Young Illinois anglers take Bassmasters Junior Championship

Springfield — By the smallest of margins, two young Illinois anglers outlasted the 54-team field to win the 2018 Bassmaster Junior Championship.

Trey McKinney, of Goreville, and Carter Wijangco, of Naperville, had a two-day total of 17 pounds, 6 ounces to give them a 1-ounce advantage over first-round leaders Jeremy Monda and Will Boyd, of Florida. On what was a tougher day on the Carroll County 1,000-acre Recreational Lake in Tennessee, the duo scrounged up a five-bass limit weighing 8 pounds, but that was enough to win the championship title. With water temperatures in the 80s, the offshore bite was the primary pattern for most of the teams, including McKinney and Wijangco.

“We were a bit nervous because the Florida team of Monda and Boyd were the leaders, and we had heard they caught another limit today,” McKinney, 13, said. “It was so nerve-racking on the ‘hot seat.’”

McKinney and Wijangco fished numerous baits throughout practice, but their best lure was a Bizz Baits Dizzy Diamond stickbait rigged on a shaky head jig. They fished it slow on the bottom of numerous offshore spots. They learned from their experience in the 2017 Bassmaster Junior Championship, held on the same lake, and used that knowledge to their benefit to win on their second try.

The winners brought 9 pounds, 6 ounces to the scales on day one, good enough for third place. They caught 8 pounds on Day 2, but that was enough to leap frog over the first and second place teams.

“It was definitely tough fishing,” the team’s boat captain Rick Cheatham, of Herrin, said. “There are some really big fish in that like, an 14-2 caught in practice, but there aren’t a lot of fish over 2 pounds (in the tournament).”

McKinney, who is entering eighth grade, and his partner confessed to having shaky knees during the final weigh-in.

As in other Bassmaster events, the weigh-in was staggered with the leaders coming in last. When McKinney and Wijangco weighed in they, of course, took the lead. That put them in the “hot seat,” a position where the current leaders remain on the stage until being topped.

“I was pretty nervous actually,” McKinney said. “After they showed we won by 1 ounce, it kind of relieved the nerves. It was pretty good. We took the hot seat. That kind of felt good. We had to wait on the Florida boys. We saw they had fish. It was kind of nerve racking.

“To be able to be able to win by 1 ounce is a pretty good blessing. We were behind. We didn’t have that good of a bag. We were kind of struggling, so it was kind of nerve racking.”

The Cheatham-McKinney partnership has thrived for the past couple of years. Cheatham said the duo tries to formulate a game plan prior to each event.

“We try to do our research beforehand, the patterns that may be working,” he said. “We try to get in some practice and get in some real time and try to figure out a strategy that will give you success.

“There are some techniques they (younger fishermen) aren’t adept at. They haven’t done it enough. They don’t have the confidence. In a lot of areas, especially Trey, he has fished enough, he fishes as well as some adult I’ve fished with, casting, detecting what is a bite and what isn’t. I try to get him to his strengths, the baits he does well with. He’s having to learn to be versatile.”

McKinney had little chance to rest – he and Logan Barker, 14, of Crab Orchard, won the FLW Bass Federation World Junior Championship at Lake Hamilton in Arkansas eight days later.

The FLW format had anglers divided into five geographic regions.

“I don’t think anyone has ever won both (Bassmaster and FLW junior tournaments) in the same year,” Cheatham said.

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