Another big day puts McKinney on the verge of history in Bassmaster Elite Series event at Lake Fork

March 2, 2024

YANTIS, Texas —

Trey McKinney already is the youngest angler ever on the Bassmaster Elite Series. Now, he’s only a day away from possibly winning the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at Lake Fork and scratching his name into another chapter of the B.A.S.S. record books.

McKinney, a 19-year-old Elite Series rookie from Carbondale, Ill., maintained his lead on Semifinal Saturday at this 27,000-acre big-bass factory in the northeast corner of the Lone Star State. He caught a Day 3 limit of five bass that weighed 30 pounds even, giving him 15 total bass for 97 pounds, 5 ounces.

BassTrakk had McKinney falling out of first place with only 5-3 caught after 75 minutes of fishing. His confidence shot skyward, however, after hooking a chunky 8-8 largemouth an hour later.

“The nerves were getting to me,” McKinney said. “I was trying to stay calm. When I finally hooked that big one, I said ‘This bass is what’s going to get me through.’ It took the pressure off me and I was able to fish better.”

It’s almost unfathomable that McKinney flirted with the Century mark (a 100-pound total or higher) through only three days of the four-day derby. In fact, the Top 10 anglers who survived the Phoenix Boats Cutline after Saturday’s fishing all are within striking distance of the celebrated Century Club, with the 10th-place angler having 86-5 after three days on Fork.

Still, the tournament appears McKinney’s to win or lose. Only a teenager, he’s displayed wisdom beyond his years in this tournament, making key switches when needed and maintaining focus with the spotlight shining squarely on him.

After calming down with the 8-8, McKinney caught a trio of 5-pounders over the next few hours to build a 7-pound cushion on the field. But Louisiana’s Tyler Rivet hooked a crucial 8-15 largemouth just after 11 a.m. to complete his limit and reel McKinney back to the pack.

Tyler Williams, a 22-year-old Elite Series rookie from Belgrade, Maine, is in second place with a three-day total of 94-11. Williams posted 33-14 on Saturday, following limits of 30-4 and 30-9 earlier in the tournament, and he and McKinney are the only two anglers to catch 30 pounds each day of the derby.

Williams’ 33-14 was the third-heaviest total caught Saturday. He hooked a pair of 7-pounders early and ended with a flourish, catching an 8-5 lunker on his last cast.

“I’m fishing in 40 feet of water sometimes and in 2 feet of water other times,” he said. “The big one today came really shallow. If the water was clear enough, I probably could have seen it with my eyes.”

Williams is covering a lot of water, but he’s doing so methodically. On Saturday, he trolled parallel to the bank and leaned on a 3/4-ounce Greenfish brown jig to boat his best bass.

“I put my trolling motor down about 7:15 a.m. (just after takeoff) and picked it up at about 2:45 p.m. (just before weigh-in,)” he said.

Rivet, a 29-year-old Elite angler from Raceland, La., is in third place with a 92-15 total. He followed limits of 31-5 and 29-13 with a 31-13 stringer on Semifinal Saturday.

“I just keep moving,” Rivet said, responding to how he’s maintained consistency in an event featuring a 40-degree temperature drop to start the tournament, bluebird skies and rapidly climbing temps on Day 2 and steady 15 mph winds on Day 3.

“I’ve been catching them where there’s a lot of timber in a pretty long pocket, and I’m getting new fish every day,” Rivet continued. “I think I can get another big bag. I’m confident.”

Others surviving the Phoenix Boats Cutline were Stetson Blaylock, fourth, 92-7; fifth, Justin Hammer, 91-3; sixth, Kyle Patrick, 90-5; seventh, Justin Atkins, 90-0; eighth, Cooper Gallant, 88-0; ninth, Ben Milliken, 87-3; and 10th, Wesley Gore, 86-5.

Five of the remaining Top 10 are Elite Series rookies (McKinney, Williams, Patrick, Milliken and Gore). Gore still has the Phoenix Boats Big Bass (a 10-9 caught on Day 1), while Milliken caught a 9-10 for the Big Bass on Day 3.

With the remarkable totals on the board, it’s realistic (if not probable) that each of the 10 remaining anglers will crack the 100-pound mark on Championship Sunday. That’s happened only once before in the era of four-day tournaments and five-bass limits — in 2008 on Falcon Lake in Texas when 12 Elites caught 100 pounds or more. Paul Elias caught 132-8 that year on Falcon, a four-day B.A.S.S. record that still stands.

It’s worth noting that the 2008 Falcon event was limited to 12 anglers on the final day of fishing instead of 10. Under similar circumstances on Fork, that record would likely be equaled — and there’s no telling how many 100-pound totals would be caught if the full field fished Sunday.

“Getting a Century belt is just about the coolest thing I can think of,” McKinney said, noting he still has 2-11 to get to that storied milestone. “That’s something you can’t do every day. But this tournament has been something special.

“And if they bite again tomorrow like they have the first three days, it’ll be a fun day. If not, I’ll have to tooth-and-nail them every minute of the day.”

FS1 will have live action from Championship Sunday from 8-11 a.m. There also will be live coverage on from 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

This event is being hosted by Wood County Texas.