Fishing / POSTED 13-Mar-2024

19-Year Old Yamaha Angler Youngest To Compete in Series

According to Trey McKinney, his potential rodeo career lasted about a week.  That’s how long it took him to decide he’d rather sit in a bass boat than a saddle, despite the fact his grandfather, father, mother, and sister all competed in high level rodeo competition.

“The problem probably started when I was four or five,” laughs McKinney, now a young Yamaha Pro and winner of the recent Bassmaster® Elite tournament on Lake Fork with a stunning 130-pound, 15-ounce catch.  “That’s when my mother started paddling me around in a johnboat on the family pond at our home in Carbondale, Illinois, while I fished for anything that would bite.


“The pond was about two acres and my father kept it well stocked so something was usually biting.  Bass became my major targets, and before you know it, that’s all I wanted to do.  I had a horse, but after only about a week of riding and training, I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do.”

McKinney’s rapid climb up bass fishing’s ladder to the highest levels of competition today read like fiction, particularly since he was just 18 when the 2024 Bassmaster® Elite season opened this past February at Toledo Bend where he finished 12th.  In that tournament he became the youngest angler to ever compete in the Elite Series, and at Lake Fork he became, at 19, the youngest angler to win an Elite event.


“I didn’t watch fishing programs on television or read fishing magazines,” he admits. “I just wanted to be on the water trying to figure things out myself and learn from them.  

“I remember my first trip on a big lake in a real fishing boat, going after crappie with a friend who volunteered to take me.  I’d never done anything like that before, moving to different stumps and brush piles all over the lake, and it really had an impact on me. I truly loved every moment of it.” His mother and father were always looking for others to take their son fishing – it did not bother them that he wouldn’t follow them into the rodeo world – and one day they found Rick Cheatham, whom Trey credits with truly teaching him the basics of bass fishing.  

“He was well-known as a bass fisherman in our area,” notes the Yamaha Pro, “and we became regular fishing companions.  He was, and still is, my mentor.  In fact, he fished the 2023 Bassmaster Open season as a co-angler so I had a traveling partner.”

Success followed success in tournaments, beginning with local church contests  and gradually leading up to professional events.  
At age 13 he won the Junior Bassmaster Championship and several other events; at 16 he won the first of back-to-back BFL divisional angler of the year titles.

Then, in 2023, still a senior in high school, he registered for the EQ division of the Bassmaster Open Series.  By fishing all nine tournaments and finishing in the top nine in overall standings, he would qualify for the 2024 Elite season.

“I had not fished any of the Open lakes previously,” McKinney remembers, “and at my first weigh-in at Lake Eufaula in Alabama, the first event of the season, I felt pretty good after bringing in about 14 and a half pounds.  But as the weigh-in continued, I fell further and further down in the standings, finally settling in about 60th.  

“I was stunned and a little shaken.  What had I gotten myself into?  Just then I felt like I was in way over my head.”

On the second day, however, he recovered with a 20-pound catch that jumped him to 19th in the final standings.  His confidence began to return.  At the next Open, at Toledo Bend, he finished second, followed later in the season with both another runnerup and 3rd place finishes.  By season’s end, he had easily qualified for the 2024 Elite season.

“My first thoughts of becoming a professional bass fisherman started when I was 13 or 14,” the Yamaha Pro continues.  “That’s when I understood what it was, and that it was what I wanted to do.

“At Toledo Bend, my first Elite tournament this past February, as I watched each pro take off, I just sat there in awe as I realized I was part of it.  Now, having won the second Elite tournament I fished, I know I’m living a dream.”

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