The defending champion became only the fourth angler to ever win back-to-back Classic titles.
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Hank Cherry is no stranger to the gravity of a chance at the Bassmaster Classic title, but being within reach of back-to-back titles undoubtedly adds just a little more weight.
The reigning champion was able to harness his composure on Lake Ray Roberts, however, as his five-fish total of 13 pounds, 1 ounce, was enough to seal the deal on Championship Sunday of the 2021 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk, giving Cherry a total weight of 50 pounds, 15 ounces.
Strong Day 1 and Day 2 performances ultimately saved the champion, though, as Matt Arey managed to put up a five-fish total of a whopping 18 pounds today, finishing only 1 pound, 14 ounces, behind Cherry with a tournament total of 49 pounds, 1 ounces.
To make matters worse, Arey lost at least one big bass Sunday that might've given him the lead.
"I feel bad for Matt, and I told him I've been where he was," Cherry said. "I had the same thing happen to me and mine happened a lot closer to the boat.
"I'm not giving it back--not apologizing for it. If it's meant to be, it's meant to be."
Cherry's early success was a product of a couple of his go-to approaches--throwing a jerkbait around riprap and flipping into flooded bushes.
And, despite struggles that came as a product of lightning storms and a heatwave that followed later in the day, Cherry adjusted just enough to keep Arey in the rearview mirror.
"The bite in the bushes is going away," Cherry said. "It's so hot out there right now. The water temperature was 71 degrees when we got here for practice, and I saw it as high as 87 today. A lot of those bushes are starting to break down, and those fish just don't want to be there.
"I was fortunate to get enough out of them to win."
Oklahoma-native Chris Jones finished in third place with a three-day total of 45 pounds, 9 ounces.
Cherry joins a rare class of anglers
A nine-year Bassmaster Elite Series veteran, Cherry joined elite company with his back-to-back Bassmaster Classic wins.
Only Rick Clunn (1976-77), Kevin VanDam (2010-11) and Jordan Lee (2017-18) had ever strung together consecutive Classic wins, making Cherry the fourth.
Additionally, his most recent win marks his fourth B.A.S.S. victory, which includes last year's Classic on Lake Guntersville, an Opens win on Smith Lake in 2012 and an Elite Series victory on Muskegon and White lakes in 2013. He also finished third in his first Classic back in 2013 on Grand Lake O' the Cherokees where he lost a crucial fish just like Arey.
While every fan of the sport will be eyeing Cherry in the 2022 Bassmaster Classic to see if he can make history with a third-consecutive victory, right now he plans to simply enjoy the moment.
"I don't know what to expect, I really don't," he said. "I'll just take it as it comes--and I'll never doubt just how blessed I am."
Berkley Big Bass honors go to Frank Talley
Frank Talley's first-day bass, which weighed 8 pounds, 3 ounces, remained at the top all the way through Championship Sunday, but not without some stiff competition.
Chad Pipkens finished with the biggest bass of Day 2, with his best weighing in at 8 pounds, 1 ounce, and Brock Mosley recorded the biggest on Championship Sunday with a fish weighing 6 pounds, 8 ounces.
With the largest bass of the tournament, Talley took home an additional $2,500 to go along with his 22nd-place finish.
Steve Kennedy starts hot and finishes cold
Steve Kennedy was certainly the man to beat following an incredible Day 1 total of 23 pounds, thanks to a vicious early-morning shad bite.
However, he stumbled in Day 2, falling short of his limit with a four-fish total of 9 pounds, 11 ounces, and then fell even more Sunday with only a two-fish total of 2 pounds, 13 ounces.
The 10-time Classic qualifier has finished as high as second in past years, but has never claimed a title.
Despite his struggles toward the end of the tournament, though, Kennedy's hellacious start was enough for a 13th-place finish.
Cherry walks away with a big paycheck
Cherry left the 2021 Bassmaster Classic weigh-in with a $300,000 prize, as well as an additional $7,500 for being the highest-placing entrant in the Toyota Bonus Bucks program.
With his second-place finish, Arey took home the next-best purse of $50,000.