By Josh Boyd
On March 8th, 2020, Hank Cherry became the 50th Bassmaster Classic Champion. In doing so, he fulfilled a lifelong dream, which had appeared to be as distant as the moon and stars just ten years prior. Cherry’s Classic win came as a triumph over what seemed to be fleeting hope, and a twist of fate that had placed an insurmountable barrier between him, and the goal for which he strived.
As Cherry took the 50th Classic trophy in hand and stood before a crowd of cheering fans at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, a look of raw emotion beamed across his face. At last, Cherry had achieved the seemingly unattainable, and validation had been credited to the extensive work that had been put in during the prior decade.
Where It All Began
To Cherry, fishing has always been every bit as much a part of life as breathing. From a young age, Cherry found that he wanted nothing more than to be on the banks of a pond, river, or lake, enjoying every possible moment with a rod in hand.
“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 continued.
It did not take long before a little friendly competition arose between Cherry and his high school fishing buddies. With a little ingenuity, this competitive nature quickly transformed into a rudimentary tournament series of sorts.
“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 livewells made up to fit in the backs of our trucks to keep the fish alive so that we could let them go,” said Cherry.
Shortly after high school, Cherry made the decision that he could take his angling endeavors to the next level and set out to make a name for himself on the tournament fishing trail. “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.
However, just as Hank Cherry had gotten his feet wet in tournament angling, and it seemed that his unyielding drive would pay dividends at the professional level, everything came to a swift end at the hands of a troubling twist of fate.
A Dream Unraveled
The economic downturn of 2008 dealt a harsh blow to the livelihoods of many Americans, and that of the Cherry household was no exception. With his job lost to the recession, and a family at home to support, Cherry was forced to leave tournament fishing behind to ensure that all of his family’s needs were met.
“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.
It seemed as if Hank Cherry’s days of tournament angling were behind him, and his dream of walking across the Bassmaster Classic stage had slipped forever from his grip. Cherry was in survival mode, and he knew that dreams, no matter how tempting to chase, would have to take a back seat.
Cherry, and his wife Jaclyn, buckled down to keep bills paid and food on the table, and working as much as possible was firmly situated as priority number one. As time passed, the economy began to stabilize, and better times came for the Cherry household. However, a return to tournament angling was still nowhere on Cherry’s radar.
The Rebirth of a Dream
After finally finding solid ground, a friend pleaded with Cherry to pick back up his rod and reel, urging him to once again give tournament fishing a go, if only just on a one-time basis.
“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.”
With a new boat to fish from, and a much-needed revitalization of his confidence, Cherry made the conscious decision to cling fast to his dream, that up until recently, had seemed lost to fate.
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.
By the spring of 2020, Cherry had fished in the Classic multiple times, though he had never been able to chase down the win that he had always dreamed of. However, in what seemed to be a work of destiny, this was about to change.
Cherry dominated the 50th Bassmaster Classic, never relinquishing his lead that was obtained early in day one. With a final 3-day weight of 65 pounds, 5 ounces, Cherry was at last crowned a Classic champion.
A Dream Realized
Though Hank Cherry once found himself without any perceivable path to achieving his goal, he defied the odds against him, and relaunched a career that had previously come to such an unceremonious end. With a never say die attitude, and the confidence to persevere, Cherry found himself in the very place where he always wanted to be.
“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.