As Hank Cherry hoisted the Classic trophy over his head in Birmingham, Ala., each one of the thousands of fans in attendance on March 8, 2020, had they looked hard enough, could have counted the tears running from the edges of his eyes. There weren’t many — three, maybe four — as Cherry is not really the crying type. But these tears were earned, each drop representing a moment in his life where he could have quit, let bad luck win, accepted a destiny that simply was not his. See, there was a time not so long ago when Cherry almost quit fishing.
“Man, we had a real rough patch there for a while,” Cherry explains. “I had a full-time job as a wine distributor and had been fishing the FLW Tour for a couple of years when the economy went in the tank around 2008. I lost my job and everything sort of started spiraling south.” Cherry not only lost his job of 10 years, but also was told that the severance package he was supposed to receive was not going to materialize. “Although my wife, Jaclyn, still had a job, we went flat broke. We lost our cars. We just barely hung onto our house. I went to work at a nearby feed store, hauling pine needles, running the cash register … whatever they needed me to do. That helped keep food on the table, but it wasn’t paying our bills. I had to borrow money from family just to keep the lights on. There has never been a more embarrassing moment in my life. Thankfully, my son Christian was just a baby, so he was too young to realize that we couldn’t buy him a present for Christmas two years in a row. Still, that put me in a really dark place.” Cherry could have broken down and cried, but he’s not the crying type.
As the shadows lengthened on Cherry’s future, he found solace in the outdoors. “I was turkey hunting one morning. It was gray and overcast, spitting rain … just nasty. I was sitting against a tree trying to get my head around my life when I received a phone call. It was my old boss. He told me that I’d be receiving my severance package after all. Now, this wasn’t going to solve all our problems, but man, it sure helped in our time of great need,” Cherry admits. “But here is the crazy part. Right after that phone call, the clouds parted and it was like a single ray of sunshine came down from the heavens right down on my face. It was hope. Everything about that moment, looking back, defined hope. I knew we were going to get through it.”
By 2010, the Cherrys were making ends meet. Hank was invited by his friend Craig Chambers to fish the Oakley Big Bass tournament being held on Lake Norman. “I fished that tournament and ended up winning it. The prize was a new boat!” Cherry could have shed a tear of joy, but he’s not the type that cries.
Cherry used that boat to fish the Bassmaster Opens in 2011 and had a subpar year. He landed a great job in 2012 and fished the Opens again, winning the final event of the season by a single ounce. With the win, Cherry received $50,000, a spot in the Bassmaster Classic and an invitation to the Elite Series.
“We were finally climbing out of that black hole. Do I quit my job and go for the Elite Series dream? Well, after a lot of debate, we decided to go for it. Then, the day after we make the decision to fish the Elites, Jaclyn takes a pregnancy test and it was positive. We were going to have a baby. Talk about scary timing!” Nine months later, Bella Grace was born.
Cherry would go on to finish third in the 2013 Classic to kickstart his Elite Series career. The past eight years haven’t always been easy, but hope is a powerful tool, and Cherry knows precisely what it looks like. And what does hope spawn? By the looks of it, three tears, or maybe four … even if you aren’t the crying type.