By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor

The 2024 Bassmaster Elite Series season is less than a quarter of the way through the nine-event schedule, but the early going has been dominated by rookies. Seven first-year competitors are among the current Top 15 in the Angler of the Year (AOY) points standings after two events and one (co-leader Trey McKinney) already has a victory on his ledger.

McKinney, the teenage sensation from Illinois, and the other AOY co-leader, YouTube stalwart Ben Milliken from Texas, are probably the best-known members of the uber-talented rookie crop. The next newcomer on the points list is No. 7 Wes Gore of Alabama, who debuted with an 11th-place finish at Toledo Bend Reservoir and followed up with a 7th at Lake Fork.

The 23-year-old Gore is a guide on the lower Coosa River system. He spends winters working at a deer processing plant that annually handles approximately 3,000 harvested game animals.

He's not much of a venison-eater since he began doing that job, which often consists of 14-hour days working with five other plant employees that include two good friends.

"I used to enjoy hunting, but after we get through with that I wouldn't shoot a deer if it asked me to shoot it," he cracked. "You definitely get tired of looking at it."

A top-flight competitor in high school, he was a member of the powerhouse fishing team at the University of Montevallo for about a year and a half. His desire to fish professionally stems back to early childhood and he admits he only went to college to learn some lakes that he wasn't familiar with. When the venues on the schedule began to repeat themselves, he departed.

He took his first crack at a Bassmaster Open in 2020 on his home water (Lay Lake) and "got my eyes beat in" with a revealing 95th-place finish. He was second in the points after the first two Central Opens the following year, but lost his trolling motor during practice for the finale at Grand Lake and had limited options for rectifying his situation due to issues brought about by the COVID pandemic.

"It just wasn't meant to be at that point; I wasn't ready," he said. "If I'd made it then, I probably wouldn't be in as good of a position as I am now."

He had a solid year in 2022 and finished 10th in the overall Opens points, but Elite Series bids ended up being extended only down to fifth. He placed 6th last year in the first season of the Elite Qualifiers Division, when nine spots were up for grabs.

He said his background of fishing the varied scenarios that the Coosa lakes present makes him a pretty versatile angler. The key aspect of his game-planning is to uncover multiple programs with strong potential for each event.

He's not pre-practicing for any of the events this year, preferring to just show up and ultimately see where he stacks up. That's something that might change in the future.

He was a bit concerned going into the Fork derby because he didn't have much of a track record with massive-bag events – a 3-pounder is a prized catch at most of the places where he'd competed. It turned out that his three-headed approach was effective as he caught quality fish on a jerkbait and a Damiki rig early in the day in 8 to 15 feet of water, on wacky and Neko rigs during the midday hours in 2 to 6 feet, and then flipping docks and mats in the afternoons. It all combined to result in a Century Belt as he amassed a hefty 115 1/2 pounds over four days.

Qualifying for the 2025 Bassmaster Classic remains his only goal, but he admits that AOY thoughts will naturally begin to pop into his head if his points-list placement is still a single digit at or near the midway point of the campaign.

"I'll absolutely think about it if I continue to have the same success," he said. "I can't change the mindset that I take into the tournaments, but that's something that will definitely start creeping in.

"It'll be clearer after the two Florida events (this month) – the Harris Chain will probably fish pretty tough and I have no experience at the St. Johns River. If I can get through those with good finishes, I think we can make it rain."