Hoping to erase the bad taste of last season, Hank Cherry has refocused on the prize as he prepares for the 2023 Bassmaster Elite Series.
In 2022, Cherry was so disheartened that he didn’t make bass fishing history that he lost sight of his main mission. The 48-year-old from Lincolnton, N.C., had won back-to-back Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classics, and he had the big dream of becoming the first to three-peat.
There was plenty of hoopla about it leading up to last March’s Classic on Lake Hartwell, where Cherry was among the favorites. Outwardly, he appeared to be taking it all in stride, saying things like, “If it happens, it happens.”
Inside, there was tremendous desire, along with mounting pressure from within. When his chance slipped away, it affected him the rest of the year, a season in which he missed qualifying for this year’s Classic.
“I think about the Classic and not being able to close the deal,” he said. “The first day really crushed me. I think I put so much pressure on myself — not letting anybody pay attention to it — on that one event. The rest just kind of flew by.”
A subpar first day of 12 pounds had Cherry stand 41st among the 55 anglers, but he rallied with the biggest bag on Day 2. Cherry’s 19-9 propelled him to 12th, 4-14 from the lead and back within reach of history.
“I was still thinking I was going to win. When I didn’t win — it’s not that I wasn’t happy for Jason (Christie) — but I guess I was just deflated,” said Cherry, who only managed 11-0 on Championship Sunday to finish 17th. “Things steamrolled. I should have handled it better internally than I did.
“I didn’t let anybody know it bothered me, but yeah, it bothered me. I felt that was a tournament I let slip bad. I felt I carried that with me through the year, and it influenced my decision-making.”
As an example, Cherry pointed to Santee Cooper Lakes, where he was in the hunt after Day 1 standing in fifth place. He said it wasn’t like him wasting time on unresponsive bedding bass, but he did. Not moving around dropped him to 39th after only three fish on Day 3.
The fog continued throughout the season in which he was mired in the Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings. Cherry’s only other cut was in the season finale on the Mississippi River. By then, it was too late to move among the top 40 who earn Classic berths. He finished 81st in points.
“I kind of lost the picture of the end goal of what I was doing, and that’s making the Classic,” Cherry said. “The end goal is always to make the Classic.”
The sport is certainly humbling, Cherry knows, but he’s afforded added perspective on what’s important through his charity work. Cherry recently hosted his second Warrior’s Journey Tournament on Lake Norman, which fellow Elite Shane LeHew won once again. The Warrior’s Journey nonprofit organization helps military members heal invisible wounds.
“I’ve been with them four years now, and last year I did their first tournament,” Cherry said. “We’re raising awareness and raising money. Any bit of money you can raise to help our veterans, get them in programs and get them back in society, they really appreciate.”
It’s Cherry’s way of giving back to those who serve our country. Hearing some of their stories puts things like not qualifying for the Classic into sharper focus. He said he sure didn’t want to complain, especially after becoming only the seventh angler with more than one Classic title and the fourth to win consecutive titles.
“You have good years, you have bad years,” he said. “I had two incredible years.
“In baseball terms, last year I just missed too many easy groundballs. Things just didn’t go my way. I’ll just go back out this year with the same mindset and intensity, and I’m sure there’ll be a different outcome.”
The difficult season has made Cherry more fully consider how he approaches the Elite season. He said he has some baseline goals of where he’d like to place in the events, and his top targets continues to be winning a blue trophy, and of course, getting back to the Classic.
The schedule is pretty much to his liking, as he’s done well at each of the first four venues. Cherry said his first B.A.S.S. event was on Lake Okeechobee, where he went down with little knowledge and took an eighth-place finish.
“It’s setting up to be a good year, a good comeback story,” he said, adding all he can do about last year is try to erase it from his mind. “There are no better places for me to start than Okeechobee and Seminole. I have good memories and good vibrations of those places. I’m just ready to get back out and get started.”