BEING AT ROCK BOTTOM HELPS YOU APPRECIATE THE TOP
Hank Cherry stood on a boat dock at Table Rock watching amateur anglers awaiting the takeoff for a Toyota Bonus Bucks Owners event. He got a lump in his throat. You see, he had won that exact boat at an Oakley Big Bass event, and that win saved his fishing career and ultimately "changed his life.” Without that win there would have been no back-to-back Bassmaster Classic Championships. It was fifteen years ago and a corporate buy-out had put him out of a job as a district manager in the wine and spirits industry. At that time, the harsh realities of bass tournament fishing had also been a detriment to his personal finances. Put bluntly, he and wife Jaclyn were in dire economic straits. To put food on the table, Hank was unloading horse feed and fertilizer at a lawn and garden store. Hank recalls that point as his lowest, so low that he even had to sell his bass boat, quit fishing tournaments, and stop dreaming of a pro angling career. To try to pull him out of the despair, a friend invited him to ride along in an Oakley Big Bass event on Lake Norman. That’s when Hank found a way back to his intended path. He caught a 6-pounder on a Deps Silent Killer glide bait that had him dialed in for 2nd place. To his amazement, the guy in first got caught cheating giving Hank the win and the Nitro Z8 top prize.
In 2012-13, Hank, with his family's support, committed to one last attempt to become a full-time tournament bass angler. That year, on Smith Lake (AL), he was blessed with a Bassmaster Southern Open win, allowing him to qualify for the Elite Series and a spot in the Bassmaster Classic. From that low, Hank came within striking distance of winning the 2013 Bassmaster Classic. It was the tournament “that got away", and it would haunt Hank for years to come. His frustration took him to the point where he did not even qualify for the Classic in 2019. There were still some highpoints along that road to 2020. Despite the Classic disappointment, Hank went on to win Rookie of the Year in the 2013 Elite Series season and another Bassmaster event. He also amassed a lot of fishing knowledge and knowledge about himself which he is quick to share.
The first thing Hank will tell you is that you had better have a budget prepared before you jump into this sport. “you need to learn how to eat a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches instead of going out for steak and beers with your buddies”. The other lesson came even harder- “things don’t happen in my time, they happen just as they’re supposed to on His time.” Life’s path isn’t always a smooth one. When Hank thinks of his colleagues in fishing, he has observed that each of them has had some kind of break to get to where they are now. Be it a win, an opportunity or a simple foot in the door, each angler has experienced something that has steered their path towards fishing, often in the nick of time. “Things seem to have a strange way of working out,” explains Cherry. “I was down and out, won a boat and ended up finding a job and I was back on my feet again- things happen for a reason”. His faith has been instrumental to his success. “The ups and downs I went through really took their toll on my family. I know where I was and I’m not going back there.”
After not qualifying in 2019, Hank came charging back with new determination and a renewed spirit resulting from his baptism. On Guntersville in 2020, the 50th anniversary of the Bassmaster Classic, he found a rip-rap pattern that kept recharging and allowed him to go wire-to-wire to finally hoist the Classic Trophy. One year later, despite all the distractions over the year that being the Classic champion presented, on Texas’ Lake Ray Roberts, Hank became only the 4th anglers to go back-to-back winning Bassmaster Classic world championships. He would love to win a third but that will have to wait for 2024, as a tough Elite season in 2022 kept him from qualifying for this year’s event in Knoxville. Hank will top $1.5M in career winnings this year and add to the 118 tournament appearances he has amassed in his career that has featured 13 Top 10 finishes and 28 Top 20’s.