McKinney hunts down the lead at Bassmaster Open on Wheeler Lake

Trey McKinney of Carbondale, Ill., had no problem finding fish, but making sure he found the right ones proved essential to sacking up a limit of 21 pounds, 15 ounces and leading Day 1 of the St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Wheeler Lake.

Currently sixth in the Bassmaster Opens Elite Qualifier standings, McKinney divided his time among a few key areas, including the Decatur Flats, where he got bit in practice. Working specific spots within larger areas, he utilized his forward-facing sonar skills to discern bass from other Tennessee River dwellers.

“You have so many drum and catfish on this river, so if they’re not relating to cover, it’s hard to tell (the species),” McKinney explained. “I looked for fish relating to something. If you put several bass in a swimming pool and you put one rock in there, 90% of them are going to relate to that.

“On the flats, it’s the same thing — there’s so much flat bottom. So anytime you get an isolated piece of cover, it’s a high-percentage area. I was looking for stumps, rocks — anything that’s out of the ordinary. I was just covering as much water as I could with my Garmin LiveScope and looking for the right dots.”

After taking off in one of the middle flights, McKinney looked for an early shad spawn. But by the time he reached his area, this overnight/early morning frenzy had subsided. Once he realized that opportunity had fizzled, he transitioned to search mode.

“The shad spawn happens quickly when it does and, today, I really didn’t get it going,” he said. “I started on a spot where I thought I would do it, but the shad spawn is just kinda iffy.

“I might have missed it because I didn’t get there early enough, but they just hang out in the same area. I just put my trolling motor on 5 or 6 and hunted.”

McKinney caught a couple of keepers on a Strike King jig, but he tempted most of his bass on a finesse worm wacky rigged on a 2/0 Gamakatsu G-Finesse hook. He found the action of his 7-foot medium St. Croix Legend X spinning rod ideal for precise casts to submerged targets.

“I don’t know if my weights are going to be consistent for the next day because hunting is one of those things — if you come across them, you come across them,” McKinney said. “It’s not a guaranteed thing. But hopefully, I can get back in that area and see what I can make happen.

“I think they’re in that postspawn funk right now. They’re very inactive. Hopefully, I can see the right dots tomorrow and it can go. If not, we’ll just have to scrounge it out.”

Logan Johnson of Jasper, Ala., is in second place with 20-11. Boat traffic prevented him from starting where he had originally planned, but persistence served him well, as he eventually got into a rhythm of efficiently rotating through areas.

“I was just fishing ledges, hard spots and typical Tennessee River stuff,” Johnson said. “I caught fish from 10 feet out to deeper than that and all over the board.

“I caught fish on a mix of baits. The typical ledge stuff — crankbait, big worm, big bladed jig on the shallower spots. It seemed like you’d pull up on one of those ledges and you’d have to fire a full rotation (of baits) until you finally got one of them to bite.”

Johnson said he never got his ledge fish to fire up. Hot weather, high fishing pressure and low current flow were all likely contributors. As for Day 2, Johnson said he’ll be looking for early opportunities.

“I was boat 197, so I didn’t get any of the shad spawn today,” he said. “I’ll have an earlier boat number tomorrow so hopefully I’ll get some of it.”

Josh Bragg of Fayetteville, Ga., is in third place with 20-4. Fishing offshore ledges and getting off to a quick start, Bragg steadily caught fish throughout the day and eventually worked his way into a solid opening effort.

“I caught quite a few fish early and I had a small limit of 12 to 13 pounds,” Bragg said. “Periodically throughout the day, I just picked up one here and there. The shad spawn is fading away for me. I’m just starting on places where I saw shad spawning in practice. I think the fish are still hanging around.”

Bragg said he started with slower presentations and mostly stuck with that all day. As he noted, intense fishing pressure has the bass extremely wary, so he did best with dragging-style baits.

Bobby Lanham of Eddyville, Ky., is in the lead for Phoenix Boats Big Bass honors with his 6-14.

Tommy Wood of Sippy Downs, Australia, leads the co-angler division with 10-1.

Ashton Smith of Lake Helen, Fla., and Travis Turcotte of Pembroke, Canada, are tied for the Phoenix Boats Big Bass lead among co-anglers with a 4-13.

Friday’s takeoff is scheduled for 6 a.m. CT from Ingalls Harbor. The weigh-in will be held back at Ingalls Harbor at 2 p.m. Full coverage will be available on

The St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Wheeler Lake is being hosted by Decatur Morgan County Tourism.