College: McKinney earns Classic berth

COLUMBIANA, Ala. — Thanks to a morning flurry, McKendree University senior Trevor McKinney caught 11 pounds, 11 ounces to win the Carhartt Bassmaster College Classic Bracket presented by Bass Pro Shops at Lay Lake, defeating McKendree teammate Blake Jackson by just over a pound.

With the victory, McKinney qualified for the 2021 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk scheduled for March 19-21 on Lake Ray Roberts.

“It’s been my dream since I was a little kid to make the Classic. I watched it every Sunday morning when I was a kid. Now I can say I’m going to the Classic,” McKinney said. “All of my friends and family are super-proud.

“I’m not trying to sound cocky, but I’ve had a feeling all week that this was mine to win.”

McKinney caught the biggest bag of the event on Day 1 with 12-4 but stumbled a little on Day 2 with 7-12. With Jackson weighing the heaviest bag of Day 2 with 9-8, McKinney said he knew it would be a close battle in the championship round.

“I know how good of a fisherman Blake is. I knew he was fishing his strengths, and I knew he was going to be hard to beat today,” McKinney said.

During the first two days, McKinney focused on the back of one pocket on Lay Lake that had a plethora of baitfish in shallow water. As the tournament wore on, he noticed he was catching fewer fish and knew he had to make an adjustment.

So, to start the championship round, McKinney started on the point outside of the pocket where he hadn’t caught fish the first two days. He caught around 40 fish, filling his limit within an hour.

“I knew fish were leaving the area and the first place they are going to stop is that point. And that point had a lot of current coming around it too,” he said. “There was actually a hard spot off the point about 15 yards, and all of those fish were right on the hard spot.

“Even though I didn’t catch them on the point yesterday, I could see them on the graph. When I started there this morning they were biting.”

After using an underspin with a baby fluke on Day 1 and a jerkbait on Day 2, McKinney used a Rapala DT 6 crankbait to catch the majority of his fish in the final round. While he had been catching mostly largemouth the first two days, he caught all spotted bass on the final day.

“It was different for me every day,” McKinney said. “If I had come into the tournament with a mindset to do one thing, I wouldn’t have caught them.”

When the bite stalled on the point, McKinney moved to a deeper bank and used a DT 10 to make two critical culls to put the tournament out of reach.

Jackson also had a productive morning, catching all five of his keepers before the 10:30 a.m. break. He only trailed McKinney by 6 ounces at the time.

The afternoon bite never materialized for him, however, and as McKinney culled up, Jackson was unable to land another keeper fish.

“(Going back to the dock) was one of the hardest things I’ve endured. I was pretty emotional about it,” McKinney said. “If there was anyone I wanted to win this tournament other than me, it was Blake. He’s my best friend.”

Along with the Classic berth, McKinney earned $7,500 courtesy of Carhartt and will receive paid entry into all of the 2021 Bassmaster Opens. McKinney will fish the Opens out of a Nitro Z20 rigged with Humminbird and Minn Kota products and have the use of a Toyota Tundra tow vehicle.

Discover Shelby County, AL hosted the event.