A Classic Column from Steve Graf. First published in July of 2021
Here’s an interview I did in 2021 with the 2021 Bassmaster Classic Champion Hank Cherry. Hank just accomplished what only three other anglers have ever done in history by winning back-to-back Classics. Today you’ll see from his perspective how this tournament unfolded and allowed him to win once again. Financially, a Classic win is worth $300,000 but the impact it has on an angler’s career is huge. Now let’s here from the man himself…Hank Cherry!
Angler’s Perspective: Hank have you recovered from the Classic and the high temperatures you all experienced at Ray Roberts?
Hank: “The heat was unbearable and just the grind of the Bassmaster Classic getting up at 3:00 in the morning every day takes a toll on you both mentally and physically. Now I’m just trying to figure out what happens next and where do we go from here? At the same time, I’m trying to get the family settled back down and make sure they are taken care of before setting out and completing the 2021 regular Elite Series season.”
Angler’s Perspective: This being your second go round with winning the Classic, you should have a pretty good idea for what lies ahead. Compare last year’s win to this year.
Hank: “Well last year I won this event during the Covid 19 pandemic and this year’s win has already been a lot different. I missed out on several promotional opportunities last year with all the restrictions of Covid 19. But this go round, it looks like I’ll be traveling more and doing more speaking engagements which I really like. I enjoy the interaction with other anglers and the fans. Heck, I might have to hire a travel agent! This year I’m really looking forward to a true victory tour.”
Angler’s Perspective:: Hank, several anglers who many thought would win this event really
stumped their toe and struggled. Was it an advantage for you to not have any experience or history on this body of water?
Hank: “I’ve never been a huge practice guy, but this tournament if you knew anything, then you really knew nothing due to the high-water conditions and the lake changing every day. There were bushes that are normally on the water’s edge, that were now 4 feet under water. Also, that late winter freeze they had in this region back in the early spring, really set everything back about a month. So, for this event, you really had to fish the moment and disregard what you might have learned in practice due to the constant changing conditions.”
Angler’s Perspective:: Tell us about day 1 and 2 and what you did to catch a good limit both days.
Hank: “Well the first 2 days I got off to a great start by catching a 6 pounder and 5 pounders early. This really put me in position to fish the way I wanted to by flipping the bushes and throwing a jerk bait along the dam. The problem in this event was the fact that there was an early shad spawn bite up until 8:00 or 8:30. Then it got really tough, and it became a true grind as the bite really slowed down. But I was able to weigh-in a really good bag on day 1 at 20 pounds 4 ounces and 17 pounds 10 ounces on day 2. This was really unexpected but allowed me to get off to a great start one days one and two which set me up to go for the win on day 3.”
Angler’s Perspective: Talk about how tough it was on the final day.
Hank: “The third and final day was really tough, hot and humid. Caught one early on a jig and then I went forever without a bite. Then I caught another fish that was a 4 and 3/4 pounder that was probably the dumbest fish in the lake as I pitched to a bush and the bait ricocheted off the bush 4 feet and the fish swam out and ate the bait and went back to the bush. The turning point for me on the final was when I hung up my jig and broke it off in a bush and I decided to downsize with smaller line and a smaller profile bait which is how I caught my last three fish and finished out my limit. I actually went the last two hours of the tournament without a bite.”
Angler’s Perspective: Hank did you know you had won the Classic as you headed in or were you thinking someone probably busted a big bag toady?
Hank: “No, but I knew I had done my best considering the conditions and how tough it seemed. As I got to the weigh-in I heard that my buddy Matt Arey had caught them pretty good, but I also knew after doing the math in my head that someone would have really had to crush them to beat me. The thing about this event was that every guy in the top 5 had lost enough fish to win the Classic including Matt Arey who lost two really good fish that would have sealed the deal for him had he landed those fish. But that’s the nature and unfortunate reality of this sport. You’re going to lose some fish; you just hope it does not cost you the win.”
Angler’s Perspective: Hank earlier you talked about feeling good about how you fished this event and that you gave it your best. Have you ever fished a tournament where you did not feel this way?
Hank: “I’m sure there’s been an event or two where I defeated myself mentally. As a former baseball player, there were times when I felt like I was just going through the motions and just didn’t perform at a high level or the level that I expect. It’s not something I make a habit of but there are times when fishing is comparable to any other sport in that the mental approach is just as important as the physical approach.”
Angler’s Perspective: Hank, talk about the frame of mind going into the final day as the leader versus being a few pounds back of the leader and having to come from behind.
Hank: “Well, I’ve always said it easier doing the hunting versus being the one hunted. Your approach is totally different in the fact that you don’t have that pressure of trying to close out the tournament. Mentally when you’re chasing someone, you can just go out and fish and swing for the fences so to speak. But when you’re leading and things aren’t going your way on the final day, you start to second guess yourself and what you’re doing. But for me, I pride myself on being a closer and I can’t think of any time when I wasn’t able to close out a tournament when I did have a lead. Winning an event of this level and having won last year, gives you a tremendous amount of confidence knowing that you’ve been there and done it before.”
Angler’s Perspective:: Hank, thank you taking the time to share your incredible victory and I’m looking forward to watching you go for the three-peat in the 2022 Bassmaster Classic that will be held on your home body of water at Lake Hartwell.
Hank: “Hey thanks for having me today and I’m really looking forward to next year’s event. Hopefully I’ll being doing another interview with you!”
I hope you’ve enjoyed this interview and insight with 2021 Bassmaster Classic Champion Hank Cherry held at Lake Ray Roberts outside of Ft. Worth, Texas. Hank has done an outstanding job of representing the sport over the last year. He’s truly been a great champion and will once again do another awesome job of promoting the sport. Till next time, good luck and good fishing and don’t forget to set the hook!!