When Illinoian Trevor McKinney won the Carhartt Bassmaster College Classic Bracket presented by Bass Pro Shops in November of 2020, he earned one of the greatest opportunities in bass fishing.
Besides a berth to the 2021 Bassmaster Classic at Lake Ray Roberts, Texas, he received $7,500 courtesy of Carhartt, paid entries into all nine 2021 Bassmaster Opens and the use of a Nitro Z20 rigged with Humminbird and Minn Kota products and a Toyota Tundra tow vehicle.
After the first six Bassmaster Opens of 2021 McKinney is taking advantage of his big break. He has made the money in three events and is 10th in the overall Falcon Rods Bassmaster Opens Angler of the Year standings. The top three anglers in the overall point standings and the top three anglers in each of the three Opens divisions will qualify for the Elite Series.
McKinney is grateful for the fast start, but he isn’t surprised. The 23-year-old has been fishing bass tournaments with his father, Mike, since age 6.
“I am blessed and fortunate,” McKinney said. “Dad took me fishing at every opportunity.”
Many of those tournaments took place on Rend Lake, which is close to home, and Lake of Egypt. They included winter outings, as McKinney was eager to cast for bass regardless of the weather. During a tournament in February, an 8-year-old McKinney was fishing from the front deck side-by-side with his father, as he always did.
“My dad turned the boat with the trolling motor,” McKinney said. “The boat went one way and I went the other into the water. It was 32 degrees that day. We had to quit.”
McKinney’s father has always been involved and supportive of his son’s fishing. When McKinney was 10 his father quit his job at a tire outlet and started his own landscaping business so he could fish with his son more often on weekends. McKinney began working with his father right off and continues to do so when he’s not fishing a tournament.
“My dad has always taught me to work hard for everything that I’ve accomplished,” McKinney said. “He never just gave me stuff. I always had to work for it.”
Prior to high school, McKinney frequently fished weeknight and weekend tournaments with his father. When he wasn’t in school, his mother, Diana, or father would drop him off at Benton Lake in the morning and let him fish all day from a 16-foot johnboat powered by a 9.9 outboard.
“That boat is what I learned to fish out of,” McKinney said.
At Benton Consolidated High School McKinney joined the fishing team and competed in their tournaments as well as in local derbies. He and his partner Dailus Richardson won a B.A.S.S. Nation Championship and finished second and third in the championship other years.
“At the B.A.S.S. Nation High School Championship, we got to weigh in on the same stage as the pros,” McKinney said. “The pros fished Grand Lake. Our tournament was on Hudson.”
McKinney’s father promised to buy a bass boat for him if he ever achieved valedictorian in high school. He did so in his senior year, 2016, and his father presented him with a 1998 Pro Craft. By the time he entered college, McKinney had used his savings to buy a boat from Crestliner, one of the companies that now sponsor him.
While competing on the fishing team at Illinois’ McKendree University, McKinney had success with several different partners. These events took him to tournaments in 20 different states. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in elementary and special education and a master's degree in bass tournament fishing. He won the Carhartt Bassmaster College Classic Bracket in his senior year, which brought him to the Bassmaster Opens.
Fishing shallow is McKinney’s druthers because that is how he learned to catch bass growing up. These events were often on small lakes with crowded fishing conditions.
“That 100% made me the fisherman I am today,” McKinney said. “Even a big lake like Pickwick fishes pretty small. A lot of people find the same fish. I’m used to fishing beside people and figuring out how to out fish them.
McKinney’s sponsors include Tightlines UV Baits, Shimano, G Loomis, Dunn’s Sporting Goods, Rend Lake Sporting Goods, KB’s Outdoors, Herron Chiropractic, Carhartt, Toyota, Sublime Wear US, Century 2, Hawk Waterfowl, Rapala, Terminator, VM, Storm, Jig Shack Tungsten Weights and Custom Baits, Humminbird and Minn Kota.