There’s a familiar name near the top of the standings at the 2021 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk.
Hank Cherry put everything together perfectly in 2020 to win the Classic and go into this event as defending champion. He’s rattling his saber after Day 1, making a little noise to put him on the path of a second championship, and he wants this one more than the last.
“This is more about me telling my friends and my family and my sponsors, ‘Thanks for letting me do this,’” Cherry said prior to the start of the event. “That's how I feel every time I get to the Classic now. And I am going to win another one. It might be this one. It might not be the next one, but I will want another one. That's the goal. Before I'm done I want one more.”
While he still has some work to do, he’s made a strong case after Day 1 that his goal is in sight. Everyone wants to win the Bassmaster Classic, even if they have one championship, they want another. Winning on this level is an addiction, where a lot of addicts play the game. Wanting it isn’t enough.
In the last few seasons Cherry has finally come to grips with the mental side of the game, where most Champions will tell you the mind is where the fertile ground of winning is actually sown with seeds of “I am going to win another one.”
But first they have to get past a daunting thing that is “The Classic.” It is an event like no other. The pomp and circumstance, while fun, ramps up the excitement which translates to pressure. On the water, spectators often fill the spaces with sets of eyeballs watching every move. Every missed fish, lost fish, backlash and the simplest miscues, while part of every derby on earth, are compounded like they were on steroids. All of that comes together at a weigh-in spectacle where screaming fans just add fuel to the fire of everything.
Cherry looks back at his past Classics and remembers, “I didn't handle the pressure. I didn't handle the weather changes very well. I let everything get bigger than I was and I really just had some awful tournaments.
“So, this is my sixth one, and I’ve taken a little bit away from every single Classic. And I’ve finally come up with a design or a plan that works for me where I'm serious, but I know my limitations and how well I can concentrate.”
What that means for Cherry is he doesn’t spend more time on the water than he has to.
“If I'm just going through the motions, I’m hurting myself,’’ he said.
Lack of 100% focus breeds bad habits. His practice days revolve around the amount of time he can mentally and physically stay on top of his game. It might be four hours or 12.
“Winning last year, my preparation for the Classic followed that,’’ he said. “I had a calmness in my head. I know that no matter what I do, what I catch, whether I win or I finish dead last, anybody would love to be in my position. Anybody would take that spot.
“Once I finally got that in my head last year I just went on the game plan, following my limitations. I was confident with it. I didn't second guess and, boom, it all happened.”
He makes it sound easy, but mentally to him it is. A lot of chatter around the Classic is on baits and tactics, the latest and greatest, what awesome new thing will win etc., and anglers get caught up in that with the pomp and circumstance.
“All of that is irrelevant,’’ Cherry said. “I could catch fish when we didn't have a bass boat. When I was fishing out of a pontoon, when we had a little run about that my dad got because we couldn't afford a boat all the way to my first boat.
“When you look back at it, fishing on ponds and lakes and rivers, my whole life, none of that matters. That's not part of it. The journey is what gets you here and you've got to accept the journey. And once you get to a certain height, like I did last year, then you have to pick another goal, another height, another one to climb. And that's what I did when I played sports. That's the way I teach my son with baseball.
“It doesn't matter what you did yesterday. It's what you did before. We're all going to accomplish things. We're all going to do that. But one thing when you're gone, people are going to remember what you did. You want them to remember you just laying back saying ‘one was enough?’ Or do you want them to remember, ‘Hey, I think Cherry, he tried as hard as he could to win number two, number three, number four.’”
“When you do that you become the best example for kids that you can be. End of the day, if I do that, I'm good.”
The end of that good day could be approaching. Regardless, Cherry has a different approach than many of those around him.