All of a sudden, Hank Cherry is all grown up. The former Bassmaster Rookie of the Year, who was known for the longest time as that guy who lost the winning fish right at the boat during the 2013 Bassmaster Classic, is an icon.
But we all know that by now. We know he’s just the fourth angler in history to win the Classic in back-to-back years. We know he’s an incredible jerkbait fisherman. The whole world knows ... a lot of things.
What I find most impressive about Cherry these days, though, is what a lot of people probably still don’t know.
Most have no way of knowing that when he entered the decompression room — a small space where anglers and invited guests go immediately after winning the Classic — his list of invitees included at least one young Bassmaster Elite Series pro he’s mentoring.
Security for that room is always tight, and there was some question about whether the young man should enter. But Cherry nixed that and waved him in, saying, “I’ve raised that one myself.”
I respect the sanctity of the decompression room too much to reveal that young angler’s name. But I don’t mind telling you he was there — and I don’t mind telling you he’s a guy who narrowly missed the cut for the 2022 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk at Lake Hartwell in South Carolina.
Cherry said he’s had a conversation with the young pro, pointing out things he could have done to make up the few points that kept him out.
“I can give him advice — good advice from someone who’s been there,” Cherry said. “But the main thing is ... it has to hurt. If it doesn’t bother him to be so close and miss out, there’s no helping him.”
Sounds like something a wise, old man would say, doesn’t it?
But since Cherry’s about the same age as me, I’m not about to refer to him as “old.” Instead, I’ll point out that wisdom sometimes comes, not with age, but with experience.
It comes with failure — and the realization that it’s OK to fail, it’s just not OK to be OK with it.
One thing Cherry missed out on with his first Classic reign was making the rounds for public appearances because of the nationwide COVID-19 restrictions.
He’s enjoying some of that this time, and part of what he’s doing has involved dropping some major knowledge on young anglers.
Not the kind you’d think.
“When I talk to young anglers, sometimes I don’t even bring up fishing,” Cherry said. “I tell them to get their education, work on their public speaking and learn how to manage their finances.”
Even his talks about fishing are a little different.
“I remind them that fishing — just going to a tournament — involves so much more than finding fish,” he said. “Do you know where the ramps are? Do you know where the closest emergency room is in case something goes wrong?
“There are so many other things that have to be mastered if you want to be a successful pro.”
From Rookie of the Year to Classic icon and Zen Master.
Seems like his journey is complete.