Next is the AOY wildcard – Smith Lake

Photographed by: Chase Sansom

Rookie Trey McKinney posted his worst finish of the Bassmaster Elite Series season at Wheeler Lake. And, in one sense, it might have been his best performance of the year. You get a glimpse of that when you look at the Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year race and see that McKinney went into Wheeler with a 30-point lead over No. 2 Jordan Lee and came out of it with a 59-point lead over now second-ranked Justin Hamner.

McKinney finished 22nd at Wheeler. Granted, when that’s your worst finish in the first six tournaments of a nine-tournament season, you’re having a whale of a year. But it’s a look inside his three days on Wheeler where you get some insight into McKinney’s will to win. He was 43rd after Day 1, 32nd after Day 2 and 22nd after Day 3. 

“I tried to fish more stumps and grass than everybody else in the lake,” said the 19-year-old Carbondale, Ill., resident. “There were no patterns. There were no sweet spots. It was fish as much as I can and more than everybody else. I was casting every single second of the day.”

McKinney said he primarily relied on two lures — a Strike King Baby Structure Jig and a Strike King Ocho. He did land two of the fish he weighed on a Strike King Sexy Dawg topwater bait. 

Now comes the home stretch of the AOY race, beginning with what many anglers have referred to as the wild card – Smith Lake in Cullman, Ala. It’s a 21,200-acre lake near Birmingham, noted for spotted bass. There have been multiple Bassmaster Opens and College B.A.S.S. events on Smith Lake, but never an Elite Series event. Plus, the late June date on a heavily-used recreational lake the weekend before the Fourth of July holiday adds further to the mystery of how this tournament will unfold.

“This lake is one of a kind,” said McKinney. “It’s sheer bluff. You don’t know where the bass are. I pre-practiced, and it was tough — 12-inchers galore and the length limit is 15 (inches).”

While McKinney almost doubled his AOY points lead over his nearest contender, there wasn’t a major shuffling of the top 10 anglers. Only two fell out – Cory Johnston, from fourth to 13th, and Kyle Patrick, from ninth to 19th. John Garrett jumped from 12th to sixth with his fourth-place finish, and Jay Przekurat moved from 17th to 10th after his eighth-place finish.

Interestingly, the average age of the top 10 anglers is 27 years old. Only three have passed their 30th birthday, Hamner (33), Lee (32) and Chris Johnston (34).

The number of anglers who have made all six Day 2/Top 50 cuts dropped from seven to four at Wheeler. They are McKinney, Cody Huff, Jacob Foutz and Hunter Shryock, who is now 14th in the AOY standings.

Click here to see the current Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year leaderboard