Young-gun Trey McKinney has earned his success in competitive bass fishing. The 16-year-old angler from Goreville, Illinois has already been fishing competitively for seven years and has racked up an impressive list of accomplishments. “I’ve been fortunate to win three junior division national championships, and one year I won the Next Generation Championship,” says McKinney, who 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 had to come from other sources.
“My family and my faith have always been instrumental in supporting what I do, but over the past few years, Rick has really helped me take my fishing to the next level,” McKinney says, referring to his friend, fishing coach, mentor, and fishing partner, semi-retired bass pro, Rick Cheatham of Carterville, Illinois. “I’m so grateful that Rick has been there for me; he’s given and taught me so much.”
McKinney and Cheatham struck gold again during last weekend’s U.S.A. BASSIN Bass Cat Classic held on the storied big-bass waters of Tennessee’s Lake Chickamauga, weighing a two-day bag of 40.81 pounds to win the event, despite boat troubles on Day 1.
“We had some problems with our trim and didn’t actually start fishing until 10:00 on the first day,” says McKinney, who along with his partner, Cheatham, still managed to catch 17.92 pounds, ending the shortened day in the 5th spot on the leaderboard. “We got it working fine the second day and had the whole day to fish,” McKinney reports. With their mechanical troubles in the past, the duo proceeded to catch 22.89 pounds on Day 2 – the heaviest bag of the day – to win the tournament.
Relying on a junk fishing pattern, the pair caught fish on a variety of different baits throughout the two days of competition. With bass in transition, they used their experience fishing events in the days leading up to the event, including the Lucas Oil Tournament of Champions, to dial in the right areas.
“We had a lot of things going on,” McKinney says. “We had some fish shallow, fish on docks, some offshore, and some on the river channel. We dove into our tackle boxes and caught fish on all of those locations.” The pair’s extensive selection of winning baits included frogs, a Strike King Sexy Dawg topwater, a NetBait Dagger creature bait, squarebill crankbaits, and a jig with a NetBait Paca Slim. All were fished on Seaguar line.
“We are really fortunate with the win and have to thank the Lord for how it all worked out for us,” says McKinney, who boated a monster 9.2-pound lunker on Day 2. “That was a new personal best for me, and to have a fish like that come during an actual tournament instead of practice was really cool. She was up in a shallow, flat pocket of water, but not locked on a bed,” continues McKinney, who coaxed the giant with a finesse worm on 8-lb. line and a 6’10” medium-light, extra-fast Legend X spinning rod (XLS610MLXF). We couldn’t get close, so I had to let her swim to the bait. She slid out and picked it up, which kicked off about almost five minutes of absolute madness trying to get her to hand,” he relates. “Rick and I were beside ourselves and on top of the world when she finally came into the boat.”
For their efforts, the U.S.A. BASSIN 2021 Bass Cat Classic champions took home a grand prize of a new Bass Cat Caracal with a 225hp Mercury Pro XS motor.
Rounding out the top-five teams were Tristan Wagler and Stan Kemp in 2nd place with ten bass weighing 37.02 pounds, Todd Wilson and Ted Grigsby in 3rd place with ten bass weighing 33.15 pounds, Kevin Meunier and Kenny Heckel in 4th place with nine bass weighing 32.31 pounds, and Larry Hornung and Steve Harvey in 5th with ten bass weighing 32.16 pounds.
In addition to his faith, family, and Cheatham, McKinney credits his valued relationship with St. Croix Rod for helping him foster his talent and seize opportunities.
“Working with St. Croix has been a blessing. They’re all great people and the support has been unreal. In addition to being able to use the Best Rods on Earth•, words can’t express how helpful they’ve been to me, and I know they’ve been a big help to a lot of other scholastic anglers, too. I feel very fortunate to have the support of such a great, American company, that’s for sure,” he says.
“You’ve got all different of levels of rods at St. Croix, but in my opinion, if you want top performance without paying a lot of money, their BassX Series is definitely the way to go,” McKinney continues. “I use BassX rods just as much as I use Legend Tournament Bass or any of the other more expensive models I own. The BassX Series of technique-specific bass rods allows anglers like me to own several high-performance rods to use in multiple presentations for the cost of just one elite-level rod. That’s a big deal and a huge benefit for most anglers.”
Within the expansive BassX lineup, the versatile 7’1” medium power, fast action Bass-X (BXC71MF) is in McKinney’s hands a lot. “It’s a real go-to rod for me and has caught countless fish when the pressure’s been on!” McKinney offers. “It’s perfect for so many plastics presentations and jig fishing, plus it does really well with jerkbaits and topwaters, too,” continues McKinney, who also uses the BXC71MF for much of his crankbait fishing – one of his favorite techniques. “The properties of the SCII blank make the rod a bit more forgiving than some other fast action rods. It’s an ideal crankbait rod in a lot of situations.”
On the heels of his most-recent tournament win, McKinney says he and Cheatham will remain focused on fishing as many high school events as they can. “We’ll enter what we have time for and what we qualify for, plus maybe some BFL, Angler’s Choice, and more U.S.A. BASSIN events, but we don’t want to spread ourselves too thin,” McKinney says. “What’s most important to me is more ‘wisdom time’ with Rick and some more travel under my belt. That can come from a lot of different places, so we want to try and make sure we can commit the time and preparation to whatever we enter.” McKinney also has a continued commitment to his hit television show, Training up the Next Generation on the World Fishing Network, which chronicles his fishing development with the help of well-known anglers, while inspiring others to pick up a fishing rod.
McKinney says he feels blessed to be having such success, doing what he loves and at such a young age. “It takes skill and experience to earn success in competitive fishing,” he says. “And people talk about luck, too, and maybe that helps, but I know that I’m where I’m at because I put my faith in God above everything else, and because of the time, expertise and attention people like Rick, my family, my St. Croix family and others have gifted to me. I’m humbled and extremely grateful.”
If you are an aspiring high school angler and want to learn more about the St. Croix Rod Scholastic Program, please send an email to email@example.com with the subject line “Scholastic”.
About U.S.A. BASSIN
U.S.A. BASSIN is an amateur bass fishing tournament trail that promotes a family-friendly atmosphere where singles, teams, co-ed and youth can experience competitive angling at an affordable price. Learn more at http://www.usabassin.com.