Many passionate anglers over a certain age lament a particular foregone opportunity. Today, scholastic angling is hot; high schools, colleges and universities across the country have well-organized bass-fishing teams that provide incredible opportunities for young anglers to compete on the water while advancing their knowledge and skills. It’s a great thing for both the fishing industry and for those young people who participate, but it’s a fairly recent development. A lot of anglers over the age of 35 or so didn’t have the opportunities that 17-year-old Trey McKinney and 19-year-old Jaxton Orr enjoy today. That said, they probably don’t have these incredible anglers’ skills either.
As scholastic anglers prepare to head back to the classroom this month, we sat down with McKinney, a home-schooled matriculating high school senior, and Orr, who’ll be a sophomore at fishing-powerhouse Carson-Newman University, for some Q&A.
Young-gun Trey McKinney has flat-out earned his success and accolades in competitive bass fishing. The 17-year-old angler from Goreville, Illinois has already been fishing competitively for eight years and has racked up an impressive list of accomplishments including three junior division national championships and the Next Generation Championship. McKinney garnered national acclaim by becoming the first-ever angler to win both the B.A.S.S. and FLW Junior Championships in the same year. While the popularity of competitive high-school fishing has exploded in recent years, the talented McKinney has never had access to a high-school team, so his primary support has come from other sources.
Q – How have you been able to compete and win so often without the support of a high school team?
A – It comes from my family and my faith. My mom, dad and other family members have always supported me and my fishing. We decided together that home schooling would be the best option for me to pursue my studies and my competitive angling, and that obviously took a big commitment on the part of my folks. Our family friend and my coach, Rick Cheatham, has also played a huge role in helping take my fishing to the next level. My family and Rick have always been there for me. They’ve given and taught me so much. That said, I know I’m where I’m at because I put my faith in God above everything else.
Q – You’ll be a senior this year, right? What does high school look like for you?
A – Yes, I’m finishing up my last year. Well, it’s like anything else. You have to put in the time to earn the results you want. It’s a great fit for my fishing because being home schooled provides some flexibility that other high-school anglers don’t have. I have ten books in each subject that I need to complete before the end of the school year. It’s something I’ve learned to manage pretty easily. I study and cross things off the list whenever I’m not fishing.
Q – Do you have a favorite subject?
A – I’d say science, in general. As an angler and bass fisherman, I’m often trying to unlock answers to questions that are real-life examples of biology, geography, geology, and chemistry. It works in my mind pretty well and all of it interests me.
Q – So far this season you’ve won back-to-back Phoenix Bass Fishing League Illini division events, right? Where are you at in that series and what are your goals moving forward?
A – There have been three events in that series so far, two at Lake Shelbyville and one at Rend Lake. I got sixth at the first event at Shelbyville and then won the last two. There are two more… one more regular qualifier on the Ohio River, then the two-day super tournament at Rend Lake, which earns double points. I won the Ilini super tournament on Shelbyville last year but didn’t make the cut at last year’s Phoenix BFL championship, so one of my primary short-term goals is to fish to my potential and hopefully win the Phoenix BFL Regional Championship on the Mississippi River, October 13-15 in La Crosse, Wisconsin, this season.
Q – What else have you been fishing this season?
A – I put my foot in the door with the Toyota Series. I had boat trouble at Guntersville and ended up finishing 35th there but made the cut at Dale Hollow and finished 18th. It was awesome making it to the last day with all those other great anglers.
Q – What are your plans for this coming season?
Q – What are your plans beyond that? I’m sure a lot of collegiate programs would love to know if college in your future.
A – Ultimately, I want to earn a spot in the Bassmaster Elite Series, so it’s really hard for me to think past the Opens right now. There’s so many guys who can catch them on the Opens Series. You need help to do well and I’d be fishing a lot of lakes I’ve never been to. Versatility will be key. I really want to test myself in this arena now – during my last year of high school – to see where I stand. The Lord will decide. If I don’t meet my goal this year I may fish in college. In addition to the education, it’s a great way to get to compete with your travel and expenses covered. It’s a good opportunity for a lot of people… maybe for me… we’ll see. College is still on the table.
Q – What do you think you might study in college?
