Daily Limit: McKinney’s win at Lake Fork one for the ages

Trey McKinney

As a believer, Trey McKinney became God’s youngest disciple on the Bassmaster Elite Series, yet the graces bestowed upon him remain difficult to fully digest.

“It was an unbelievable week of fishing, one of those that some people never have in their lifetime,” McKinney said. “We’re absolutely blessed to have that week of fishing.”

McKinney used “we” and “unbelievable” multiple times after his record-setting victory in the AFTCO Bassmaster Elite at Lake Fork, which came in the rookie’s second tournament.

“It was an unbelievable deal. I said at the beginning of the season, hopefully we’re not stepping in over our head,” he said. “If the Lord has a plan, it will be right. Whenever He wants it to happen, it will happen.”

It happened quickly. As reported when he first qualified for the Elites last fall, McKinney had four full seasons to become the youngest champion. In his first Elite at Toledo Bend, the Carbondale, Ill., phenom missed fishing Championship Sunday on his 19th birthday by ounces.

Exactly one week later, McKinney went into the record books as the youngest Elite winner. He took that accolade from Jay Przekurat, who was 23 years, 26 days old when he won the 2022 St. Lawrence River Elite. McKinney said it was a very cool and amazing win, but it’s not all about him.

“I don’t pray for a victory. I pray through my success I can glorify Him,” McKinney said. “My take was, following His path and Him basically putting me on the right path to actually hoist this trophy, is just another way for my following to grow so I can spread the word to more people.”

McKinney has more ears and eyes. Most thought the prespawn event on Fork could be special, and it ended up a verified tournament for the ages. After two days, McKinney was on pace to top Paul Elias’ record 132 pounds, 8 ounces from the famed Falcon Elite in 2008. Doubling his 33-11 and 33-10 would have put McKinney at 134-10.

With “only” 30-0 on Semifinal Saturday before 33-10, McKinney’s four-day weight of 130-15 led four anglers into the Top 10 all-time weight totals, and all 10 finalists earned Century Club belts. McKinney finished just 1-9 from Elias and stands fourth behind Terry Scroggins’ 132-4 and Byron Velvick’s 131-15, also at Falcon.

Yet McKinney had hooked the fish to top them all.

“I lost a fish on the third day that would have had Paul Elias’ record,” McKinney said. “Just to be able to say I had the fish on to beat the all-time record of B.A.S.S., that is just something you dream of.”

McKinney realized he’s been so incredibly blessed, even though he lost the  7-1/2-pounder on Day 3 that would have culled a 5-10. It was his only lost fish of the week.

“That’s the only one,” he said. “I was kind of down about it then because I didn’t know what I needed, but right now I sleep just fine.”

McKinney said he won’t be sleeping on his goal to win Dakota Lithium Bassmaster Rookie of the Year. He and Ben Milliken are tied atop the ROY standings and also share the lead for Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year, which would be an even more amazing feat for a rookie.

Acknowledging that’s all way down the road, McKinney said, “We’re going to try. Overall, the goal going into the season was just to make the Classic.”

While Milliken joins 55 others in Tulsa, Okla., for the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Classic presented by Jockey Outdoors, McKinney is in Florida  pre-practicing for April’s back-to-back Elites on the Harris Chain and St. Johns River.

“Florida is scary. Florida is a beast I have not strangled. Florida is a very scary place for me,” McKinney said. “If I can somehow survive in points in these two Florida events …”

That’s to be seen. What is certain is that McKinney scored an impressive victory on an amazing fishery. For that feat, and the media attention that’s followed, McKinney has an increased platform.

“The more I follow His path, the more people I can reach,” he said. “That’s a pretty special way for me to look at it.”

Tyler Rivet muscled up for this 10-12 on Championship Sunday, helping him to the eighth-best weight ever in B.A.S.S.

Shuffling the all-time Top 10

There were three others who jumped into Bassmaster’s Top 10 heaviest weight list with McKinney.

Tyler Rivet finished second with 125-9, the eighth-best total of all-time. Justin Hamner moved into ninth with his third-place total of 124-10, and rookie Tyler Williams had 124-9 for 10th, which knocked out Steve Kennedy’s 122-14 from Clear Lake in 2007.

