Nobody likes to admit this, but I believe it is an undeniable aspect of human nature: Being right feels good … and letting people know you were right feels even gooder. I’m not saying this particular expression of the human experience reeks of tact, just that it sits on our shoulders like a favorite hoodie when fall weather finally arrives. Of course, one can’t indulge in this guilty pleasure unless a bold prediction is made. For that reason, and because I really like driving the “I told you so” bus, I’ll offer a couple of forecasts to chew on.
First, my Texas Longhorns will play for a college football national championship this year. To be fair, I have made this prediction for the past five years, but this year I actually believe it. Secondly (and more germane to the content of this publication), I believe that Trey McKinney will become the youngest Elite Series angler in the history of our sport.
Who, you might ask, is Trey McKinney? Well, the short answer is that McKinney is an Illinois-based St. Croix Bassmaster Opens EQ angler who, with one event left as of this writing, sits in third place in the overall Opens Elite Qualifiers standings out of the 173 anglers who signed up to fish all nine events in an effort to qualify for the Elite Series. The top nine anglers at the end of the season will earn their Elite Series card. The long answer is more inspiring.
I first met McKinney three years ago in Idaho where I was covering the Big Bass Zone Junior Championship.
“Mr. James, my name is Trey and I’d like to ask you a few questions, if you don’t mind.”
He was 15 at the time and stood about 4-feet nothing. A welcoming smile hinted at his quiet confidence. It wasn’t a fishing confidence I noticed, though. He certainly had that, as he was the first (and still the only) angler ever to win the Bassmaster and FLW Junior Championships in the same year. No, this was the confidence of purpose.
That day, McKinney asked me questions about becoming a professional angler. He asked me questions about partnerships and sponsorships and media related to the sport. He even asked about my background. When I left Idaho, I had a feeling I hadn’t heard the last of Trey McKinney. I was right.
In 2021 he became the youngest angler to win a BFL Angler of the Year title (Illini Division). And in 2022 he won two BFL events and finished second in another, winning his second AOY title in as many years (he was 17 years old). I ran into McKinney in July 2022 at a trade show and congratulated him on his successes.
“Mr. James, I’m strongly considering fishing the St. Croix Bassmaster Opens next year. But, I’m not sure that I’m ready yet. Do you have a few minutes to talk?”
And talk we did. Had he been any other 17-year-old kid, at least any other I had met, I would have recommended he get more experience under his belt. After all, he’d be fishing against the likes of former Elite Series pros Bobby Lane and Ish Monroe. But, McKinney is different. He already had more trophies on his mantel than most retired pros. I recommended he go for it.
Out of the eight events he has fished thus far, McKinney has notched four Top 10 finishes, including two second-place efforts (out of 200-plus-boat fields). Now, at 18 years old, McKinney is one event away from realizing his purpose. And when he does, I’ll be proud to say, “I told you so.”