Cherry’s Finesse Swimbait Winner

(As posted on Wired2Fish.com) Tournament success is often the quickest way for a new bait or pattern to come to the top of the angling mediaverse. Anybody buy one of those $50 Chatterbaits after the 2006 Classic or a $75 Alabama Rig after Elias smashed the field at Guntersville in 2011?

It makes sense. I get it. In a sport where ounces separate the winners from losers, anglers are constantly looking for an edge and when you see someone shock the field like Elias did that famed October, it’s hard to resist the urge to go out and whip out the plastic.

As compelling as those “rags to riches” bait stories are, they are actually pretty few and far between. Whether due to lack of media attention, or marketing ineptitude by a manufacturer; there are a host of proven, tournament winning techniques that just haven’t resonated as well with the angling “in” crowd.

Red Hot North Carolina Pro Hank Cherry has been a working example of this dynamic for the past year and a half. His finesse swimbait technique has netted him a pair of primetime wins and well over $100,000 since the beginning of 2012, but you probably haven’t even heard of it.

That’s likely due to a combination of lazy tournament coverage and Cherry’s workmanlike attitude toward the kind of success many anglers only dream of.

Either way, it’s about time anglers across the country pay attention to one of the things that has Cherry, a humble North Carolinian, blowing up like a Coosa River Spot during the shad spawn.

The Technique

Cherry honed his fishing skills on the famed reservoirs of North Carolina. Places like Lake Norman, Lake Wylie, and High Rock Lake. Places that have a lot of bass, but also receive a lot of angling pressure.  That pressure, along with his observations of fish chasing shad far off in the distance, forced Cherry to experiment in order to catch them.

“I’ve been working on the swimbait technique for quite a few years.” Cherry says, continuing “I noticed on our lakes back home that a lot of times you would see fish flipping shad on the surface, but by the time you got over to them they would be gone. I started to experiment with swimbaits and gradually determined that casting distance is the priority. I switched to light line and a spinning rod, and have been throwing it like that ever since.”

All Cherry’s experimentation paid off in 2012, when he won the Bassmaster Southern Open held on Alabama’s Smith Lake in October 2012. Cherry was targeting fish chasing suspended balls of shad and blueback herring from long range. “At that Smith Lake event, I could see fish feeding all over during practice, and I got pretty excited because I fish that kind of stuff all the time back home. If you could get that swimbait out to them, they would come up and eat it.”

Like in the Smith Lake event, Cherry most often fishes his swimbait on a spinning rod because it provides him with the casting distance to reach pressured fish before they can sense the presence of a boat.

Seasonally, Cherry has found his greatest success with the finesse swimbait from fall all the way through winter, although it can be effective any time fish are predominantly keying on shad. “I think of it as a fall or winter presentation” Cherry says, “But I’ve caught them on it at other times of the year when they are actively chasing shad. I just think that is a lot more frequent once the water temps start dropping.”

The Bait

Cherry prefers the Damiki Anchovy Shad for most of his swimbaiting. The anchovy shad is a diminutive 4 inch bait that swims well even at the slowest speeds. Cherry thinks the presentation is so effective mainly because there isn’t really anybody else out there doing it. “Across a lot of the country, there are fish out there in the fall that nobody targets because they get too spooky and unreliable if the shad move. Most places, they have never seen anything like it, so when that little swimbait comes swimming over their heads, they just can’t resist it.”

The specific setup Cherry generally relies on is a 7′ Medium Denali Noirwood spinning rod paired to an Abu Garcia Revo 30 spinning reel. He spools the Revo with 10lb braided line and tips it with a leader of six or eight pound fluorocarbon. About the braid to fluoro connection, Cherry says “That light braid really lets you launch that thing and bury the hook from far away, but the fluorocarbon keeps the finicky fish biting.”

