Neal Takes Day 1 Lead at Major League Fishing’s Bass Pro Shops REDCREST 2024

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (March 14, 2024) – In the days leading up to Bass Pro Shops REDCREST 2024 Powered by OPTIMA Lithium, no one seemed to know what to expect from Lay Lake. While it’s normal for competitors to keep coy prior to lines in, the air of mystery felt real this time – Kevin VanDam even reported that he took the water on Day 1 with 43 rods rigged and ready.

Tennessee pro boats 21 bass weighing 52-9 to take early lead after day 1, full field of 50 anglers to compete again Friday

Through one day, at least, the answer has been lots of bass, particularly offshore on the main lake. The 50-angler field accounted for 362 total scorable bass, with 20 pros topping the 20-pound mark. And even though air temperatures climbed into the 80s Thursday and water hit the 60s, spotted bass chasing bait in the main channel on the lower end of the reservoir produced much of that weight, with more than half of the Top 10, including the Day 1 leader, pro Michael Neal of Dayton, Tennessee, roaming the same stretch.

Neal stacked 21 scorable bass weighing 52 pounds, 9 ounces on SCORETRACKER®, giving him an 8-pound, 3-ounce lead over Dalton Head of Moody, Alabama. The 21-year-old University of Montevallo angler put his local knowledge to good use, creating plenty of distance between himself and the cut line and even climbing to the top of the standings at one point. Pro Anthony Gagliardi of Prosperity, South Carolina, who fished within sight of Neal for much of the day, sits in third with 38-13, just 13 ounces clear of Coosa River local pro Dustin Connell of Clanton, Alabama, who ended the day in fourth.

While many of the top performers Thursday employed similar approaches, that could change as the weather, water clarity and current all remain in flux. Connell even went so far as to predict that using forward-facing sonar to target suspended fish will not win. And with weights set to zero twice before a champion is crowned, the event is still wide open.

For about the first six hours of competition, Neal never cranked up his Mercury. He spent that entire time milling around in an area on the main lake, spinning rod in hand, scanning for spotted bass.

It didn’t take long to see why he started in that area, which he found the final day of practice, and spent so much time hunkered there. During a 30-minute flurry that started around 8 a.m., he boated seven scorable bass that weighed a combined 17-10, vaulting to the top of SCORETRACKER® in the process.

Neal described his approach as typical late winter/early spring spotted bass fishing: find the baitfish, find the bass.

“They focus their whole life around bait besides when they go to spawn, and that’s what I’ve been doing is just focusing on bait,” he explained. “It doesn’t really matter how deep it is or where it’s really located; just the more bait the better.”

Yesteryear’s conventional wisdom would have suggested that, with the water temperature in the 60s, it was time to beat the bank. And while we did see a few anglers sight-fishing for spawning bass Thursday, Neal believes the healthy population of Alabama bass in Lay Lake spawn later than their largemouth counterparts, especially given the amount of current that’s been rolling through the reservoir recently.

“I went to the bank and tried to make them be on the bank, kind of like everybody else did, and just didn’t get any bites,” Neal said. “And the ones I did were just real little. It’s just a matter of listening to what the fish have got to say and not worrying a whole lot about what the weather’s telling you. You’ve just got to fish where they are and let them tell you what they’re doing.

“I think these spots will be spawning way after the largemouth here. I think they wait on like no current and things like that to spawn on the river, and they just haven’t had those options yet.”

While Neal said he could have put more weight on SCORETRACKER® – he went into practice mode with about 90 minutes left in Period 3, once he hit the 50-pound mark – he doesn’t think he can ride his starting spot to a championship. For one thing, he’s concerned about the number of other anglers in the area. Neal plans to use the second day of qualifying to try to find a less-popular school.

“I've got some other places I can go run, and I’ve pretty much got a full day tomorrow to go try and find some other stuff, too,” he said. “Just gotta be smart with how I play the day tomorrow to try and find some fresh stuff.”

There’s also a weather change in the forecast, with thunderstorms expected Friday. While Neal doesn’t think that will have too great an impact on the fish he’s targeting – of all the bass in the reservoir, they should be the most stable – he said there’s a chance it stirs up the pollen that has collected in the water. Pollen has proved to be the enemy of ‘Scopers, clouding their screens and making it difficult to identify fish.

“It wasn’t bad – like, I didn’t really notice it to start,” Neal said of the pollen Thursday. “But as the day went on, it got worse and worse. But we’re supposed to have like an inch of rain tomorrow, so it’s going to change. Whether it makes it better or worse with the pollen, I don’t know, but it’ll be one or the other.”

