Lay Lake holds a special place in the hearts of McKendree University teammates Blake Jackson and Trevor McKinney. Last season, Jackson and McKinney competed against each other in the final round of the College Classic Bracket, with McKinney winning the event and earning a place in the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk at Lake Ray Roberts as well as the 2021 Bassmaster Opens.
This year, the duo returned to Lay Lake for the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Wild Card presented by Bass Pro Shops in hopes of qualifying for the College National Championship at the St. Lawrence River and a chance to return to the College Classic Bracket.
“I’m not going to lie, we were a little nervous because this is our only chance to qualify for the championship,” McKinney said. “The experience with the bracket last year and everything I’ve gotten to do this year, fishing the Opens and the Classic, has been incredible. Toyota, Carhartt and all the sponsors at B.A.S.S. do an amazing job giving one collegiate angler the opportunity. We want to make it back to the championship and back to the Bracket and one of us can win the bracket again. Once you are there you want to go back and that’s how we have approached the week.”
After a scary situation early in practice where McKinney was struck by lightning while they were running away from a storm, their campaign to return to the National Championship is off to a great start at the Wildcard as Jackson and McKinney caught 15 pounds, 11 ounces on Day 1 to claim third-place heading into the final day of competition. In their first Bassmaster College Series tournament since the Bracket, Jackson said he is excited to be back fishing with his teammate instead of fishing against him.
“It’s kind of funny, we didn’t know it at the time but we caught a lot of our fish in the same stuff (at the Bracket),” Jackson said. “We click well together and it’s nice not having to compete against them and I would rather have him in my boat than anyone else’s. I’m better at some things and he is better at some things. It just clicked and it showed today. Every fish we caught today was exactly how each of us likes to fish in a certain way. It worked out well. I never want to go against him so I’m glad to have him back on the boat.”
After fishing the most prestigious tournament in bass fishing, McKinney said he has approached this Lay Lake tournament with the same attitude.
“Us fishermen are kind of greedy and we want to win every tournament that we fish,” McKinney said. “Whether you are fishing a Bassmaster Classic or a Tuesday night jackpot tournament or the College Wildcard on Lay Lake, you have a competitive drive and you want to win all the time. I approach this tournament just like any other.”
As their college careers come to a close, Jackson said he wants to capture the same success as last season.
“With him qualifying out of the Bracket and with the Opens schedule and my schedule, we both graduated and this is our final event and only Bassmaster College event we’ve fished this year. We want to make that championship and we want to have a chance to do that Bracket. Every kid in college fishing needs to experience it because it is like none other.”