You might think that six to eight pound line may seem a little light, but Cherry actually considers the presentation pretty safe, and he rarely loses or breaks fish off. “Generally, the fish you are catching like this are in open water, or deep water. Once you get them hooked, there isn’t really anything they can do to get off as long as you take your time.”

Finesse?

Cherry doesn’t necessarily consider the technique a true “finesse” presentation, and he throws it even when the fish are biting really well. This September provided a perfect example of that, as Cherry relied heavily on the swimbait during his win at the BASS Elite Series All-Star event held on Michigan’s Muskegon and White Lakes.

In that event, Cherry targeted aggressive largemouth and smallmouth feeding around big balls of bait in transition areas. Because of the varied depth, proximity to cover, and big smallmouth, Cherry actually switched the swimbait to a baitcaster spooled with 15lb fluorocarbon. “I knew with those big smallmouth up in Michigan that I needed to go to a stronger line. They were aggressive too, so I could sacrifice a little casting distance and visibility for the improved line strength.”

Although he was fishing it on heavier line on a baitcaster, Cherry still focused on making casts to fish that were relating primarily to shad, and  not on a piece of structure. “Those fish up at the All-Star Event were moving around areas from 2 to 20 feet of water and just following big balls of bait. I would reel that swimbait through there and they couldn’t resist.”

Try it Out

Although Hank Cherry has won over $100,000 and an Elite Series Event predominantly featuring his unique finesse swimbait pattern, you haven’t seen the tackle industry respond the way it has with other winning techniques. There are several reasons for this.

One, many of the components involved have been around for years. The industry likes shiny, new, and crazy looking. A finesse swimbait on a light jighead doesn’t fit the mold.

Two, it’s a finesse presentation.  In general, the media (and industry) isn’t as wowed by finesse presentations as the power techniques. Things like drop shotting, wacky rigging, and shakey heading have had an exponentially more profound impact on tournament fishing in recent years than the Alabama Rig, but the allure of catching a whole limit on one cast intoxicates all. Plus, conflict attracts attention. When was the last time you heard anglers arguing over whether the neko rig should be banned?

Lastly, Hank Cherry is not a peacock. He doesn’t use his success purely as a means to hock the latest widget from Ronco. That’s not saying that Cherry isn’t a pleasure to work with and that he doesn’t work his tail off for his sponsors, it’s just that he’d rather let his results on the weigh-in stage do his talking than a series of tweets or YouTube videos.

All that said, Hank Cherry is working to bring his finesse swimbait technique into the mainstream the hard way. One win at a time.

Stay Positive

So what do you say when the 2013 Bassmaster Elite Rookie of the Year and All Star tournament winner Hank Cherry invites you to North Carolina for a little fishing? You say “Yes”, of course.

Fishing at the Elite level is not for those who do not believe in themselves. Likewise, they need to not give in to the negativity of others. The top anglers have faith not only in their own ability to catch fish, but in their ability to pursue their dreams. Along the way there will be obstacles, and their belief in themselves will be tested.

Like many professional anglers, Hank Cherry has heard a lot of people say “No” along the way to the top of the sport, and those rejections are just part of the job if you want to fish for a living. As the saying goes; Every “No” is just one step closer to a “Yes”.

Social media is a tool that allows connections with people all around the glob, but some days it just seems to add to the number of “No’s” you hear. Like many other online experiences there can be too much energy focused on the negative things in life and people simply may not realize or care what impact their comments may have on others. So when Cherry was logged into Facebook recently he noticed that one of his long-time followers was feeling discouraged after she announced her desire to fish Pro-Am tournaments as a co-angler. This hit close to home. “Hillary tells me that all she gets is negative feedback when she talks about fishing as a co-angler” . For Cherry, seeing someone that obviously loves to fish and knowing that their ambitions were disrupted by the negative comments of others frustrated him.