While he hopes to find new fish Friday, Neal doesn’t plan to veer too drastically from his game plan. He’s fully committed to targeting spotted bass on the lower end of Lay Lake.

“I’m going to do some shallow stuff, but I’m not going largemouth fishing at all,” he said. “I’m going to go in some pockets and fish some places where I feel like spots would spawn and stuff, but I’m going to go to the same area of the lake and kind of put all my eggs in one basket and hope for the best.”

The standings after Day 1 on Lay Lake are:

1st:        Michael Neal, Dayton, Tenn., 21 bass, 52-9
2nd:       Dalton Head, Moody, Ala., 17 bass, 44-6
3rd:       Anthony Gagliardi, Prosperity, S.C., 15 bass, 38-13
4th:        Dustin Connell, Clanton, Ala., 16 bass, 38-0
5th:        Ryan Salzman, Huntsville, Ala., 10 bass, 35-11
6th:        Jacob Wheeler, Harrison, Tenn., 15 bass, 35-9
7th:        Ron Nelson, Berrien Springs, Mich., 13 bass, 33-14
8th:        Cole Floyd, Leesburg, Ohio, 13 bass, 32-1
9th:        Keith Poche, Pike Road, Ala., 10 bass, 31-0
10th:     Nick Hatfield, Greeneville, Tenn., 11 bass, 29-2
11th:     Jonathon VanDam, Kalamazoo, Mich., nine bass, 26-11
12th:     John Cox, DeBary, Fla., 10 bass, 26-9
13th:     Alton Jones, Jr., Waco, Texas, 10 bass, 25-12
14th:     Greg Vinson, Wetumpka, Ala., nine bass, 25-1
15th:     Jesse Wiggins, Addison, Ala., 10 bass, 24-6
16th:     Gerald Spohrer, Gonzales, La., nine bass, 22-15
17th:     Matt Becker, Ten Mile, Tenn., seven bass, 22-9
18th:     Ott DeFoe, Blaine, Tenn., eight bass, 21-14
19th:     Todd Faircloth, Jasper, Texas, eight bass, 21-4
20th:     Matthew Stefan, Junction City, Wis., eight bass, 20-11
21st:      Bradley Roy, Lancaster, Ky., eight bass, 19-11
22nd:    Jeremy Lawyer, Sarcoxie, Mo., eight bass, 18-15
23rd:     Spencer Shuffield, Hot Springs, Ark., seven bass, 18-14
24th:     Dakota Ebare, Brookeland, Texas, six bass, 17-15
25th:     Nick LeBrun, Bossier City, La., six bass, 17-5
26th:     Takahiro Omori, Tokyo, Japan, six bass, 16-8
27th:     Adrian Avena, Vineland, N.J., six bass, 16-6
28th:     John Hunter, Shelbyville, Ky., six bass, 15-6
29th:     Alton Jones, Lorena, Texas, six bass, 14-14
30th:     Cliff Pace, Petal, Miss., five bass, 14-12
31st:      Dylan Hays, Hot Springs, Ark., five bass, 14-5
32nd:    Cody Meyer, Star, Idaho, five bass, 13-12
33rd:     David Dudley, Lynchburg, Va., five bass, 13-11
34th:     Bryan Thrift, Shelby, N.C., four bass, 13-8
35th:     Brent Ehrler, Redlands, Calif., five bass, 13-2
36th:     Justin Lucas, Guntersville, Ala., five bass, 13-1
37th:     Joshua Weaver, Macon, Ga., four bass, 11-15
38th:     Mark Rose, Wynne, Ark., five bass, 11-6
39th:     Jordan Lee, Cullman, Ala., three bass, 10-8
40th:     Emil Wagner, Marietta, Ga., four bass, 10-4
41st:      Mark Daniels, Jr., Tuskegee, Ala., three bass, 9-2
42nd:    Andy Morgan, Dayton, Tenn., three bass, 8-12
43rd:     Jeff Sprague, Wills Point, Texas, three bass, 8-9
44th:     Josh Butler, Hayden, Ala., three bass, 7-8
45th:     Edwin Evers, Talala, Okla., three bass, 7-0
46th:     Kelly Jordon, Flint, Texas, three bass, 6-5
47th:     Chad Mrazek, Montgomery, Texas, two bass, 5-12
48th:     Chris Lane, Guntersville, Ala., two bass, 4-4
49th:     Kevin VanDam, Kalamazoo, Mich., one bass, 3-8
50th:   Andy Montgomery, Blacksburg, S.C., one bass, 3-2

Overall, there were 362 scorable bass weighing 968 pounds, 13 ounces caught by the 50 pros Thursday.

