5-4, $10,000
34th:        Zack Birge, Blanchard, Okla., two bass, 4-11, $10,000
35th:        Jordan Lee, Cullman, Ala., two bass, 4-10, $10,000
36th:        Fred Roumbanis, Russellville, Ark., two bass, 4-7, $10,000
37th:        Britt Myers, Lake Wylie, S.C., two bass, 4-7, $10,000
38th:        Jeff Sprague, Wills Point, Texas, one bass, 2-3, $10,000
39th:        Andy Montgomery, Blacksburg, S.C., one bass, 1-13, $10,000
40th:        Dylan Hays, Hot Springs, Ark., zero bass, 0-0, $10,000
A complete list of results can be found at MajorLeagueFishing.com.

Power-Pole pro Chris Lane of Guntersville, Alabama caught a 4-pound, 13-ounce largemouth on a glide bait in the first period to earn Wednesday’s $1,000 Berkley Big Bass Award. Berkley awards $1,000 to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass each day, and another $3,000 bonus to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass of the tournament.

The six-day event, hosted by the Jefferson County Department of Tourism Sports Commission, showcases 80 of the top professional anglers in the world, competing for a purse of more than $805,000, including a top payout of $100,000 and valuable Angler of the Year (AOY) points in hopes of qualifying for the General Tire Heavy Hitters All-Star event and REDCREST 2024, the Bass Pro Tour championship.

The 40 Anglers in Group A competed in their two-day qualifying round on Saturday and Monday – the 40 anglers in Group B on Sunday and Tuesday. The top 20 anglers from each group advanced to Wednesday’s Knockout Round, where weights were zeroed, and the remaining 40 anglers competed to finish in the top 10 and advance to the Championship Round. In the Championship Round on Thursday weight carries over from the Knockout Round, and the angler with the heaviest two-day total wins the top prize of $100,000.

The final 10 anglers will launch Thursday at 8:30 a.m. ET from the TVA Boat Launch on Renfro Road in Jefferson City. The General Tire Takeout will be held at the boat launch, beginning at 5 p.m. Fans are welcome to attend all launch and takeout events and also encouraged to follow the event online throughout the day on the MLF NOW!® live stream and SCORETRACKER® coverage at MajorLeagueFishing.com .

On Championship Thursday, March 23, from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., MLF will welcome fans of all ages to come in to celebrate the top 10 and crown the Stage 2 Champion at the Trophy Presentation. The final 10 Championship Round Bass Pro Tour anglers will be on hand at the trophy celebration to meet and greet fans, sign autographs and take selfies. The celebration will take place at the TVA Boat Launch on Renfro Road in Jefferson City, Tennessee.

The U.S. Air Force Stage Two on Cherokee and Douglas Lakes Presented by Power-Pole features anglers competing with a 1-pound, 6-ounce minimum weight requirement for a bass to be deemed scorable on Douglas Lake and a 1-pound, 12-ounce minimum weight for scorable bass on Cherokee Lake. Minimum weights are determined individually for each competition waters that the Bass Pro Tour visits, based on the productivity, bass population and anticipated average size of fish in each fishery.

The 2023 MLF Bass Pro Tour features a field of 80 of the top professional anglers in the world competing across seven regular-season tournaments around the country, fishing for millions of dollars and valuable points to qualify for the annual General Tire Heavy Hitters all-star event and REDCREST 2024, the Bass Pro Tour championship, held March 13-17, 2024, on Lay Lake in Birmingham, Alabama.

The MLF NOW!® broadcast team of Chad McKee, Marty Stone and J.T. Kenney will break down the extended action Wednesday and Thursday from 8:45 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. ET. MLF NOW!®  will be live streamed on MajorLeagueFishing.com and the MyOutdoorTV (MOTV) app.

Television coverage of the U.S. Air Force Stage Two on Cherokee and Douglas Lakes Presented by Power-Pole will air as two, two-hour episodes starting at 7 a.m. ET, on Saturday, September 16 on the Discovery Channel. New MLF episodes premiere each Saturday morning on the Discovery Channel, with re-airings on the Outdoor Channel.

Proud sponsors of the 2023 MLF Bass Pro Tour include: 13 Fishing, Abu Garcia, Ark Fishing, ATG + Wrangler, B&W Trailer Hitches, Bally Bet, Bass Cat Boats, Bass Pro Shops, Berkley, Black Rifle Coffee, Daiwa, Epic Baits, Favorite Fishing, Ferguson, Fox Rent A Car, General Tire, Grundéns, Humminbird, Lowrance, Minn Kota, Mercury, Mossy Oak, Onyx, Power-Pole, Rapala, Star tron, T-H Marine, TORO, Toyota, U.S. Air Force, Yellowstone Bourbon, Yo-Zuri and Zoom Baits.

For complete details and updated information on Major League Fishing and the Bass Pro Tour, visit MajorLeagueFishing.com. For regular updates, photos, tournament news and more, follow MLF’s social media outlets at Facebook, TwitterInstagram and YouTube.