Cherry had promised his wife that if he ever had the opportunity to help somebody that has the passion and drive for fishing, like he does, he’d do his best to help them. He seized the opportunity to offer a little support for her dreams. “I think it’s important for people to know that this is possible, that you have to believe. If this is what you want to do, don’t let anybody tell you different. I told her that I heard those exact same things. All I heard was that I was going to fail, I wasn’t good enough, blah blah blah” explained Cherry.  He added “It seemed to work out pretty well for me.”

After chatting online with the aspiring angler from Missouri, Cherry asked her if she’d like to come to North Carolina and be his partner at a fishing tournament. In December Hillary Hughes will team up with Cherry at Lake Norman for the 8th Annual Ryan Newman Foundation Annual Charity Fishing Tournament.

Hughes said that she was shocked when he invited her to come to North Carolina to fish with him. “I had posted something about people just doubting me and fishing and saying why waste money”.

She went on to say that Cherry told her that he heard those same things before he started fishing in the Elite Series and that he told her have faith and to believe in herself. Shortly thereafter she received the message asking her to come to North Carolina.

Right now Hillary is looking forward to spending time on the water and learning as much as she can. She says that the thought of winning the tournament is exciting but that just being given this opportunity is more than enough to make her happy.

Brandon Ober

20 Questions with Hank Cherry

The 2013 Bassmaster Rookie of the Year is not exactly a new face to B.A.S.S. fans. Hank Cherry won a Bass Pro Shops Southern Open in 2012 and he’s been the man to beat on waters around his North Carolina home for years. Most recently, he took top honors at the 2013 Toyota All-Star week and Evan Williams Bourbon Championship. Here’s how he stacked up against our 20 Questions. Continue reading “20 Questions with Hank Cherry”

Hank Cherry and the Tug of Family

“I hope you dance…”

Dateline:  La Crosse, Wis.

I never told Barb, this. Never told, Ashley, never told, Jimmy. But Ashley. But Jimmy.

When we first brought you home from the hospital, that first or second night that you were with us, when Mommy was exhausted and asleep, I would get up and go into your nursery,

and I would gently pick you up in your blanket,

and I would hold you in my arms, tight against my chest,

and we would dance.

In the moonlight of Fresno,

we would dance.

In the moonlight of Allentown,

we would dance.

And sometimes you would open your eyes, and in the moonlight as we danced I would rub noses and kiss you cheeks,

and in a whisper,

I would sing to you,

about love,

and mommies,

and daddies,

and little babies, blue or pink.

Ashley,

Jimmy,

I know you don’t remember it, but whenever I’m out, and it is a clear moonlight night,

I still smell your baby powder,

I still feel your perfect skin, your wisps of hair,

and in that special place you have in my heart,

we,

still,

dance.

“…I hope you never lose your sense of wonder…”

Hank Cherry Closes On Bassmaster All-Star Win After ‘Perfect Day’

MUSKEGON, Mich. — There’s not a suggestion of rookie green clinging to Hank Cherry now.

A first-year Bassmaster Elite Series pro when the season began in March, Cherry of Maiden, N.C., has his first Elite Series win in the bag.

In Sunday’s final-day, four-angler shootout in the Evan Williams Bourbon Championship, Cherry won the $50,000 first prize by a margin of 2 pounds, 10 ounces.

“This is unbelievable,” he said. “I’m sky-high. I lost no fish today; nothing went wrong. It was just a perfect day.”

Cherry weighed in 17 pounds, 8 ounces of smallmouth bass, easily getting the best of local favorite Kevin VanDam of Kalamazoo, Mich. VanDam posted 14-14 for the runner-up spot.

Cliff Pace of Petal, Miss., finished third with 11-6. Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla., was fourth with 10-15.

The Sept. 27-29 championship, part of Toyota All-Star Week out of Muskegon, began with 14 Bassmaster Elite Series pros. Each competed for two days on Muskegon Lake. Only the four pros with the highest Muskegon Lake weights made the cut to move to White Lake’s final leg.
With Muskegon weights dropped, the four went head-to-head, starting from scratch.

