By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
It was fortuitous for Hank Cherry that he had a mechanical issue with his trolling motor on the official practice day for the Bassmaster Classic at Lake Guntersville.
After having the problem addressed by service technicians, he put his boat back in the water, with the first order of business to test the device. He traveled just a few hundred yards from the launch to the Brown's Creek causeway and caught a 5-pounder while putting the motor through its paces.
He proceeded to fish there throughout the derby, sans the company of fellow competitors, and won the 50th anniversary of the sport's most famous event with a three-day total of 65-05. A big portion of that came on day 1, when he caught a tournament-best 29-03 stringer (tied for third-heaviest in Classic history) to put nearly 8 pounds of separation between him and the rest of the 53-angler field.
His advantage was reduced to 4-12 after a 16-10 effort on day 2, but after a sluggish start to the final day he ended up boxing 19 1/2 pounds to win by 6-11 over runner-up Todd Auten. The victory, his first at the sport's top level for the 46-year-old from North Carolina, was worth $300,000, pushing his career earnings mark with B.A.S.S. and FLW combined past the $1 million mark.
"The biggest factors were just patience and not having anybody around me – knowing I didn't have to split those fish up," he said. "At this time of year that's one of the best-known places on the whole lake, but there was nobody there. Once I realized that, my confidence skyrocketed."
Following are some of the specifics of his program.
Been There Before
It wasn't the first time that Cherry had exploited that causeway. He used it to register a 17th-place finish in a Bassmaster Elite Series tournament in 2015 that Skeet Reese won.
That event took place a month later on the calendar, but experienced a similar weather pattern.
"The fish had been on beds and then a hard wind and cold came in," he said. "I didn't end up finding it until the end of the first day and I caught four for 19 pounds.
"Last year (when he finished 8th in the Elite Series event in June) I stayed in the upper part of the lake and I never ventured down that far."
The causeway is about three-quarters of a mile long with riprap along both sides. There's a shallower grassy area at one end, and it was there that he caught the bulk of his massive opening-day stringer as it surrendered a 7-02, a 6-pounder and a 5 3/4. He caught another 7-02 off the causeway.
The sweet spots along the causeway were places where large rocks had tumbled into the water, forming high spots.
"They could just sit there and ambush gizzard shad," he said.
Cherry exploited sections of the Brown's Creek causeway where large rocks had tumbled into the water, creating ambush points for bass that were eating shad.
On day 2, he pulled two of his weigh-in fish off the grass flat on a bladed jig, two off the causeway rocks with a jerkbait and one off a dock with a conventional jig. He made one late cull from a dock on the final day, but everything else came from the rocks.
He went the first two hours of day 3 without a bite and temporarily surrendered his lead as contenders who loaded up early and jockeyed in and out of the top slot in the standings. He reestablished command, however, with a flurry of catches between 9 and 10 o'clock, with one of those a 5-pounder.
He sealed the deal when he caught one that weighed nearly 6 pounds shortly past noon.
"My cameraman was doing the weights and he had me down for like 16-10 or 17-05," he said. "I kept thinking that it was still too close. At 2:10 I got rid of a 2-pounder with the cull off the dock that got me another pound, and after that I felt pretty good."
He said he had quite a few spectators in his area, but none of them were fishing.
"One guy tried to, but he was promptly addressed by some locals that he needed to move on."
> Cherry said his cadence with the jerkbait in the still-chilly water was painstakingly slow, with long pauses between the double pops. "People ask me how I can (work) a jerkbait so slow, but I just try to think of the right rhythm in my head for that situation. You'll eventually get one to react."
> He was heavily dependent on his Garmin electronics. "With LiveScope, I could actually follow the herds of gizzard shad and I could tell when I would see a fish if it was going to bite or not. There were several key fish that I caught that I saw coming to get the bait because it’s happening right there in live action. If you do not have Garmin LiveScope, you are definitely missing out."
Winning Gear Notes
> Jerkbait gear: 6'10" medium-light Abu Garcia Veracity rod, Abu Garcia Revo STX casting reel (7.3:1 ratio), 15-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon line, Megabass Ito Vision 110+1 (GP stain reaction OB).
> Bladed jig gear: 7'4" medium-heavy moderate Abu Garcia Veracity rod, same reel, 20-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon, 1/2-ounce Z-Man/Evergreen ChatterBait Jackhammer (red/green-pumpkin), various grub trailers of the same color.
> Conventional jig gear: 7'6" medium-heavy Abu Garcia Fantasista Premier rod, Abu Garcia Revo EXD casting reel (8:1 ratio), 20-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon, Picasso Dock Rocket Hank Cherry Jig (green-pumpkin/orange), Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Chunk trailer (green-pumpkin with tips of tails dyed chartreuse).