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Every year for the past five-decades, one angler’s dreams have become a reality as they are crowned the Bassmaster Classic Champion. This moment stands as the pinnacle of most Classic winner’s careers, as their names are forever added to the list of anglers to take home the sport of bass fishing’s biggest prize.
On March 8, 2020, Hank Cherry’s name was added to this prestigious list as he hoisted the 50th annual Bassmaster Classic trophy high above his head.
“It’s been a very, very long awaited goal achieved,” said Cherry, as he discussed his recent win.
The story of Hank Cherry’s rise to elite angling status, and eventual Classic Champion, is indeed unique. However, this is not a story without its own share of ups and downs.
In fact, just over a decade ago, the bright lights of the Classic stage seemed a million miles away.
Fishing has always been a way of life for Hank Cherry, who began his angling career at a young age, catching anything and everything that he could set a hook on.
“At an early age, my dad took me fishing, and it was just something I gravitated to. Then when I started watching TV and saw the Bassmasters, something in me just said that’s what I want to do. I want to fish for a living,” said Cherry.
“I just started fishing anywhere I could go, and for anything I could catch. From bass to catfish and carp, it didn’t matter. All the way through school, me and my dad would take camping trips and fish,” Cherry said.
Even as early as his high school years, Cherry found enjoyment in a little friendly competition on the water, as he and his friends would hold their own makeshift tournaments.
“In the offseason in high school, when we weren’t playing any sports, we would have get-togethers with the guys. It would be the five biggest fish you could catch out of the pond you chose to go to. We had live-wells made up to fit in the backs of our trucks to keep the fish alive so that we could let them go.” Cherry continued.
“My first semi-pro tournament was an Everstart that I fished on Lake Okeechobee. Then my first actual professional tournament I fished was the FLWs on Lake Travis. It didn’t go so well, but I still liked it,” said Cherry.
But just when everything seemed to be right in the world, and Hank Cherry’s competitive angling career seemed to be gaining traction, fate would deal a devastating blow.
As the economy took a sharp downturn in 2008, Cherry found himself without a job, and financial circumstances forced tournament angling to take a back seat. Faced with the responsibility of supporting a family in uncertain times, Cherry took a hiatus from tournament fishing, and his chances of ever living his dream seemed fleeting.
“Things became more about concentrating on trying to make a living than having fun doing it,” said Cherry. “At that point, it just wasn’t fun. I kind of lost track of how much joy it brought me fishing. There for a little while, I really just lost that feeling,” Cherry continued.
Though times were tough, Hank Cherry kept his nose to the grindstone, putting food on the table and putting his family’s needs above his desire to compete professionally. As time passed, the daily struggles became less, and fate once again came knocking.
However, unlike the fate that brought Cherry’s angling career to an abrupt halt a few years prior, this turn of events would signal the beginning of a legacy that the bass fishing world is currently watching unfold before its very eyes.
“I got a taste of what it was like to have nothing, and I knew I didn’t like that. So I made some adjustments. Both me and my wife Jaclyn worked as much as we could. We were able to eventually get back to a point where things were getting better,” said Cherry. “Then I ended up fishing an Oakley Big Bass tournament with a buddy of mine. I ended up winning a boat, and that is pretty much what ended up kick-starting me back into it.”
From that point, Cherry held tight to his dream, never letting the adversity that had previously plagued his efforts take hold again. In 2011, Cherry fished the Bassmaster Opens, although things did not necessarily go as he had hoped. However, Cherry again fished the Opens in 2012, where he won the final event of the season by a single ounce.
This win provided Cherry with an invite to the Elite Series, as well as a spot in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic, where he would eventually finish third.
Moving forward, Cherry continued to fish the Elite Series, holding his own at competitive bass fishing’s highest level. However, Cherry never forgot his dream of laying claim to the Bassmaster Classic Championship. Though he had fished the Classic multiple times, going into 2020, Cherry was yet to ever find himself at the top of the leaderboard at the end of day-three.
A Dream Realized
As the stage was set for the 50th Bassmaster Classic on Lake Guntersville, Cherry was hopeful that this would be his year. Yet, he likely could never have predicted just how much of a success it would be. Little did Cherry know upon launching his boat on day-one that he would end the weekend by fulfilling a lifelong dream.
Despite fighting heavy winds, the first day of the Classic saw Cherry jump out to a significant early lead, of which he would never let go of throughout the tournament. Many of his fish on day-one were caught on a ZMan Jack Hammer Chatterbait.
“I knew I was taking a gamble on day-one, but I had to put my foot down because of what I already had in weight. I ended up getting almost thirty pounds that day,” said Cherry.
Coming into day two with a sizable lead, Cherry, as well as the rest of the field, knew that he would have to remain consistent to maintain his spot atop the leader board.
“Day-two, I was kind of in more of a protection mode, because I knew that the second day after a front is always the worst. I knew I needed to maintain,” Cherry said. He ended the day with a 16 pounds- 10 ounce bag, retaining the lead.
By the time day three had arrived, many were already predicting Cherry’s victory. However, Cherry himself knew that a strong finish would be required if he wanted to hoist the Classic trophy.
“I knew because of the bright moon, it was going to be closer to midday before everything happened, but I had confidence from using my Garmin electronics and Panoptix that everything was there to create the perfect storm. I was just going to have to wait them out,” Cherry said.
Once the bite heated up, Cherry relied on a Megabass 110+1 Jerkbait, as well as his own Hank Cherry Signature Series Picasso Jig, to fill out his daily bag, much as he had done on day-two.
When the dust settled, Cherry weighed in 19 pounds- 8 ounces on day-three, giving him a total tournament weight of 65 pounds- 5 ounces, which bested the field and allowed him to be crowned the 2020 Bassmaster Classic Champion.
A Win Like None Other
If you were to ask any angler that has won the Bassmaster Classic what a win of that magnitude means to them, most would likely all give similar responses relating to how life changing the experience has been. For Cherry however, this win has served as reaffirmation that any goal is attainable.
“It has fulfilled what everyone always tells you. You are capable of accomplishing anything that you put your mind to. You just have to put your mind to it. It started as a dream, then it became a goal, now it is a reality. So that is really awesome to see,” Cherry said.
This can-do attitude has remained a constant in Cherry’s career, as he has fought through what appeared to be the death of his dream, only to find himself at the top of the sport for which he has so much love. Though only time will tell what the future holds for Cherry, there is much truth in the fact that resilience gives way to results, and Hank Cherry knows more than most about resilience.