A – Likely marketing or business. Either degree would help me as a professional angler
Q – Give me three fishing rods you couldn’t live without.
A – Okay, the fun part of the interview. Dock talk is everywhere, but anglers really need to pick their own tools to catch their own fish on their own confidence baits. For me, there’s actually four rods I seem to be using all the time. For sensing/bottom contact presentations it’d be the St. Croix Legend Xtreme 7’4” heavy fast (XFC74HF) for heavier applications like Carolina and Texas rigging, jigs, etc. and the Legend X 7’ medium power, fast-action spinning rod (XLS70MF) for finesse tactics like shakey heads, dropshots and wacky rigs. For moving baits, I’m usually fishing either the BassX 7’2” medium-heavy power, moderate action (BAC72MHM) rod for most cranking and topwater baits, or the Mojo Bass Glass 7’2” heavy moderate (LGC74HM) for chatterbaits, bigger crankbaits or lipless cranks.
Q – What advice do you have for young anglers who want to fish competitively?
A – Everyone is different, so that’s a tough one. But I’d first point out that fishing is a mental sport. It requires setting high goals and then executing on those goals to succeed. Execute to your potential and you still may not win or reach your goal. That’s why it’s mental. Never stop and don’t let your losses or falling short bother you. You put in the time and maybe you were one fish short? Who cares. You take whatever you can from every experience and move forward. The Lord will always give you more options if you stay positive and keep working. Keep your head high and don’t let something or somebody bring you down. Critics come with success and you will always have them. Keep your own path straight and nothing else matters.
Like McKinney, 19-year-old Jaxton Orr from Fort Wayne, Indiana didn’t have access to a high school fishing team. Now staring down the start of his sophomore year at Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tennessee, Orr earned his right to fish on one of the most dominant and talent-stacked collegiate fishing teams in the nation by virtue of his remarkable kayak-fishing tournament resume, which includes over 20 first-place finishes and dozens of top-tens in both national and local tournaments. And all of this in just a few short years of competitive fishing. Specifically, Orr won the 2017 Hobie Bass Open (youth division) on Kentucky Lake at 14 years of age and placed second in the prestigious 2020 Kayak Bass Fishing (KBF) National Championship at Lake Guntersville, which included a field of many of the best kayak-bass anglers in the world. Despite his age, like McKinney, Orr is known as a feared competitor and a true hammer throughout the world of bass fishing.
Q – How did you get into fishing, Jaxton?
A – Fishing has always been in my family. My grandpa had the bug and gave it to my dad. From the time I was three or four, we’d go to ponds in the neighborhood and catch whatever we could. For as long as I can remember, it’s been my dream to pursue fishing as a career. I always wanted a bass boat, but my dad found a Hobie kayak for sale on Facebook and bought it for me. The guy we bought it from was on the Hobie fishing team and he told my dad and me about a local Indiana kayak tournament trail. We started fishing them together and everything just kind of took off from there. Once I got into the kayak-fishing community, which is so extremely supportive, I knew this is what I wanted to do.
Q – You’ve talked publicly in online forums about a recent health challenge. How are you feeling these days?
A – I truly believe there is a reason for everything and that I am always right where I am supposed to be. It’s taken me a couple of weeks to wrap my mind around this, but I am having some medical issues that are preventing me from travel, long car rides and just sitting for long periods of time in general. We’re getting it figured out though and I continue to have faith. I’ve been advised not to travel or sit down for more than four or five hours, but I’m told I’ll be back in the saddle within the next month or so. I believe God has seen me undergo much struggle this year – both mentally and physically – and is using this time for me to focus on my health, to take inventory of my many blessings, to get closer to Him.. and also to work and to fish out of a boat – not the kayak I’m most comfortable in – several times a week to get better and hone my skills in those areas that I am weakest in.
Q – You’re going to be a sophomore at Carson-Newman University, right? How’s that going?
A – Coming out of Indiana, high school fishing wasn’t as accessible as it is in some other states. I’m really enjoying being a part of this talented team. It’s nice to share the same passion with my teammates and learn from them. They’ve helped make me better mentally and physically. Coach Hunter Sales is super organized and our kayak coach Jacob Frazier is great, too. It’s nice to be able to just focus on fishing while they figure out all the monetary stuff. I’ve never had that opportunity before.
