BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Nobody touches Hank Cherry’s favorite hat. It’s old and ragged — frayed and fragrant with odors of fish, dog slobber and sweat — but it’s always, always in the North Carolina pro’s blue and black Livingston Lures-wrapped Skeeter.
That good luck touchstone seems to be working for Cherry, who wrapped up his first Bassmaster Elite Series season with the 2013 Rookie of the Year award. Accumulating 507 points for the season put Cherry in 14th place in the Toyota Angler of the Year race. He secured a berth in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic and finished 40 points ahead of his closest rookie competitor, Clifford Pirch of Payson, Ariz., who finished 30th in AOY points.
“We both had really good years,” Cherry said. “If it had been the other way around, I would have been happy for him.”
Despite the well wishes he has for Pirch, Cherry has had his eye on the ROY trophy, and more, for some time.
“My goal at the beginning of the year was to win Rookie of the Year,” Cherry said. “All of those guys in the rookie class are big names, and I felt like I needed to win to help boost my résumé.”
That résumé drew the attention of at least one new major sponsor, Evan Williams Bourbon, which was attracted to him after his impressive third place in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic, followed by fourth in the Bassmaster Elite Series West Point Lake Battle. Overall during his Rookie year, Cherry placed in the money in six of the eight events on the Elite Series tour for 2013, a noteworthy feat even for a seasoned Elite pro.
“Rubbing elbows with the talented pros fishing the Elite Series has been surreal in many ways,” Cherry said. He’s been grateful for time spent with fellow Elite pros and friends like Gerald Swindle, Terry Scroggins and Britt Myers.
“There are lots of places we go where I have zero experience, so I’m lucky I can talk fishing with them,” Cherry said. “Being part of the Elite Series is real humbling. Special is a lackluster word. It’s been everything I imagined. I’ve watched most of these guys on TV, and I’m going to dinner with them and talking fishing with them — it’s pretty unreal.”
According to Cherry, this has been his “road to redemption” year. A third place at the Classic was not his objective. In addition to the Rookie of the Year title, he planned to win Angler of the Year and the Bassmaster Classic in 2013.
“I feel like I let myself and a lot of people down when I didn’t win the Classic,” Cherry said. “This year, it’s a different lake, but it’s still a three-day tournament, cold water, clear water and there may be a jerkbait bite going on. If all those come together in a perfect storm, I’m going to be tough to beat; I’m just excited to get back.”