By Todd Ceisner
Hank Cherry will be the first admit he has a stubborn streak in him.
If he had his druthers, he’d throw a jerkbait every time out in a tournament. He knows it’s not always the best tactic and he knows he’s forced the issue on occasion, but he’s gotten to the point where a little cajoling from a fellow Elite Series pro has him utilizing other options when the situation calls for it.
It serves as an example of how Cherry has evolved over his three-plus years as an Elite Series competitor. The former Rookie of the Year endured two up-and-down seasons and is now among the Angler of the Year contenders at the halfway point of the 2016 season.
Cherry credits Jacob Powroznik for getting him to be more willing to look at different options when the twitch-twitch-pause cadence isn’t producing.
“He’s one of my best friends and he’s constantly ragging on me to put down the jerkbait,” Cherry said. “I owe him a lot for staying on me and making me pick up other stuff like a shakey head in different situations.
“It’s a brotherly thing – he doesn’t want bad for me and I don’t wish bad on him. He’s just very blunt and that can rub people the wrong way, but he’s always told me ‘You’re too good to come in with two or three fish.’ He’s taught me to not have that one-track mind anymore. I know there are all different ways to get there. The point is to get there.”
One example of how Cherry’s change-on-the-fly approach has benefited him was at the recent Toledo Bend tournament, where he placed 6th, his best result since West Point Lake in his rookie year.
“I went in thinking a ChatterBait would work and that’s how I caught them in practice in the wind,” he said. “When the tournament started, things changed. I knew the fish didn’t leave. I just went from the ChatterBait to a jig and flipped trees.”
‘No Bad Days’
Cherry’s in the midst of his fourth season on the Elite Series – he previously competed on the FLW Tour in 2007-08 – and he’s enjoying a hot streak reminiscent of his 2013 Rookie of the Year run when he finished 14th in Angler of the Year points. With four Top-31 finishes in the first five tournaments, including a 6th-place effort at Toledo Bend last month, he finds himself near the top of the AOY standings.
“I’m just having a good year and trying to stay comfortable with everything I’m doing,” he said. “I’m trying to not stretch myself out too far. It all goes back to the theory of not having any bad days.”
That’s easier said than done, especially against the stiff competition that inhabits the Elite Series, but Cherry has been able to put an end to the one-good-day-one-bad-day pattern that plagued him during the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
“The last two years, I haven’t been terrible, but I was just below the middle of the pack,” he said. “With the field we have now, guys are getting better every year. I’d have a terrible first day and a decent second day or a decent first day, then a terrible second day. You have to stay consistent and have no bad days, especially during the first part of the season. If you have one or two blowouts you'll find yourself behind the 8-ball.”
Cherry is currently 4th in the AOY race with four full-field tournaments to go. He’s just 45 points behind leader Greg Hackney, who’s trying to secure his second AOY title in the last three seasons. If Cherry has any say in the matter, Hackney will have a tussle on his hands.
“People see it and call me to talk about it, but I can’t really think about it,” he said. “It’s on everybody’s mind. I know I’m in 4th, but the reality is we’re just over halfway. If I’ve done anything, barring a monster blowup the rest of the way, I’ve made the (2017) Classic and that’s a good thing.
“To catch Greg is going to be hard because looking at the rest of the places we have to go, they will all fish to his strength, so there’s no pressure on me. After the last two years I’ve had I’m happy. I’m going to fish where we’re at and let the points lie where they lie. I’m sure I might change my mind if we get to the AOY championship and I’m 10 points back.”
Down the Stretch
Cherry has been monitoring rainfall and water levels at Lake Texoma, site of next week’s BASSFest tournament. He and Koby Kreiger scouted the lake for 4 days before it went off limits. It was time well spent as it gave him an appreciation for how big the lake is and a general idea of where to start when practice gets rolling Sunday.
“I went there when it was 7 to 9 feet high,” he said. “It’ll probably be close to 6 feet high (next week) because they’re supposed to get a bunch more rain. It’s going to be really stained, but I’m looking forward to it. I’m glad I took the time. You don’t realize how big it is until you get there. Then you add all that extra water and it makes it bigger.”
While some anglers might still expect an offshore pattern to dominate, the high water has Cherry thinking differently.
“People might be thinking it’s going to be off the bank, but I think it should be up close and tight to the bank with 25-pound fluorocarbon and braided line and let’s get after it.”
As for the remainder of the schedule, he has competed at all of the venues except for the Niagara River, where the top 8 finishers from Cayuga Lake will compete in a bracket-style event, and Mille Lacs, which will host the AOY Championship. He’s anxious to get another shot at Cayuga and the Mississippi River.
“I owe the Mississippi River one,” he said. “That was the one that cost me a better points finish in 2013. I had to leave for the tournament the day my daughter was born. At Cayuga, I need redemption (after 2014). I had my head set that I would catch them one way and it didn’t work.
“I’m not going to hope for the best, I’m going to get the best. Typically, when I bomb at a place, I go back and have an exceptional jump. That’s the way it’s always been with me.”