Cherry became the second rookie to win a Bassmaster Elite Series postseason event. Ott DeFoe won in 2011 to close out his rookie season.

Cherry is not your typical rookie. He had years of experience competing in various circuits before he joined the Bass Pro Shops Opens series in 2011. At the end of his second year as an Opens pro, he won an event on Alabama’s Smith Lake and walked away with a 2013 Classic berth. He also qualified for the 2013 Elite season.

In his first Classic appearance, he finished in third-place. (He still looks back with pain on a lost fish that he says cost him the Classic win.) By the end of the regular eight-event Elite Series season, he had won the 2013 Bassmaster Rookie of the Year race. He finished 14th in points, easily securing a Classic berth for 2014.

Sunday on White Lake, Cherry stuck to a pattern of throwing a swimbait off long points, the same pattern that produced for him on Muskegon for two days to get him to the final round.

“I was around a lot of bait and a lot of fish,” said Cherry, adding that he caught about 25 bass throughout the day. Most of them took his Damiki swimbait rigged on a 1/4-ounce jighead with a 4/0 hook, all in various shad finishes.

His key spot was special because of an underwater sandbar that created a “huge current break,” he said, which set up as a perfect spot for smallmouth bass chasing baitfish.

“The shad were there in bunches around that breakline. That’s all it was,” he said.

One flurry of catches on his magic spot that lasted about 45 minutes sealed the deal for him.

“I caught a 4 (pounder), a 4, a 3, a 2/12, a 2/12. I don’t know what happened to turn them on,” he said.

An early-day decision to give up on his quest for largemouth, for which White Lake has a reputation, paid off.

“I just stopped and said, ‘I’m going smallmouth fishing,’” he said.

When a reporter asked if he still felt like a rookie, Cherry replied: “I feel like a champ.”

The event’s Carhartt Big Bass award of $1,000, plus another $500 for wearing Carhartt apparel went to Pace. He took the award for his 4-14 smallmouth of Friday from Muskegon Lake.

Cherry received the $1,000 Power-Pole bonus.

Running concurrently with the Elite Series event was the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series Classic Bracket on Grand River. The coveted prize of that event, an entry in the 2014 Bassmaster Classic, was won by Jordan Lee of Auburn University in Auburn, Ala.

On Sunday, eliminated Elite pros paired up with veterans and other guests in the Folds of Honor Foundation Pro-Am presented by ARE. The Folds of Honor Foundation provides educational scholarships to the dependents of service members killed or disabled while serving our country. Contribution buckets were passed through the crowd at the weigh-in to support the cause.

Bassmaster fan Clay Wilson of Rogers, Ark., won the Toyota All-Star Fan Favorite Angler Sweepstakes prize of a 2014 Toyota Tundra valued at $35,000. His name had been randomly paired with Cherry’s before the competition began.

TV coverage of Toyota All-Star Week will be presented on The Bassmasters on Sunday, Oct. 13, on ESPN2, in three hour-long shows. At 2-3 p.m. ET, and again at 4-5 p.m., the first show will set the stage. Two more shows about the competition will air at 6-7 and 7-8 p.m. ET.

2013 Bassmaster Elite Series Official Sponsors: Toyota, Bass Pro Shops, Berkley, Evan Williams Bourbon, Humminbird, Mercury, Minn Kota, Nitro Boats, Skeeter Boats, Triton Boats, Yamaha

2013 Bassmaster Elite Series Supporting Sponsors: Carhartt, Diet Mountain Dew, Livingston Lures, Lowrance, Luck-E-Strike, Power-Pole, Ramada, Shimano

2013 Bassmaster Elite Series Proud Partner: Mustang Survival

About B.A.S.S.
For more than 45 years, B.A.S.S. has served as the authority on bass fishing. The organization advances the sport through advocacy, outreach and an expansive tournament structure while connecting directly with the passionate community of bass anglers through its Bassmaster media vehicles.

