By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor

Hank Cherry got 8 hours to fish on Sunday in his quest to close out a wire-to-wire victory at the 50th Bassmaster Classic at Lake Guntersville in Alabama. He did what he needed to do in a 40-minute flurry between 9 and 10 o'clock.

After going the first 2 hours without a bite and then losing a 5-pounder when he had just two run-of-the-mill keepers in his livewell, the 46-year-old Cherry boxed a 5-pounder and a pair of fish in the 3-pound class to give him about 16 pounds. He culled up a couple of times later in the day for a 19-08 bag that boosted his three-day total to 65-05.

He garnered the top prize of $300,000, plus another $7,500 in bonus money.

"If this is a dream, I don't want to wake up," he said shortly after his win, a foregone conclusion for most of the day, became official.

Fishing the same riprap-lined causeway in Brown's Creek that he'd exploited throughout the event, he relied primarily on a jerkbait which he's among the best in the game at utilizing to claim his first victory at the tour level. He became the first North Carolina resident to win the Classic since David Fritts in 1993 and the second winner from that state named Hank (Parker prevailed in 1979 and 1989).

The square-jawed former college baseball pitcher who looks more like an ex-linebacker finished 3rd in his initial Classic appearance in 2013, losing a giant fish at the end of the final day that might've erased the margin between him and winner Cliff Pace, then was a non-factor the next three times he qualified for the derby. There was no afternoon drama this time as he was never seriously challenged after his mid-morning surge.

When he caught a 6-pounder at about 12:15, he told his camera operator that he'd been waiting 7 years for that bite. The comment was in reference to the lost fish at Grand in 2013.

"I don't think that haunted me, but I think it fueled my fire," said Cherry, who took command of the event with a tournament-best 29-03 on day 1. "The best part is I don't have to hear (B.A.S.S. emcee) Dave Mercer bring it up anymore.

"That wasn't my time. This time, it was."

His total was the third-highest in Classic history, trailing Kevin VanDam's 69-11 haul from the Louisiana Delta in 2011 and the 67-08 that Randy Howell caught the last time the event took place at Guntersville in 2014.



B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito
Photo: B.A.S.S./Seigo Saito

The causeway that Cherry exploited throughout the event produced for him again on the final day.

Of the 15 fish he took to the scale at Legends Arena in Birmingham, six bit a jerkbait, four were enticed by a conventional jig, four ate a bladed jig and one came via a crankbait. Additional details of his winning pattern, as well as those of the other top finishers, will be published this week.

Todd Auten, who was competing in the event for the first time since 2008, was the distant runner-up with 58-10. He boxed 20-10 in the final round.

"My last Classic was 12 years ago, so that made this one a little more special for me," he said.

Stetson Blaylock caught 20-08 on day 3 to finish 3rd with 58-01. It was his first taste of the Classic after a lengthy stint on the FLW Tour.

"I got to experience everything I'd heard about and read in magazines my whole life," he said. "The first day, coming through the curtain to weigh in, is something I'll never forget. I hope there's many more to come, but there won't be another first one for me."

Seth Feider, who tied Lee Livesay for the heaviest final-day bag with 21-13, ended up deadlocked for 4th with Micah Frazier (18-00 on day 3). John Crews paced the bottom half of the top 10 with 53-13, followed by Brandon Lester with 53-09, Livesay with 52-12, Brandon Card with 50-04 and Matt Herren with 49-05.

Crews, who had more Classic experience than any angler in the field, achieved his highest finish in 12 tries.

"Hopefully it'll be less than another 12 years before I can make a run at another one," he said. "All I'm thinking about right now is making sure I get back next year.

"I caught fish all 3 days from different areas doing different stuff I had a grass deal, an offshore deal and a dock deal. None of them were super-good, so I felt like I milked them for all they were worth. I kept moving around and I think that's how you win the Classic, when you fall into where the big load of fish is. I had enough to make the top 6, but I didn't have the winning fish."

