Another year has passed; with it comes another Bassmaster Classic champion, and a deserving one at that. Now, before we go any further, I have to boast for my pre-Classic picks. As I mentioned last week, a veteran would, in fact, win this Classic, and he would do so around the bank. Sure, my obscure pick for winner didn’t come in, but how about Todd Auten and Stetson Blaylock?
Getting back to the real star of this show, Hank Cherry performed well, despite almost coming unglued and giving the tournament away on the final day. But he stayed the course, religiously working one of Guntersville’s most productive locales until enough bass came aboard to take the title, an opening-day monster bag responsible for Cherry's ability to hold off challengers.
The champ did well on stage, keeping his composure as I’m sure he intended to. Sure, we missed the raw emotion of the win; that projected by previous champions like Omori, KVD and Randy Howell. Instead, we were left with a stoic winner proving his worth on the professional circuit. He’ll make a good champion.
The Classic Outdoor Exp didn’t disappoint; it seems to improve each year as considerations for crowd density, display layout and “breathing room” are more apparent than ever. Such makes for a great experience at the type of event I usually dread.
A couple other quick notes from the show: there’s a noticeable uptick in numerous corners of the bass fishing scene, like high-performance bass boats. Once an industry dominated by four or five key players, this week I noticed expanded displays by a plethora of manufacturers, including Caymas, Sea Ark, Blazer and more. These came in addition to the big presence provided by the industry hitters, most notably a monster Nitro/Ranger/Triton combo booth. Choices certainly abound.
The outdoor show also brought out a ton of clothing, mainly foul-weather choices, as well as a head-on collision in the continuing electronics battle. This could be the fastest growing segment of our sport; it’s certainly shown the most advancement in the past decade.
I mean, just think how far we’ve gone! Twenty years ago (not long ago in terms of product development), bass anglers utilized flashers and some basic 2D LCD graphs, cable-steer trolling motors and paper maps. Today, everything is electronically controlled, and precise down to inches.
It’s this facet of fishing that, I believe, will see the greatest impact from our most recent Classic conquest. Numerous times, Cherry credited his sonar for his fish catches, as he was able to view schools of bait moving in and out of his fishing area, bass likely following close behind. This was done all around his boat, not just beneath.
This is the program fans and tournament anglers alike will attach to as a result of this tournament. Whereas, in the past, we’ve seen overwhelming interest in Classic-winning lures, rods, line and even fishing locations, this time it will be the technology used that will drive the industry.
What started as a Side Imaging revolution has grown to include 360 sonar, Panaoptix and LiveSight, all attempting to unlock the underwater world around us and give anglers a better opportunity to catch bass that we otherwise ignore.
I’d wager that we’ll see these sonar options as standard equipment on most tournament anglers’ boats in the next few years – regardless of their competitive level – the same was we have watched the growth of Side Imaging and shallow-water anchors.
Are they necessary? I guess it depends what anglers want from their fishing. Regardless, such advancements are incredibly effective when used correctly, and a story for a later day.
So another Classic is in the books, and one that will completely change the careers of many of the top performers. Remember, B.A.S.S. is still reeling in terms of Classic coverage – and champions – that currently reflect the organization. For two years now, the obvious elephant in the room has been highlights of previous events, including the celebrations of now-BPT stars like Mike Iaconelli and Jordan Lee. With Cherry, B.A.S.S. will finally be able to promote a native son to their media’s best ability.
World, meet Hank Cherry.
Good for him. From what I understand, Cherry hasn’t always had it easy, but he persevered. He put on his big-boy pants, climbed out of the ditch and punctuated a career for the benefit of his young family. He’s dedicated to being a great person and role model.
Cherry will make a perfect champion and PR person for bass fishing in 2020. But, as we’ll see, his methods will do most of the talking in the world of retail.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)