The Bassmaster brand and its multimedia platforms are guided by a mission to serve all fishing fans. Through its industry-leading publications — Bassmaster Magazine and B.A.S.S. Times — comprehensive website Bassmaster.com and ESPN2 and Outdoor Channel television programming, Bassmaster provides rich, leading-edge content true to the lifestyle.

The Bassmaster Tournament Trail includes the Bassmaster Elite Series, Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open Series, Carhartt Bassmaster College Series, Bassmaster Wild Card, B.A.S.S. Nation events and the ultimate celebration of competitive fishing, the Bassmaster Classic.

B.A.S.S. offers an array of services to its more than 500,000 members and remains focused on issues related to conservation and water access. The organization is headquartered in Birmingham, Ala.

Cherry Pumps Newman Derby

(Editor’s note: Bassmaster Elite Series angler Hank Cherry wrote the following piece about the Ryan Newman Foundation tournament that’ll be held on his home lake in December.) As posted on BassFan.com

The term “Dog Days” usually refers to the hottest time of the summer, typically the months of July and August. In Mooresville, N.C., on Lake Norman, you’ll also find the Dog Days in December. In this case I’m not talking about the weather, so you better bring a jacket.

I’m referring to the bass tournament held by the Ryan Newman Foundation each year. The Foundation educates people about spaying/neutering their pets and encourages the adoption of pets from shelters. The event is attended by bass fishing professionals and race car drivers alike.

NASCAR driver Ryan Newman is as passionate about the outdoors and pets as I am and I look forward to representing my sponsors at this event and supporting Ryan’s mission.

Lake Norman is my home lake and several big tournaments are held here each year. Although it’s not known for really big bass, there are some 7- and 8 -pounders in here, but fish in the 5-pound range are much more common. There are more than 500 miles of shoreline and it is heavily populated, so there are lots of docks and riprap to fish.

With fall quickly approaching, the water temperature is dropping and the fishing should be good. If the water gets down to about 55 degrees in December, the fishing will be really good. I expect most anglers will be targeting largemouth and spotted bass in 5 feet or less. I’ll have a Death Shimmer spinnerbait and an E.R. Lures flipping jig tied on, for sure. I also expect the umbrella rig to be a factor this time of year. It is one bait that can really help fill out a limit when the fishing is a little slow.

For me, dock fishing is what I’m looking forward to at this tournament. I’ll search the lake trying to figure out how far back in the pockets the fish are holding and then I’ll run a pattern fishing all the docks in those areas around the lake. Finding docks that have added man-made structure like brush piles really increases my odds of catching quality tournament fish. There are so many fish in the lake and so many docks to fish that I don’t think there’s a bad one.

I would really like to encourage people to come out and support this event on Dec.14. Not only will you get to spend some quality time fishing with family and friends, but you will be supporting a great organization. To register for this tournament, click here. If you would like to learn more about the Ryan Newman Foundation, click here. I hope to see you there.

If you’re not able to make it in December or if you’re up for a second challenge, please join me at the Jim Ledbetter Memorial Tournament, March 8, 2014. This will be the 28th annual event for anglers to get together and raise money for cancer research.

Q & A With Elite Series ROY Hank Cherry

Before last October’s win at the Bassmaster Open on Smith Lake, Hank Cherry was probably not a name that most bassaholics recognized. Prior to that victory, he’d had a workmanlike career in fishing; including a couple of decent years on the FLW Tour (07 & 08) and a handful of BFL wins around his native North Carolina. A much better resume than 95% of tournament bass fishermen for sure, but nothing that separated him from the large pack of competent, yet not quite there touring pros. Continue reading “Q & A With Elite Series ROY Hank Cherry”

Evan Williams Continued Support of BassMaster and Announces Sponsorship of 2 Anglers

BARDSTOWN, KY. – Evan Williams Bourbon, the second largest selling Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey both in the US and globally, and one of the top non-endemic sponsors of the Bassmaster Elite Series, announces that top anglers John Crews and Hank Cherry have joined Team Evan Williams for the 2013-2014 season.