Final Standings

1. Hank Cherry Jr -- Lincolnton, NC -- 15, 65-05 -- 0 -- $300,000
Day 1: 5, 29-03 -- Day 2: 5, 16-10 -- Day 3: 5, 19-08

2. Todd Auten -- Lake Wylie, SC -- 15, 58-10 -- 0 -- $52,500
Day 1: 5, 20-00 -- Day 2: 5, 18-00 -- Day 3: 5, 20-10

3. Stetson Blaylock -- Benton, AR -- 15, 58-01 -- 0 -- $40,000
Day 1: 5, 18-05 -- Day 2: 5, 19-04 -- Day 3: 5, 20-08

4. Seth Feider -- New Market, MN -- 15, 54-00 -- 0 -- $30,000
Day 1: 5, 16-10 -- Day 2: 5, 15-09 -- Day 3: 5, 21-13

5. Micah Frazier -- Newnan, GA -- 15, 54-00 -- 0 -- $25,000
Day 1: 5, 20-00 -- Day 2: 5, 16-00 -- Day 3: 5, 18-00

6. John Crews Jr -- Salem, VA -- 15, 53-13 -- 0 -- $22,000
Day 1: 5, 21-08 -- Day 2: 5, 16-11 -- Day 3: 5, 15-10

7. Brandon Lester -- Fayetteville, TN -- 15, 53-09 -- 0 -- $21,500
Day 1: 5, 20-15 -- Day 2: 5, 20-01 -- Day 3: 5, 12-09

8. Lee Livesay -- Gladewater, TX -- 15, 52-12 -- 0 -- $21,000
Day 1: 5, 14-02 -- Day 2: 5, 16-13 -- Day 3: 5, 21-13

9. Brandon Card -- Knoxville, TN -- 15, 50-04 -- 0 -- $20,500
Day 1: 5, 17-11 -- Day 2: 5, 19-07 -- Day 3: 5, 13-02

10. Matt Herren -- Ashville, AL -- 15, 49-05 -- 0 -- $20,000
Day 1: 5, 18-12 -- Day 2: 5, 14-00 -- Day 3: 5, 16-09

11. Jason Williamson -- Wagener, SC -- 15, 48-14 -- 0 -- $15,000
Day 1: 5, 18-03 -- Day 2: 5, 16-00 -- Day 3: 5, 14-11

12. Skylar Hamilton -- Dandridge, TN -- 14, 48-02 -- 0 -- $15,000
Day 1: 5, 19-11 -- Day 2: 4, 11-00 -- Day 3: 5, 17-07

13. David Mullins -- Mt Carmel, TN -- 14, 48-00 -- 0 -- $15,000
Day 1: 5, 18-08 -- Day 2: 5, 16-13 -- Day 3: 4, 12-11

14. Keith Combs -- Huntington, TX -- 13, 45-15 -- 0 -- $15,000
Day 1: 3, 07-12 -- Day 2: 5, 23-10 -- Day 3: 5, 14-09

15. Luke Palmer -- Coalgate, OK -- 15, 45-02 -- 0 -- $15,000
Day 1: 5, 14-09 -- Day 2: 5, 17-08 -- Day 3: 5, 13-01

16. Chris Zaldain -- Fort Worth, TX -- 15, 44-11 -- 0 -- $13,000
Day 1: 5, 10-08 -- Day 2: 5, 15-10 -- Day 3: 5, 18-09

17. Bill Lowen -- Brookville, IN -- 13, 44-10 -- 0 -- $13,000
Day 1: 3, 11-10 -- Day 2: 5, 19-06 -- Day 3: 5, 13-10

18. Clent Davis -- Montevallo, AL -- 13, 44-09 -- 0 -- $13,000
Day 1: 5, 21-08 -- Day 2: 4, 08-10 -- Day 3: 4, 14-07

19. Caleb Kuphall -- Mukwonago, WI -- 14, 44-06 -- 0 -- $13,000
Day 1: 4, 14-01 -- Day 2: 5, 12-15 -- Day 3: 5, 17-06

20. Grae Buck -- Green Lane, PA -- 11, 44-01 -- 0 -- $13,000
Day 1: 2, 13-06 -- Day 2: 4, 12-07 -- Day 3: 5, 18-04

21. John Cox -- Debary, FL -- 14, 44-00 -- 0 -- $13,000
Day 1: 5, 15-02 -- Day 2: 4, 14-12 -- Day 3: 5, 14-02

22. Drew Cook -- Midway, FL -- 15, 42-15 -- 0 -- $13,000
Day 1: 5, 15-06 -- Day 2: 5, 12-10 -- Day 3: 5, 14-15

23. Greg DiPalma -- Millville, NJ -- 11, 34-09 -- 0 -- $13,000
Day 1: 4, 15-03 -- Day 2: 4, 11-07 -- Day 3: 3, 07-15

24. Cody Huff -- Ava, MO -- 11, 33-06 -- 0 -- $13,000
Day 1: 4, 12-13 -- Day 2: 5, 13-12 -- Day 3: 2, 06-13

25. Hunter Shryock -- Newcomerstown, OH -- 9, 27-13 -- 0 -- $13,000
Day 1: 5, 18-06 -- Day 2: 3, 07-11 -- Day 3: 1, 01-12