Fifth-place Justin Atkins (117-12) stands 14th and Stetson Blaylock, who finished sixth with 117-11, is 15th. Wesley Gore’s seventh-place weight (115-9) ranks 18th, Ben Milliken’s 113-11 is 21st and Kyle Patrick’s 111-14 is 26th.

Cooper Gallant, who finished 10th, joins Caleb Kuphall from Santee Cooper 2022 as the only anglers to earn belts without catching limits each day. Gallant had four bass on Day 1, and a late 5-7 in his three-fish finale gave the Canadian 100-7, which ranks 66th among the 69 Century Club belts awarded.

Cooper Gallant became the second angler to earn a belt without catching limits each day.

Forking out belts

Fork 2024 joins the 2008 Falcon Elite as the only tournaments where each of the finalists earned Century Club belts. There have now been 69 instances of 100-pound totals, accomplished by 51 anglers, and Fork takes over the lead with 19, which have come in five events. Falcon has 15 in two tournaments.

Toledo Bend was added as the 10th Century Club fishery the week before Fork, the first back-to-back 100-pound events in the same season. It’s three in a row going back to the 2023 St. Lawrence Elite.

Starting at Fork in 2019, the Elites have recorded six consecutive seasons with belts, topping the first five-year run on the series, 2006-2010. There have been 11 belts earned in 2024, tying 2007 and threatening to overtake the most in a season, 12 in 2008.

This year has already tied 2006 and 2007 with two events topping 100 pounds. There were three in 2022 with Santee Cooper, Lake Fork and the St. Lawrence River.

Dirty 30 oh-so pretty

Falcon 2008 held the record for 30-plus pound bags with 43, including three over 40 pounds. Fork beat that mark by one.

McKinney was the only angler to eclipse 30 pounds all four days, while Rivet, Hamner and Williams each had three limits over that mark.

Day 1 leader Taku Ito had the biggest bag at Fork (39-1), which included one of four double-digit bass caught that week. Ito’s fish went 6-6, 7-12, 6-3, 10-5 and 8-6, giving him the CrushCity Monster Bag bonus of $2,000. Blaylock had the second-best bag at 37-6, with his Day 1 fish going 6-10, 5-6, 8-6, 9-10 and 7-6.

Justin Hamner shows off his 11-7 on Championship Sunday.

Biggest on Bassmaster LIVE

Before Ito’s 10-5, Gore landed a 10-9 that bolstered his Day 1 limit of 32-2. Gore could have approached Ito’s weight if not for a 3-4 and a 2-12 among his five. Gore had the day’s Phoenix Boats Big Bass and its $1,000 bonus, and he hoped it would hold out for the overall bump of another $2,000.

JT Thompkins took Day 2 honors with his 9-13, and Ben Milliken caught a late 9-10 for Day 3’s bonus. With only 10 fishing Sunday, odds were looking good for Gore.

Warming temps had bigger bass heading for the bank, and Rivet thrilled Bassmaster LIVE viewers when he hooked up.

“That’s over 10,” Rivet said as he crouched down to reel. “Don’t go back in those stumps. Got one hook.

“Yeah. Holy cow! Look at that! Oh my gosh. How you turn your day around like that. I’m shaking so bad right now. Look at that belly. That’s gotta be 10. That’s the biggest fish of my life.”

After his judge confirmed a weight of 10-12, Rivet asked for a photo and thought he might have the bonuses sewn up. But just over an hour and a half later, Hamner felt an enormous pull as he set the hook.

“Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh,” he repeated, getting louder each time. “That’s the biggest bass of my life. Oh my gosh. I can’t breathe. Oh my gosh. Let’s go!”

After a hushed yell, he let out a loud “Whoo!” Upon hearing the weight, 11-7, he hollered again. “Whoo! 11-7 of Lake Fork meat.”

It was the largest bass caught at Fork, surpassing Brandon Cobb’s 11-1 from his 2019 victory, and stands as the heaviest bass ever landed on Bassmaster LIVE.