Trey McKinney, 14, and Logan Baker, 15, both of Goreville, are the reigning FLW Bass Federation World Junior Champions. They won the national title at Arkansas’ Lake Hamilton last summer.
As a result of winning the Illinois Junior State Championship at Clinton Lake April 7, they have the opportunity to defend their national championship. Rick Cheatham of Herrin serves as boat captain for the young anglers.
Once again they young anglers will be pitted against state champions and provincial champions from Canada.
“It’s kind of cool to go back and get a chance to defend your title” Cheatham said. “You have to win the state championship, if you don’t win it you don’t advance in TBF.”
McKinney and Baker earned their way back into the national spotlight with a five-pound limit tilting the scales at 14.3 pounds. They also took big bass honors with a 5.7-pound fish. And, they weren’t the only local anglers to do well at the TBF series that day, the Marion squad of A.J. Segers, Justin Roberts and Brad Segers won with high school division with 11.3 pounds.
Cheatham said time on the water plays a major factor in McKinney and Baker’s success.
“Trey for sure, is just on the water almost every day,” Cheatham said. “ He tries to go every day after school. They really study it a lot, watching videos of the pros. The learning curve is so much greater. In our day, everything was so secretive. Nowadays, everything is televised. You can’t hide what you’re doing or what you’re using.”
And, there seems to be an inexplicable chemistry between the two.
“They complement each other well,” Cheatham said. “The dynamics are really strange. I’ve seen over the years with club fishing, you might put two of the best fishermen in the club and put them in the same boat together you’d think they’d be unbeatable. It doesn’t always happen that way. I don’t know if they complement each other because of fishing styles, or just the way they think.”
The national championship event will be held at Tennessee’s Carroll County Lake, the site of last year’s tournament.
“Last year was our second year for fishing Carroll County,” Cheatham said. “It’s only a 1,000 acre lake, they have 50 plus teams. That makes it really tough, that many boats on a small body of water. All your good spots, there is usually somebody sitting there.”
As defending national champions, McKinney and Baker won’t be awed by the surroundings.
“Having that confidence level, knowing they have won … anytime you have confidence, I think that gives you a big advantage,” Cheatham said. “It doesn’t intimidate you. You know there are state champions from every state. You think of it that way, you know there are great fishermen there.”
The way Baker and McKinney won last year should also give them some confidence. They managed to win despite having serious boat issues. First, they had to borrow a boat because of mechanical problems, then there were trolling motor issues with the borrowed boat.
Eventually, they had to borrow a media boat to finish the tournament.
This will be Baker’s last year in the youth division. He will fish the high school division next year.