Salzman earned Thursday’s $1,000 Berkley Big Bass Award with a 5-pound, 10-ounce spotted bass that he caught on a squarebill crankbait in Period 1. Berkley awards $1,000 to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass each day, and a $3,000 bonus to the angler who weighs the heaviest bass of the tournament.

All 50 Anglers will compete on Days 1 (Thursday) and 2 (Friday) of the event. After two days of competition, the field is cut to just the top 20 based on two-day total cumulative weight. Weights are zeroed, and the top 20 anglers compete on Day 3 (Saturday). Only the top 10 anglers advance to the fourth and final day of competition. Weights are zeroed again for the final-day championship round, and the winner is determined by the heaviest one-day total cumulative weight, with the victor earning the top prize of $300,000 and the REDCREST 2024 trophy.

The General Tire Take Off Ceremony will begin each morning at 6:15 a.m. each day of competition at Beeswax Landing, located at 245 Beeswax Park Road in Columbiana, Alabama. Anglers will depart at 7 a.m. each day and return after competition ends at 3:30 p.m. Fans are welcome to attend all launch events and also encouraged to follow the event online throughout the day on the MLF NOW!® live stream and SCORETRACKER® coverage at

In conjunction with the event, the FREE, family-friendly REDCREST Outdoor Sports Expo will also take place throughout the weekend, March 15-17 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. each day at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex, located at 2100 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. N., in Birmingham. Fishing and outdoor enthusiasts will have the opportunity to visit numerous booths and vendors, showcasing the latest and greatest in fishing, boating and the outdoors. The biggest names in the outdoor industry will be on hand, including the professional anglers that compete on the Bass Pro Tour and legends of the sport.

Children are welcome to visit and play in the MLF Kids Zone, plus meet Skye & Marshall from PAW Patrol. Throughout the day there will be giveaways and prizes, including signed MLF angler jerseys, rods and reels, gift cards, and more. On Sunday one lucky attendee will walk away with a brand new 2024 Toyota Tacoma truck. Fans must be present to win the Tacoma grand prize. For more information on the MLF Outdoor Sports Expo, visit

The 2023 Bass Pro Tour featured a field of 80 of the top professional anglers in the world competing across seven regular-season tournaments around the country. The top 40 anglers in the Angler of the Year (AOY) standings after the seven events qualified to compete in REDCREST 2024 Presented by OPTIMA Lithium.

The MLFNOW!® broadcast team of Chad McKee and J.T. Kenney will break down the extended action live on the final four days of competition from 7:15 a.m. to 4 p.m. CT. MLFNOW!® will be live streamed on and the MyOutdoorTV (MOTV) app.

Television coverage of REDCREST 2024 Presented by OPTIMA Lithium will be showcased across two, two-hour episodes, premiering at 7 a.m. ET, on Saturday, July 6 and July 13 on Discovery Channel. Starting in July 2024, MLF episodes premiere each Saturday morning on Discovery Channel, with re-airings on Outdoor Channel.

Proud sponsors of the 2024 MLF Bass Pro Tour include: Abu Garcia, B&W Trailer Hitches, Bass Pro Shops, Berkley, BUBBA, Epic Baits, Fishing Clash, Garmin, General Tire, Humminbird, Lowrance, Mercury, MillerTech, Minn Kota, Mossy Oak Fishing, NITRO, Onyx, Plano, Power-Pole, Rapala, StarBrite, Suzuki, Toyota and U.S. Air Force.

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

About Major League Fishing
Major League Fishing (MLF) is the world’s largest tournament-fishing organization, producing more than 250 events annually at some of the most prestigious fisheries in the world, while broadcasting to America’s living rooms on CBS, Discovery Channel, Outdoor Channel, CBS Sports Network, World Fishing Network and on demand on MyOutdoorTV (MOTV). Headquartered in Benton, Kentucky, the MLF roster of bass anglers includes the world’s top pros and more than 30,000 competitors in all 50 states and 17 countries. Since its founding in 2011, MLF has advanced the sport of competitive fishing through its premier television broadcasts and livestreams and is dedicated to improving the quality of life for bass through research, education, fisheries enhancement and fish care.

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