North Carolina pro Hank Cherry is positioned for a potential history-making achievement in professional bass fishing.
Anglers often motivate themselves with an indisputable axiom: You can't win the Bassmaster Classic if you're not in it. This year, that statement rings particularly true for Hank Cherry, who won the last two Classics — Lake Ray Roberts in 2021 and Lake Guntersville in 2020.
Mere days before the 2022 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk kicks off, we heard from Cherry about his thought process heading into the biggest tournament on the season schedule.
Each Classic winner gets an automatic berth in the following year's tournament, so the 10th-year Bassmaster Elite from Lincolnton, N.C. has checked that box. For many, simply making it to the Super Bowl of sport fishing is a major career goal, but to win — that's a straight-up life changer. Winning more than twice? Well, that's a club very few will join.
Back-to-back titles? That'll earn you legend status.
Besides Cherry, only Rick Clunn (1976-1977), Kevin VanDam (2010-2011), and Jordan Lee (2017-2018) have won consecutive Classics. Clunn and VanDam own four Classic titles each and Lee has two.
Notably, Cherry nearly won his first Classic appearance — 2013 on Oklahoma's Grand Lake — when an estimated 7-pounder expelled his jerkbait within a rod length of the boat. Cherry finished third, less than 6 pounds behind winner Cliff Pace.
Fish come unbuttoned; it happens, but Cherry said the early heartbreak made his double dose of Classic success much more meaningful.
"It just proves to me that I can win and that's what I'm going into this Classic with the intention to do," he said. "Whether that happens or not, I know that I can win so there's no pressure in that regard.
"I think knowing how to win helps; and with the other guys knowing that I know how to win gives me an edge. But we're all competitors and you just have to get in that mode. The guy that gets that gear going is going to win."
This will be particularly important, considering that Cherry placed 33rd when the Classic last visited Hartwell in 2018. Openly admitting that poor decisions sent him down unfamiliar trails, he's now more confident in his abilities and ready for another crack at Hartwell.
The Game Plan
With a warming trend forecast for competition days, plus Hartwell's mix of largemouth and spotted bass, Cherry will approach this diverse fishery with an open mind.
"Honestly, I'm not planning on anything and I'm going to go do a little bit of everything," he said. "I'm just going to have to get a reliable pattern and run it across the lake."
Spectator boats are a Classic constant — especially for the guy who won the last two. Cherry acknowledges the navigational challenges, but he has learned to deal with the distraction.
"You have to manage your time getting in and out of the flotilla and pay attention to where you're running so you don't wash out your spots," Cherry said. "You have to be patient and understand that (the spectators) are there to root you on. You have to be a traffic director, but at the same time, you can't take your mind off of fishing."
A Bigger Platform
With an admirable blend of poise and humility, Hank Cherry has leveraged his Classic acclaim to not only advance his sponsorship impact, but also to heighten his platform for two benevolent efforts. Another Classic win would only enhance this picture.
He's made it a point to publicly thank and support law enforcement and first responders. Plus, he's helping support Warriors Journey, a faith-based outreach organization serving active and retired military personnel dealing with addictions, PTSD and other challenges.
"I've seen firsthand how this has made a difference and saved some lives," Cherry said.
The stars have aligned twice for Hank Cherry and, as he looks ahead to his next shot at glory he's clear on two points. First, no assumptions. Fifty-three other competitors will bring the same fire. That said, he's absolutely certain he has the potential to do what has never been done.
"In the Classic, you have to fish every day like victory is a possibility," Cherry said. "We've seen it so many times in the past where a guy comes from so far back. So, I think that going into it, your (mindset) has to be that you're going to win."
Addressing the probability of a three-peat, Cherry said: "When you win the first one, the odds are against getting a second one and then, if you look at how many people have won the second one back-to-back, the odds are even greater against that.
"This is another case of where Hank Cherry is going up against the odds and I've done a pretty good job of overcoming obstacles. So, Lord willing, maybe this is another step in my journey.
"I would be ecstatic to win, but the next guy who wins, I'll happily hand him the trophy."
The 2022 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk starts on March 4 and finishes March 6.
NEXT: 2023 BASSMASTER CLASSIC HEADING BACK TO KNOXVILLE, TENNESSEE RIVER