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Teen Bassmaster Champ: "When it's Time to Jump, You Just Gotta Go"

Trey McKinney reflects on his path to the top after win at Lake Fork.

Teen Bassmaster Champ: "When it's Time to Jump, You Just Gotta Go"

Trey McKinney became the youngest winner of a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament. (Photo courtesy of Bassmaster)

Trey McKinney has accomplished goals at 19 years old that many anglers simply aspire to achieve in their lifetime. A few days removed from becoming the youngest winner of a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament, he’s had some time to reflect on all that it took to get to this point and offered a look ahead to all that is yet to come in his professional angling career.

Last weekend, McKinney won the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite Series Tournament at famed Lake Fork in Yantis, Texas, with an astounding four-day weight of 130 pounds, 15 ounces, the fourth-heaviest total in B.A.S.S. history. He referred to the event as a “dream tournament” because of the ever-changing dynamics, which prompted him to adapt.

“It wasn’t off one spot; it was off a couple of areas,” McKinney said. “We had to change each day and every day, and finally got it done.”

McKinney, who is from Carbondale, Ill., accomplished so much more than winning a tournament at Lake Fork – he accomplished lifelong goals that hundreds before him have pursused and got to share the special moment with his parents.

“Right now, it feels like a dream – it’s a moment in time you always wanted and wished for but it’s a rare thing to happen and when it happens, it’s unbelievable,” he said.

So is the list of superlatives he compiled. McKinney is the youngest angler ever to be on the Bassmaster Elite Series (he was 18 when the season started). He became the youngest angler to surpass the 100-pound mark in a B.A.S.S. tournament and came within one pound, 10 ounces of surpassing the all-time record for total weight in a four-day B.A.S.S event.

Since an early age, McKinney has had his sights set on competing at a professional level. Realizing the gravity of his dream at age 11 is something he remembers fondly.

Two adult men and one boy posing for a photo.
McKinney, Mark Menendez, and Trey’s mentor, Rick Cheatham, fishing in Trey’s first tournament when he was 11 years old in 2016.

“I was probably 11 or so. Before that, you want to win, but you don’t realize what it is to you,” McKinney said.

The last day of the tournament was when McKinney had the realization that his hard work had paid off.

“The moment on the last day when I caught the last 7-pounder – I have waited my whole entire life for that moment,” he said. “It’s why I fish every day, it’s why I take the precaution that I do, it’s why I practice as hard as a I do – it’s everything that I’ve done my whole life to become an angler and it’s all led up to right now.”

Beyond unwavering support from his parents, McKinney has had another key role model that helped him to grow in the sport of fishing and introduced him to tournament fishing – Rick Cheatham. Cheatham started fishing tournaments with McKinney and it’s a time that McKinney remembers clearly.

“It was pretty special that we got to travel for so long together,” McKinney said.

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Cheatham eventually encouraged him to start fishing in individual tournaments. McKinney fished in a few junior events to test the waters and came out on top in multiple individual tournaments, winning three separate junior national championship titles.

“It fueled a fire,” McKinney said. “Rick was always looking for the next door to open. He’s taught me a ton about fishing, but just life in general. The little things of what it means to be, what it means to represent, what it means to stand strong – I just kind of watch everything he does and that has been a really important factor to me in how to act, how to stay humble.”

McKinney knows he always has the support of Cheatham whether they are traveling together for tournaments or not.

“He’s always rooting for me and always wants the best for me – it’s pretty special to have that,” McKinney added.

As an emerging young star, McKinney knows that he has a following of all ages that are looking to him for tips on finding success. One of the most important things McKinney wants anglers to know is that there is never a right time.

“More or less, when you’re afraid to jump is the time to jump – you just gotta go,” he says. “For a young angler trying to make it to the Elites, there is never a right moment. [You can always say] you need more time to learn or more time to fish, but these guys already have so much knowledge.”

Through his experience, he has learned that hard work and continuing to learn from those around him are elements he needs to carry forward.

“When you get on the water, every day try to learn something new,” he said. “There’s only so much time in a year, but that is a lot of time, too. You can learn so many techniques. Be a sponge and don’t cut yourself short.”

McKinney joined the Strike King pro staff in 2022 and was inspired by being on the same team as some of his idols, like Kevin VanDam.

“It means the world to me that I can be part of a company that is so great and produces great baits. I am excited to keep the relationship growing,” McKinney said.

As McKinney continues to blaze a trail in the world of professional bass fishing and inspire a new generation of anglers, he knows that confidence is key and encourages anglers to keep that front of mind in their pursuits.

“Never ever let the words be in your mouth that ‘I’m not enough,’” he said. “Have confidence in it, do what you do, and keep your head down.”




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