Winning a major championship marks a turning point for the careers of most touring pros. For Hank Cherry, now in his seventh Bassmaster Elite Series season, the turning point came before he even made it to the big time.
In 2010 Cherry, of Lincolnton, N.C., and his family lived comfortably from his job as a brand manager for a distilled spirits distributor. There was no reason to look for work elsewhere. The only reason to budge was Cherry’s burning desire to turn his passion for tournament fishing into a full-time career.
“One day I sat down with my wife Jaclyn and we talked about it,” he recalled. “We decided financially that I would give it a try for two years and see what happened.”
Two years. That’s not much time to gain the traction needed to get to where Cherry wanted to be, which was the Elite Series, maybe even qualify for the Bassmaster Classic. He would achieve both and then some in no time.
Cherry’s employer gave him the time off to fish the 2011 Bassmaster Opens and the quest began. It was best chalked up as a learning experience. The next year was much better with Cherry hanging on in the Elite Series qualifying points by the final event at Smith Lake in Alabama.
“When I left for Smith Lake I reminded myself that was it,” he said. “I either qualified from that event or hung it up, went back to work.”
His fate would not be determined until the final day. Cherry won the tournament by 1 ounce, earned an automatic Classic berth and invitation to join the Elite Series in 2013.
“I went back home and fished a tournament on Lake Norman, was mulling it over and Jaclyn called with the news while I was on the water,” he said. “She was pregnant.”
Cherry described the news as overwhelmingly a blessing. Things had fallen into place and the family decided it best to continue with the plan as a divine blessing.
“It put me at peace,” he admitted. “I have learned there is a time and place for everything if you let go and let God do it on his time.”
The hot streak began with a third-place finish at the 2013 Classic on Grand Lake and concluded with a season-ending win in Michigan. Cherry put a bow on the season by winning the Toyota Bassmaster Rookie of the Year title.
Cherry went on to qualify for the 2014 Classic and then missed bass fishing’s premier world championship event the next two seasons. Success came quickly and Cherry had little time to gain experience from lessons learned by most rookies.
“In 2013 I could do no wrong so I never really had the chance to learn from rookie mistakes,” he recalled. “I didn’t have any sponsor obligations, and it was a me against the world.”
That world came down to reality after Cherry realized the root of the problem.
“In my rookie season I fished my strengths, then moved away from that by trying to do too much, be too versatile, instead of applying what I did the best,” he explained.
“It also was an adjustment period as I was pulled in different directions after I gained sponsors,” he continued.
Fishing at the highest level of bass fishing also leaves little room for missed fish. Cherry learned that lesson during the dry spell that ended in 2017 with his return to the Classic and again in 2018.
“I can look back at one or two key missed fish that defined the season,” he said. “At one point I was third in AOY points but those missed fish bumped me out of the Classic.”
Last season hardship returned as Cherry endured a painful injury-plagued year. First, he competed with a torn wrist ligament and then a separated a shoulder at the midpoint of the season at Lake Oahe. He never thought about taking a medical hardship.
During the 2018 offseason Cherry buckled down and committed to a physical therapy program as part of his healing process. He also lost 25 pounds of unwanted body fat and gained 15 pounds of muscle mass after following a strict strength and conditioning program.
Recharged by a stronger mind and body, Cherry is ready for the season ahead.
“What excites me the most is we have a new chapter to write with the future of B.A.S.S.,” he said. “Like any other sport there are heroes that come and go and other athletes step up to take their place.”
Cherry looks forward in taking that step in 2019, just as he did in 2013 as a rookie on the tour.