Q – How are you balancing school and fishing?
A – Pretty good. Besides the caliber of my teammates and coaches, I chose Carson-Newman University because of its location and facilities. We’ve got these boat barns right on campus, so it’s easy to grab the boat and head to the lake and go fishing even when you don’t have much time. Cherokee is only five minutes away and Douglas is only about 20. So overall, the environment makes it pretty easy to balance fishing with the academic side. I’m a business marketing major and have enjoyed most of my classes. My favorite last year was history. In addition to being able to fish competitively and gain all that great angling experience, the whole idea behind me going to college was to gain knowledge and an education that will help support me in the fishing industry moving forward.
Q – You’ve proven you can catch bass consistently. What do you believe your strengths are as an angler?
A – Probably finding fish… and having that mindset that you fish hard until the very end. Competitive angling quickly teaches… over and over again… that no matter how far ahead or behind you are it’s never over until it’s over. Your last 30 minutes on the water can deliver a win as long as you believe you can win and keep your mind in the game. Preparation and finding fish always helps, and that’s something I feel like I’m pretty good at. I enjoy the process of researching fisheries on Google Earth; it’s like solving a puzzle, or at least preparing to solve a puzzle where the pieces are weather, water temperature, structure, cover, forage and various other forms of biology and geography. I also enjoy using today’s modern fishing electronics. As far as my actual fishing goes, my confidence lures tend to be stickbaits and anything Texas rigged.
Q – St. Croix Rod is one of your sponsors. Tell me what’s so special about that company and give me a couple of their rods that you always have with you.
A – St. Croix was one of the first major companies that noticed me. From the start, they treated me like family, which is something you hear a lot about with respect to the St. Croix brand and people, but it’s true. Beyond that, I love that it’s an American company and their rods are amazing fishing tools. I still fish a lot of their Mojo Bass rods, but I’d say my favorite two St. Croix rods are the Victory 7’1” medium-heavy power, fast action casting rod and the Legend X 6’10” medium-light power, extra-fast action spinning rod. St. Croix calls that Victory model “The Grunt” because there’s almost nothing that rod won’t do. And that Legend X medium light… for me it’s just the ultimate dropshot and finesse rod… incredibly light and sensitive with awesome backbone when you need it.
Q – What are your short and long-term fishing goals?
A – Besides contributing to my team’s success and continued work on my charity fishing tournaments, I’d say mainly kayak fishing on the Hobie BOS. That series is very well run and consistently attracts the best kayak anglers in the world, so I’d like to fish as many of their events next season as I can.
Q – Did I hear correctly that you bought a bass boat?
A – I did. I’ve been working on it this summer and am trying to get it ready to fish some BFLs next year… maybe a Bass Open, too.
Q – You are such a busy young man, yet you still make a deliberate choice to help others. Tell me about your annual charity tournament.
A – It’s called KATCH, which stands for Kayak Anglers Together Can Help. It’s an annual catch, photo and release tournament I started in 2018 with my dad’s help. We had 47 anglers that first year and raised almost $1000 for charity. We got a bunch more sponsors in 2019 and had 137 anglers and raised $3000 for charity and it has continued to grow in the two years since. My name is on the tournament, but this is something the entire kayak-angling community has come together to support and make possible. I’m working on some of the details of this year’s tournament, which will be sometime in September or October.
Q – Anything else you’d like the fishing industry or other anglers to know about Jaxton Orr?
A – Just that I couldn’t feel more blessed or proud to be a part of the kayak-fishing community. I consider all of you a part of my family. I am also so incredibly thankful for all of my amazing sponsors, including St. Croix Rod, for all that they have done to help support me and to get me to where I am. I wouldn’t be here today without the support of all of them. As a 19 year old, I really couldn’t be more blessed. You may not see may name on the leaderboards right now, but I promise I’m getting this health issue figured out and I’ll be back very soon and stronger than ever.
If you are an aspiring high school or collegiate angler and want to learn more about the St. Croix Rod Scholastic Program, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Scholastic”.