Another big catch gives McKinney the lead at Bassmaster Elite Series event on Lake Fork

March 1, 2024

YANTIS, Texas —

Just when you thought the fishing at the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at Lake Fork couldn’t get better, it did.

Fifteen of the 103 anglers in the field caught 30 pounds or more on Day 2 of this four-day derby in the northeast corner of the Lone Star State. That was up from a total of 14 who caught 30 pounds or more on Thursday to start competition on the 27,000-acre fishery.

Trey McKinney, the 19-year-old wunderkind from Carbondale, Ill., leads with 10 bass totaling 67 pounds, 5 ounces. He was in fourth place after Day 1 with a 33-11 limit and held steady with a nearly identical 33-10 limit a day later.

McKinney is an Elite Series rookie who qualified for the tour through the 2023 St. Croix Bassmaster Opens presented by SEVIIN. After finishing third in the Tackle Warehouse Elite Qualifiers division of the Opens, he’s the youngest angler to ever qualify for the Elites — and he’s already displaying a mastery beyond his years.

Not only does he have the lead at the halfway point of this tournament, but he has the best story of the derby to date, too.

It happened early Friday when a heavy 5-pounder broke off one of his favored jerkbaits. The misfortune briefly dampened the 19-year-old’s spirits. But an hour later, he caught the same bass, adding nearly 6 pounds to his Day 2 total.

He also got his jerkbait back — part of another amazing day for the teenager on this fabled fishery.

“I grabbed his lip and my jerkbait is staring me in the face,” McKinney said, shaking his head in near disbelief. “And I caught him the second time on the same kind of jerkbait. It was crazy. He had two baits in his mouth. He could barely fit the second one in there, but he was determined.”

McKinney didn’t offer specifics about which jerkbaits he’s using, but he did say he’s deploying them in two different ways.

“I’ve got one that sinks and one that suspends” he said. “It just depends on what kind of mood they’re in. You have to read them to know which one to use … It’s a feeling really. For the less active fish, I like to use the suspended one.”

McKinney also said he’s opting occasionally for a Strike King Z Too to excite Fork’s best bass.

Friday began much like Day 1, with temperatures in the 40s. The weather warmed throughout the day, however, and by midday, it was in the mid-60s and Day 1’s stiff winds had dissipated.

“Today, I think the fish were feeling the pressure,” McKinney said. “These conditions have been crazy, so the fish are moving around a lot. They want the bank, but they can’t quite get there. So, these next two days are going to be very interesting. We’ll have to make some changes, no question. Hopefully I make the right ones.”

Matty Wong, who was in sixth place after Day 1, caught his second 30-pound limit in as many days, and is in second place with 63-10. The 36-year-old Honolulu native caught 33-2 on Thursday and was hoping for some of the same cold and blustery weather that aided his bite.

Warmer temps and bluebird skies didn’t hurt his bite one bit, though, as he tacked on a 30-8 limit Friday. A personal best of 9-3, which he caught just before 10 a.m., anchored his Day 2 bag.

“I’m keying on prespawning fish and I think these cold mornings have got them up where they need to be,” Wong said. “These fish are trying to feed up their eggs, and I think I’m cutting them off as they move in … And there are more fish coming. I dumped two really good ones today that could’ve given me 40 pounds.”

Justin Atkins, a 33-year-old pro from Florence, Ala., is in third place with 61-13. He followed a 32-11 total on Thursday with 29-2 on Friday.

“The wind made it harder to fish, but I think it got them more active,” Atkins said of the main difference he saw between the first two days of the derby.

“When you get your bait out there by them, they seem a little more anxious to just get it. But today, I really had to coax them. The biggest one I caught, I bet my bait had been out there more than a minute before it finally bit. The slick conditions today just made them come up, get high on the timber, get on the bed — all the things you want. I’ll take these conditions the next two days, without a doubt.”

Wesley Gore, of Clanton, Ala., maintains his lead for the Phoenix Boats Big Bass prize with the 10-9 largemouth he caught on Day 1. Rookie JT Thompkins, of Myrtle Beach, S.C., had the big bass on Day 2 (a 9-13 lunker).

Four Elite Series rookies are in the Top 10 heading into Semifinal Saturday, including six of the Top 12. The Top 50 anglers after Friday’s action survived the Phoenix Boats Cutline and will fish on Day 3.

After Saturday’s competition, the Top 10 will advance to Championship Sunday to fish for the tournament title and the accompanying $100,000 prize.

Follow all the live action on FS1 from 8-11:30 a.m. and on from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. On Championship Sunday, watch live coverage on FS1 from 8-11 a.m. and on again from 9-4 p.m.

This event is being hosted by Wood County Texas.