From a Dream to Reality: The Rise of Hank Cherry

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Rising to the top of any sport is never easy. Adversity is faced, and one seemingly insurmountable task after another must be conquered in order to find success at the highest level. This is a fact that one of bass fishing’s biggest names, Hank Cherry, knows all too well.

On March 8th, Hank Cherry stood front and center on bass fishing’s biggest stage, as he was crowned the 2020 Bassmaster Classic Champion. For Cherry, this long-awaited triumph served as the fulfillment of a dream that only just over a decade ago, seemed to be crumbling before his very eyes.

The Birth of A Dream

Like many Classic winners before him, Hank Cherry’s story began long before he had become a household name or hoisted competitive fishing’s most prized trophy high above his head. From a young age, Cherry found himself engrossed in every aspect of fishing and longed for the next opportunity to wet his line.

“At an early age, my dad took me fishing, and it was just something I gravitated to. Then when I started watching TV and saw the Bassmasters, something in me just said that’s what I want to do. I want to fish for a living,” said Cherry.

“I just started fishing anywhere I could go, and for anything I could catch. From bass to catfish and carp, it didn’t matter. All the way through school, me and my dad would take camping trips and fish,” Cherry continued.

In addition to an unrelenting love for all things fishing, Cherry was also an active youth athlete. This ingrained competitiveness naturally found its way into his fishing endeavors, as it was not long before Cherry and his high school friends had organized their own makeshift tournament series.

“In the offseason in high school, when we weren’t playing any sports, we would have get-togethers with the guys. It would be the five biggest fish you could catch out of the pond you chose to go to. We had livewells made up to fit in the backs of our trucks to keep the fish alive so that we could let them go,” said Cherry.

Running Down A Dream

With his high school days behind him and the goal of becoming a professional tournament angler squarely in focus, Cherry set out to make his dream a reality. He continued fishing at a feverish pitch, in a bid to find success on the tournament trail, and to take his career to the next level.

“My first semi-pro tournament was an Everstart that I fished on Lake Okeechobee. Then my first actual professional tournament I fished was the FLWs on Lake Travis. It didn’t go so well, but I still liked it,” said Cherry.

Undeterred, Cherry soldiered on, with the notion that he would let nothing get in the way of him living his dream. However, fate soon came knocking, and what awaited Cherry, he could have never seen coming.

A Dream Extinguished

The 2008 economic downturn was crushing to the livelihood of many American families, and the Cherry household was no exception. Without warning, Cherry suddenly found himself without a job, at the hands of the recession. Times got tough, and it was all hands-on deck in a bid for survival. With bills to pay and food to put on the table, Cherry walked away from tournament fishing, instead, focusing solely on his obligations at home.

“Things became more about concentrating on trying to make a living, than having fun doing it,” said Cherry. “At that point, it just wasn’t fun. I kind of lost track of how much joy it brought me fishing. There for a little while, I really just lost that feeling,” Cherry continued.

As quickly as Cherry’s dream of competing on bass fishing’s highest level had come clearly into focus, it again faded from sight. Gone were visions of the fans cheering at weigh-ins, and the bright lights of the tournament stage. What remained was the harsh reality of contending with day to day life in an economic crisis.

Cherry and his wife, Jaclyn, spent the next few years grinding out a living and digging deep in search of better days. With time, life for the Cherrys did improve, and they once again found themselves on solid ground. However, tournament fishing still remained little more than a memory.

A Dream Reignited

In a turn of events that would prove life-changing, Cherry was urged by a friend to consider once again giving tournament fishing a try, which he eventually agreed to. Plans were made, and gear was readied, as Cherry prepared to compete once more.

“I got a taste of what it was like to have nothing, and I knew I didn’t like that. So, I made some adjustments. Both me and my wife, Jaclyn, worked as much as we could. We were able to eventually get back to a point where things were getting better,” said Cherry. “Then I ended up fishing an Oakley Big Bass tournament with a buddy of mine. I ended up winning a boat, and that is pretty much what ended up kick-starting me back into it.”

This well-timed series of events proved to be a turning point for Cherry, who continued forward from this point, picking up where he left off before walking away from tournament angling. Cherry, more determined than ever, carried on, knowing full well that he would never again let his dream slip from his grasp.

In 2011, Cherry fished the Bassmaster Opens, although he did not have the showing which he had expected. Then in 2012, again fishing the Opens, Cherry won the last tournament of the season, edging out second place by only a single ounce. This win netted Cherry an invite to the Elite Series, and also qualified him to fish in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic, in which he ultimately placed third.

By March 2020, Cherry had fished in several Classics, though his dream of joining the ranks of past Classic Champions still evaded him. However, in a climactic moment, this was all about to change.

On day one of the 50th Bassmaster Classic, Cherry jumped out to an early lead. Days two and three saw Cherry hang onto this lead, as he left the rest of the tournament field in the rearview mirror. When the final fish had been weighed, Cherry’s 65 pound- 5-ounce haul situated him atop the leaderboard, and his childhood dream finally became a reality.

“It has fulfilled what everyone always tells you. You are capable of accomplishing anything that you put your mind to. You just have to put your mind to it. It started as a dream, then it became a goal, now it is a reality. So that is really awesome to see,” Cherry said.

Life Since the Win

Cherry’s Classic win came at a unique time within the global landscape. In the weeks that followed, life as the world knew it, ground to a halt. Growing fear over the spreading Covid-19 pandemic stifled mass gatherings, such as that which had centered around the Classic just weeks prior.

Cherry says that the life-changing circumstances of his Classic win have not yet set in, as a time of quarantine, and minimal public exposure has slowed the chaos that typically follows.

“I haven’t really had a chance to be out and experience the madness, which everyone assures me is getting ready to come,” said Cherry. “Basically, since I won, and we got home, it has been all hands-on deck at the house. From home-schooling to cooking dinner, to making up games to play to pass the time, we haven’t really done a whole lot,” Cherry continued.

Obtaining the Unattainable

We teach our children at a young age that they can achieve anything that they set their minds to. For Hank Cherry, this dream has always centered around being crowned a Bassmaster Classic Champion. Though life presented him no easy road, unrelenting perseverance in the face of adversity propelled Cherry to a place in life which he had always longed to be. If ever there was proof that you can achieve your dreams, Hank Cherry would certainly fit that bill.

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