WEST VALLEY, Utah — When Levi McNeill fishes on Oklahoma’s Grand Lake in the 2016 Bassmaster Classic, he will be exploring a new fishing realm.
“It is a different world getting out of Utah,” said McNeill, 33. The Jackson Hole Bassmasters club member usually fishes clear, bowl-shaped lakes back home. When he looked up Grand Lake on Google Earth, he was surprised by the layout of the reservoir.
“It looked a lot different than I thought it was going to look with all the creeks and arms and all the boathouses,” he said. “We don’t have stuff like that here.”
McNeill noted he will also have to figure out how to fish around shad, which are foreign to his home lakes but are the main forage of Grand Lake bass.
Competing in the 2015 Old Milwaukee B.A.S.S. Nation Championship (BNC) on the Ouachita River in Monroe, La., has given McNeill some experience in fishing shallow, turbid water.
“Monroe was really weird for me, too,” he said. “We are used to really clear, deep stuff.”
McNeill, who’s a mechanic for the city of Midvale, did a fine job of adjusting to river fishing, though, finishing 11th overall in the BNC. While waiting to weigh in his fish on the final day, Tim Johnston, who was the only person in the Western Division in contention to beat him, congratulated McNeill after not having a strong day on the water. Essentially, Johnston issued a spoiler before McNeill even weighed in, and McNeill knew he was going to the Classic.
“I wanted it to be dramatic,” said McNeill. “I had a lot of time to pull myself together then, though, because I probably would have been a lot worse on stage if I had found out right then.”
McNeill has fished off and on in the B.A.S.S. Nation since he joined the Northern Utah Bass Anglers Association, a club affiliated with the Wyoming B.A.S.S. Nation. When that club dissolved, McNeill moved on to the Jackson Hole Bassmasters and qualified for two Western Divisionals and two B.A.S.S. Nation Championships.
The Utah angler was hoping his BNC experience would help calm him down for the Classic, but he said he still expects a case of the jitters when the Big Show begins.
“I am excited and nervous,” he said. “I know it is going to screw up my mind sitting in the water at the launch looking left and right, seeing Skeet Reese, Mike Iaconelli and all those guys. I know that is going to mess with me.”
Cheering him on at the Classic will be a supporting cast of his wife, Megan; sons, 3-year-old Chase and 1-year-old Gage; his mom and dad; and one of his sisters and her family.
McNeill’s main goal for the Classic is to have a good time.
“I heard you have to try really hard to have a bad time at the Classic,” he said. “I just want to enjoy the experience. I’m not going to put any expectations on my finish because I really don’t know. Whether I do decent or really bad, I definitely want to walk away just really excited and glad that I had the opportunity to fish it.”
Fishing Grand Lake in March will give McNeill a chance to fish his strengths. He has heard that jerkbaits, jigs and crankbaits will be working on the Classic waters.
“We fish jerkbaits a ton here in the spring, so that will be good,” McNeill said. “I have no problem fishing jigs and crankbaits as well. I’m just going to go fish.”