Big men make big moves, and reigning Classic champ Hank Cherry took a rather magnanimous action late last month.
Upon learning the field for the Basspro.com Southern Opens was filled up, with many prospective pros put on a waiting list, Cherry dropped out to give others a chance. Winners of the Opens can earn berths into the Bassmaster Classic or an invitation to fish the Bassmaster Elite Series.
“The Bassmaster Elite Series is a dream of so many,” the Lincolnton, N.C., pro posted. “I’m fortunate to have qualified and accomplished that goal to fish as a professional. So many pursue that dream through the Opens. After seeing so much interest during signups and seeing a lot of guys hit the waitlist, I’ve decided to drop out of my priority spot in the Opens so someone who is trying to get to the top level will get an opportunity. It may only be one spot, but they could be a future Classic champ.”
Cherry, who last fished an Open in 2019, won the past two Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classics, taking the 2021 crown on Texas’ Lake Ray Roberts 15 months after winning on Lake Guntersville. He became the fourth angler to win back-to-back Classics and the seventh with multiple championships.
In his second season of Opens competition in 2012, Cherry won on Alabama’s Smith Lake and qualified for the 2013 Elites and Classic on Grand Lake, where he had hooked the potential winning fish but finished third. His only other Elite win was in the 2013 All-Star event.
“It’s just one of those things,” Cherry said of withdrawing from the Opens. “When it comes down to it, you sit back and assess the situation, and the situation for me was, somebody could get more out of it than I was going to.
“Yeah, I wanted to be there because I have a couple buddies going. One in particular, Cole Huskins that I help out, and he didn’t get in. And there were several of those guys, some young guys, from around the house who didn’t get it, and it didn’t feel right for me to be packing up to go when I’m already living my dream and they’re not getting the chance to take hold of theirs.”
The Southern Open schedule starts in early February on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes in Florida, heads to Cherokee Lake at the end of March then finishes up on Lake Hartwell in October.
“The lakes were ones I really liked, and there wasn’t a lot of travel involved,” Cherry said. “Cherokee is right up the street from the house. Hartwell is right up the street from the house. The only one I had to travel to was Kissimmee, which I like going down there anyhow. I haven’t been there in a few years.
“I just felt like I would be holding somebody back, and I didn’t want to be that guy. I didn’t feel good about me going and them having to sit at home. I figured I couldn’t help them all, but I could help one guy. I thought it was the right thing to do.”
Coming off an eventful deer hunt at Hooville Ranch in Texas, Cherry will soon be gearing up for the Elite season’s start at the St. Johns River on Feb. 10. He first will host The Warrior’s Journey event on Lake Norman on Dec. 11, then said he’ll begin hardcore fishing around the end of the month.
The competition on the Elites has stepped up again, Cherry said, with the addition of anglers like his good friend Jacob Powroznik, who won the Falcon Rods Basspro.com Opens Angler of the Year title, and Mike Iaconelli returning to the series.
“We’re all looking forward to it,” he said. “It’s just a matter of getting everything in line and going.”
A visit to Lake Hartwell, which will host the Classic March 4-6, will be in order, although he’s well-versed on the fishery less than three hours from his home. He finished 33rd in the 2018 Classic there and was 10th in the 2018 Elite there.
“I’ll visit Hartwell for the Classic even though I’ve been going there my whole life,” Cherry said. “I’ll still just go ride around and graph, probably won’t fish much. Excited about getting the season going again.”
There could be history in the making. Cherry is well aware and often reminded that no angler has won three consecutive Classics, but there doesn’t seem to be any undue pressure on his mind.
“A three-peat — it’s there. It’s brought up probably on average about five times a day from people that I run in to, strangers or friends,” Cherry said. “I’m going to approach this one just like I’ve done the other two. My blessings have been plentiful and if it happens again, I will be … I will be … I don’t know what I’ll be. I’ll be crazy. If it doesn’t, there won’t be any tears. There might be some tears of joy if I can hand it to one of my buddies.”
While Cherry, the 2013 Rookie of the Year, would certainly relish pulling off the unprecedented feat, he’s got another goal or two in mind. An AOY would go a long way but first and foremost is winning a full-field Elite.
“The one thing I’m missing right now is a blue trophy,” he said, “to kind of cement my legacy, in my eyes.”