March 2024

“WHEN IT’S TIME TO JUMP, YOU JUST GOTTA GO”

Strike King® and Lew’s® pro Trey McKinney has accomplished goals at 19 years old that many anglers simply aspire to achieve in their lifetime. With a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament win under his belt, he reflects on all that it took to get to this point and looks ahead to all that is yet to come in his professional angling career.

Trey McKinney Reflects on His Path to the Top and Offers Advice for the Next Generation of Anglers Chasing a “Dream”

By: Gabby Stallings

Strike King® and Lew’s® pro Trey McKinney has accomplished goals at 19 years old that many anglers simply aspire to achieve in their lifetime. With a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament win under his belt, he reflects on all that it took to get to this point and looks ahead to all that is yet to come in his professional angling career. 

McKinney won the 2024 AFTCO Bassmaster Elite Series Tournament at Lake Fork in Yantis, Texas with an astounding 130 lbs.-15 oz. by the end of Championship Sunday, making him the youngest angler ever to join the Bassmaster Century Club. He refers to the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite tournament as a “dream tournament” because of the everchanging dynamics, pushing his adaptability. “It wasn’t off one spot; it was off a couple of areas. We had to change each day and every day, and finally got it done,” McKinney says. 

Trey McKinney with trophyMcKinney accomplished so much more than winning a tournament this weekend – he accomplished lifelong goals that he has always dreamed of 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,” McKinney says. McKinney is the youngest angler to ever be on the Bassmaster Elite Series, the youngest angler to join the Bassmaster Century Club, and came within two pounds 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. “I was probably 11 or so. Before that, you want to win, but you don’t realize what it is to you,” McKinney shares. 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. 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,” McKinney expresses. 

Trey with herosBeyond unwavering support from his parents, McKinney has 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 remarks. 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. Rick was always looking for the next door to open,” McKinney recalls. “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 says. 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,” says McKinney. 

As an emerging professional angler, 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,” shares McKinney. Through his experience, he has learned that hard work and continued learning from those around him are irreplaceable. “When you get on the water, every day try to learn something new. 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,” encourages McKinney. Lastly, McKinney knows that confidence is key and encourages anglers to keep that front of mind. “Never ever let the words be in your mouth that ‘I’m not enough.’ Have confidence in it, do what you do, and keep your head down,” he says. 

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 says. 

As McKinney continues to blaze a trail throughout the world of professional angling, he leaves us with a powerful message. For him, a childhood dream turned into the pinnacle of success is a testament to his hard work, dedication, and constant pursuit of learning. Inspiring new generations of anglers and seasoned professionals alike, McKinney has knowledge beyond his years and will continue to find success as he sets new records and continues to add wins to his already impressive showing on the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament trail.