BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Nobody touches Hank Cherry’s favorite hat. It’s old and ragged — frayed and fragrant with odors of fish, dog slobber and sweat — but it’s always, always in the North Carolina pro’s blue and black Livingston Lures-wrapped Skeeter.
That good luck touchstone seems to be working for Cherry, who wrapped up his first Bassmaster Elite Series season with the 2013 Rookie of the Year award. Accumulating 507 points for the season put Cherry in 14th place in the Toyota Angler of the Year race. He secured a berth in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic and finished 40 points ahead of his closest rookie competitor, Clifford Pirch of Payson, Ariz., who finished 30th in AOY points.
“We both had really good years,” Cherry said. “If it had been the other way around, I would have been happy for him.”
Despite the well wishes he has for Pirch, Cherry has had his eye on the ROY trophy, and more, for some time.
“My goal at the beginning of the year was to win Rookie of the Year,” Cherry said. “All of those guys in the rookie class are big names, and I felt like I needed to win to help boost my résumé.”
That résumé drew the attention of at least one new major sponsor, Evan Williams Bourbon, which was attracted to him after his impressive third place in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic, followed by fourth in the Bassmaster Elite Series West Point Lake Battle. Overall during his Rookie year, Cherry placed in the money in six of the eight events on the Elite Series tour for 2013, a noteworthy feat even for a seasoned Elite pro.
“Rubbing elbows with the talented pros fishing the Elite Series has been surreal in many ways,” Cherry said. He’s been grateful for time spent with fellow Elite pros and friends like Gerald Swindle, Terry Scroggins and Britt Myers.
“There are lots of places we go where I have zero experience, so I’m lucky I can talk fishing with them,” Cherry said. “Being part of the Elite Series is real humbling. Special is a lackluster word. It’s been everything I imagined. I’ve watched most of these guys on TV, and I’m going to dinner with them and talking fishing with them — it’s pretty unreal.”
According to Cherry, this has been his “road to redemption” year. A third place at the Classic was not his objective. In addition to the Rookie of the Year title, he planned to win Angler of the Year and the Bassmaster Classic in 2013.
“I feel like I let myself and a lot of people down when I didn’t win the Classic,” Cherry said. “This year, it’s a different lake, but it’s still a three-day tournament, cold water, clear water and there may be a jerkbait bite going on. If all those come together in a perfect storm, I’m going to be tough to beat; I’m just excited to get back.”
While weather factors and the bass bite can’t be predicted, one thing is certain. Cherry will have the lucky hat with him on Lake Guntersville because, “It never leaves the boat.”
When he’s home, Cherry enjoys taking his 3 1/2-year-old son, Christian, fishing, a sport he learned from his great grandmother and his father.
“When I got old enough to cast, I took a lot of trips to Lake Wiley,” Cherry said. “One day, I caught two 7-pounders on back-to-back casts, and I was hooked after that.”
That early start led to tournament fishing , in which he excelled.
“One day, I sat down with my wife to talk about fishing (Bassmaster) Opens,” said Cherry, who was working as a liquor brand manager for a distributing company. “We looked at the schedules, and they were decent and not too expensive. I said, ‘Let’s give it a couple of years and see what happens.’”
After two years of fishing the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Opens, Cherry prepared for the October 2012 Smith Lake Opens tournament, the third and final event of his second season.
“When I left for Smith Lake, I said, ‘If I qualify, this is it. If not, I come home.’ Then I won by 1 ounce,” Cherry said.
Not only did he earn enough points to qualify for the Elite Series, but the win also ensured a berth in the Classic.
He’s open about his faith, which tells him he’s chosen the right path, not only for himself but for his wife, Jaclyn, his baby daughter, Bella Grace, and his son.
“It wasn’t too long ago that I was baptized,” Cherry said. “It put me at peace. I’ve learned there’s a time and place for everything, and everything is possible in God’s time. I’m true to my family and true to my faith. You choose your own path. God gives us all the groundwork. It’s up to us to make sure we walk the right path and choose the right direction.”
With his designation as ROY, Cherry earned an instant-in for Toyota All-Star Week and Evan Williams Bourbon Championship. The competition, which will showcase the talents of 14 Elite anglers, will take place Sept. 27-29 on Michigan’s Muskegon Lake.
The postseason is one last Bassmaster tournament for the year, but for Cherry, his leap of faith in becoming a bass fishing pro is always on his mind.
“Every day, I wake and tell myself, it’s happening,” Cherry said. “I’m doing it.”