Cherry by an ounce at Smith Lake

North Carolina angler Hank Cherry takes the title by just an ounce.

Bass fishing has been called a sport of ounces, but today at the season finale of the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open series on Alabama’s Lewis Smith Lake, a single ounce made all the difference. That’s all that separated North Carolina’s Hank Cherry from local favorite Craig Daniel. In the end, Cherry’s 38 pounds, 13 ounces were just enough for the win.

Few tournaments offer such a diversity of fishing methods. At Smith Lake, top finishers were catching bass on top, on the bottom in 40 feet of water and everywhere in between. They were using topwater baits, drop shot rigs, jerkbaits and jigs. In the end, though, it was North Carolina’s Hank Cherry and his unconventional light-line swimbait technique that carried the day, earning him the win and a berth in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic on Grand Lake, Okla., Feb 22-24.

Cherry’s “fine lining” utilized a 3 1/2-inch boot-tail swimbait (pearl) on a 1/8-ounce darter head, but it was his choice of line size that has other anglers shaking their heads.

“I fished it on 5-pound-test Sunline Sniper fluorocarbon line,” Cherry said. “You sometimes have to go that light to make a long enough cast to avoid spooking the fish.”

Cherry targeted points and the middle of feeder creeks for his catch. That’s where he found the baitfish — shad and blueback herring — and bass beneath them. After making a long cast, Cherry held the rod at the 10 o’clock position and reeled fast enough with his Shimano Stradic to keep the bait in sight throughout the cast. The bass would rise from the depths to smash the lure and the fight was on. Cherry had to take his time with the light line.

“The last day started really slow for me,” Cherry added. “I couldn’t get bit with the swimbait, so I picked up a flipping stick and a jig and was able to catch a quick limit off two piers. After that, I pulled into an area and a school just erupted around me. The swimbait was on fire after that, and I caught about 40 keepers.”

Local hero CraigDaniel led the tournament after two days but slipped just enough in the finals to open the door for Cherry, who ended each of the two previous days in second place. Daniel used a Zoom Fluke and Reaction Innovations Skinny Dipper across long points and deep banks for his catch.

“The key for me was just knowing the lake,” Daniel said. “I’ve been fishing Smith Lake for 33 years and have won several tournaments out here. Today I fell just a little short.”

For the win, Cherry earned $5,960 in cash plus a Nitro Z9 and Mercury 250 Optimax boat and motor package equipped with a Minn Kota Maxxum 80 trolling motor and Lowrance HDS-7 electronics. The total prize package is valued at more than $50,000

Carhartt Big Bass honors for the tournament belong to Paul Ham of West Columbia, S.C., who caught a 5-1 lunker on Day 2.

Sixteen-year-old Carson Orellana of Mooresville, N.C., bested the co-anglers with a three-day catch weighing 22-5. For his efforts, he earned a Nitro Z8 and Mercury 200 Optimax boat and motor package equipped with a Minn Kota Maxxum 70 trolling motor and Lowrance Mark V X-Pro electronics.