Evan Williams, which has consistently seen the greatest year-on-year growth of any mid-tier high volume Bourbon brand, began its involvement with professional bass fishing in 2003 through a sponsorship agreement with BASS, and the next year began sponsoring its first Bassmaster Elite Series pro.  Evan Williams has steadily increased their stake in Bassmaster, which includes the  Elite Series, Opens and BASS Nation, and is now the title sponsor of two Elite Series events: The Evan Williams Bourbon Showdown on the St. Lawrence River in upstate New York and the Evan Williams Bourbon All-Star Championship in Muskegon, Michigan.

Joining Team Evan Williams will be John Crews, who throughout 13 years as a professional has fished several tournament trails, most notably the Bassmaster Elite Series. Currently ranked among the top 20 anglers in the world, John is a seven- time Bassmaster Classic qualifier and and has placed 3rd in two Elite Series events so far this year.  He has 17 top ten Elite Series finishes, and hails from Salem, VA.

Also coming on board Team Evan Williams for the upcoming season will be North Carolina native Hank Cherry, who is new to the Bassmaster Elite Series, but is having a breakout rookie season in 2013. After winning the Southern Open on Lewis Smith Lake, AL in 2012, Hank qualified for the coveted Bassmaster Classic on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees in Tulsa, OK where he placed 3rd. He is also currently ranked among the top 25 anglers in the world and  has three top ten Elite Series finishes.

The brand will also have a presence at all the other events on the Bassmaster Elite Series and at the consumer exposition shows that accompany all of the fishing tournaments, including next year’s Bassmaster Classic in Birmingham, AL in February.

“Evan Williams has for a number of years made a significant investment in Bassmaster,” stated Susan Wahl, Senior Brand Manager at Heaven Hill.  “The consumer demographics are very positive towards Bourbon and it engenders real brand loyalty, especially for a non-endemic sponsor such as us.  We are pleased to be adding John Crews and Hank Cherry as members of Team Evan Williams and anticipate them appearing often on the weigh-in stage in their Evan Williams logoed uniforms.”

About Evan Williams Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Named after Kentucky’s First Commercial Distiller of 1783, Evan Williams Bourbon—at an average national retail price of $13.99 for the 750ml size—is a two time “Best Buy Whiskey of the Year” from Whisky Advocate Magazine and a Gold Medalist at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.  It is produced according to a traditional 200 year old recipe by Heaven Hill’s father and son Master Distillers Parker and Craig Beam.  Bottled at 86 proof (43% alcohol by volume), Evan Williams is available in 1.75 liter, 1.0 liter, 750ml, 375ml, 200ml, 100ml and 50ml bottle sizes.

To further the brand’s consumer awareness and take advantage of the huge increase in Bourbon tourism and interest in the Kentucky Bourbon Trail®, Heaven Hill is opening the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience this Fall. Featuring an immersive visitor experience that takes guests back to Evan Williams’ distillery on the banks of the Ohio, which was established over 200 years ago just across Louisville’s Main Street from where the facility will be located, the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience will include an artisanal distillery and guided tours and tastings.

About Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc.
Founded in 1934, Bardstown, KY-based Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc. (www.heavenhill.com) is the nation’s largest independent, family-owned and operated spirits producer and marketer and the world’s second-largest holder of Kentucky Bourbon. Heaven Hill’s diversified portfolio of brands includes Evan Williams Bourbon; Burnett’s Vodkas and Gin; HPNOTIQ and HPNOTIQ Harmonie Liqueurs; Admiral Nelson’s and Blackheart Rums; The Christian Brothers Brandies; PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur; Lunazul Tequila and Rittenhouse Rye Whisky.  Heaven Hill reminds you to “Think Wisely.  Drink Wisely.”