Cherry maintains lead on Guntersville

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — If Hank Cherry’s arm is bothering him, it certainly doesn’t show.

The North Carolina veteran pro, who fell and injured his arm in his boat Friday, played through the pain Saturday to catch five bass that weighed 16 pounds, 10 ounces. Added to the 29-3 he caught Friday, it gives him a two-day total of 45-13 that leads the Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk.

Competition is taking place at Lake Guntersville, and weigh-ins are being held at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex. Cherry’s solid Saturday catch gave him a lead of 4-13 going into Championship Sunday with a $300,000 first-place prize on the line.

“I’m gonna do what I’ve got to do to get this done,” Cherry said. “New fish are still moving into my area. I’ve just got to relax — and if it’s my time, it’s my time.”

Cherry fished the same three baits Saturday that he used to catch his massive bag Friday — a bladed jig, a jerkbait and his own Hank Cherry Signature Series Jig from Picasso. He’s fishing one small area with a causeway and a flat, and he’s done so little running that he hasn’t even had to buy gas for his boat this week.

Now, it’s just a matter of settling down and finishing the job.

“My last thoughts before I go to bed tonight will just be to thank the good Lord for putting me in this position,” said Cherry, who finished third in the 2013 Classic at Grand Lake in Oklahoma. “Then I’ll just get up in the morning ready to go.

“I have to stay relaxed. I have to get that first one in the boat. The first one’s always the roughest one. After that, they start coming.”

The angler closest to Cherry going into the final day is Fayetteville, Tenn., pro Brandon Lester, who caught 20-1 Saturday and jumped from fourth place into second with a two-day mark of 41-0.

Lester started his day with a lipless crankbait and caught a limit early. But since he didn’t have the quality of fish he knew he’d need to win, he made a drastic change.

“There’s this one stretch of boat docks where I’ve caught them before,” Lester said. “I just had a hunch they would be there, so I went there and fished a jig.

“I thought they’d be there, but I didn’t know they would be that big.”