Austin Neary developed a passion for bass fishing when he was four years old, fishing from a boat dock on Lake Wylie near Charlotte, N.C. — a passion fueled by his father’s love for bass fishing.

By the time he was 10, he was fishing on his own, competing in local Christian-based bass fishing tournaments and regional casting tournaments. At 14, he won the national Kids Casting tournament and a $5,000 prize, competing against 8,000 participants nationwide.

Mike Neary, Austin’s father, coached Austin and his younger brother, who, after he was grown, decided to pursue another lifestyle. Austin persisted with bass fishing.

“I had two methods of teaching,” Mike Neary said. “I would have Austin fish with only one type of lure until he mastered it before trying another one.”

The second method was more Zen-centered. 

“I would tell Austin to close his eyes and cast, calling on ‘The Force’ (from the Star Wars movie) to guide him.”

Mike Neary, a lifelong bass fisher, had dreamed of being a professional fishing guide, but he had a family to support, so he chose a more reliable method of making a living: building homes. The Neary family moved from North Carolina to Maryland, where Mike Neary plied his trade around the Washington, D.C., area.

Meanwhile, Austin found an additional sport to pursue: baseball. He excelled enough to win a baseball scholarship to Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C., but as a sophomore, he suffered a debilitating shoulder injury, losing his scholarship and dashing any hopes of becoming a professional player.

After he recuperated, Austin turned to his first love — bass fishing — forming Western Carolina’s first bass-fishing club and competing in area tournaments. In an area with thousands of streams where trout fishing reigned and scores of trout-fishing guide services proliferated, Neary noticed that only a few bass-fishing guide services were available.

“All those trout streams ended in a lake somewhere,” Neary said, noting the high country has dozens of lakes, all of which hold what Neary and many other fishers consider the kings of fresh-water gamefish: largemouth and smallmouth bass.

While Austin Neary was still in school, Mike Neary, “fed up with the traffic in D.C.,” moved his family to western North Carolina.

With backing and encouragement from his father, Austin Neary established a bass-fishing guide service and recruited a friend to assist him: T.K. Beutell, a native of the area whose family owns one of the largest Christmas tree farms western North Carolina.

Neary had found his niche. The guide service was so successful that a year later, Neary opened a fishing outfitting shop — Dream Catcher Guides and Fishing Supplies — on the outskirts of Sylva, N.C. 

Although he guides on the large lakes in the region — Fontana, Chatuge, Hiwassee, Santeetlah and Lake James in North Carolina, Jocassee in South Carolina and Burton in Georgia — Neary said smaller lakes provide some of the best bass fishing and often are overlooked. The most productive, he said, are Lake Junaluska in Haywood County, Nantahala Lake in Macon County, and Cedar Cliff, Bear Lake, Wolf Creek and Glenville, aka Thorpe, in Jackson County.

The small lakes have plenty of big bass and a lot less fishing pressure than the larger lakes, Neary said:  “I once caught two 9-pounders back-to-back on Bear Lake.”

Guide trips focus mainly on largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass, depending on the lake. Lake Chatuge in Clay County has mostly spotted bass, and spots are showing up in many of the area’s large reservoirs. 

Neary uses both baitcasting and spinning gear, depending how the bass are acting, and he fishes with large lures, especially baitfish imitations and crawfish imitations. 

“Bass eat a lot of small bream, trout and crawfish,” he said.

Neary does many of his trips on Lake Glenville. 

“Glenville has a good population of bass and some big bass,” he said.

Neary guides year-round, but the absolute best time to fish for bass, he said, is during the spring spawn.

Dream Catcher is an all-purpose fishing shop. While bass-fishing guide services are the primary focus, Neary also employs two part-time fly-fishing guides and sells fly-fishing supplies. Neary and Beutell are the only full-time bass guides.

The shop is a family affair. Mike Neary helps in the shop and does occasional guiding. Neary’s grandmother helps in the shop when needed.

Austin Neary (Austin@DreamCatchersFishing.com) not only filled a niche in an area dominated by trout fishing, he also found a career doing what he loves best: bass fishing. Mike Neary, too, in a way, has realized a life-long dream of being a professional fishing guide.