North Carolina pro wins 50th Bassmaster Classic; Louisiana pros each have one big day, finish back in pack.
For Hank Cherry, there was nothing “finuh” than being from Carolina, holding perhaps the most-coveted trophy of all in Birmingham, Alabama, and standing atop of the bass fishing world March 8.
Cherry, 46, from Lincolnton, N.C., who has fished the Bassmaster Elite Series for eight years, basked in the limelight on the weigh-in stage at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center. He composed himself after the initial shock of the triumph to talk about how it all happened, how he ran away with the 50th annual Bassmaster Classic.
Cherry told the crowd a story about the underlying key to sealing the deal on the final day of the three-day event with a five-bass limit weighing 19 pounds, 8 ounces, for an unbeatable three-day total of 65-5, good enough for a paycheck of more than $300,000. He followed advice from a fellow bass pro and friend before heading out to Lake Guntersville that morning.
“I talked to Paul Mueller in the boat yard, and he told me the devil was going to try to get in my head today,” Cherry said. “He said just tell the devil to get out of your boat. He said tell him you don’t have time for him.
“That’s what I did. I caught my first fish, and then I lost a big one. I could hear those voices in my head, but I didn’t listen to them. I just went out and caught four more.”
He also wind-milled his right arm between casts on the day of reckoning as therapy for a shoulder injury suffered when he fell in the boat while reaching to grab a fish on the first day of competition, when he bagged more than 29 pounds.
2 Louisiana pros miss out
Louisiana’s two Bassmaster Classic qualifiers, meanwhile, both had one good day on the water but watched the final day from shore with 28 anglers in the field of 53 who missed the Top 25 cut after two days.
Bass pro Darold Gleason of Many, who also guides on Toledo Bend Reservoir, summed it up the day before the tournament when he said, “It’s kind of exciting; a couple of Louisiana boys trying to take home the trophy.”
Caleb Sumrall of New Iberia, Gleason’s friend and fellow Toledo Bend guide, finished 26th, missing the cutoff by 3 ounces with his 25 pounds, 10 ounces, worth $10,000. Gleason finished 35th with 21 pounds, 3 ounces, and also went home with $10,000.
While Cherry was exorcising the devil and getting the right bite to finish first, another Carolina pro, Todd Auten of Lake Wylie, S.C., emerged as the closest challenger. Auten finished second with a three-day total of 58 pounds, 10 ounces, and collected $50,000, plus $2,500 for scoring the Berkley Big Bass of the Classic, a 7-pound, 9-ounce “hawg” he hooked and boated on a windy first day.
Stetson Blaylock of Benton, Ark., was third with 58 pounds, 1 ounce, to win $40,000.
Cherry, fishing his fifth Bassmaster Classic, stayed close to the boat launch and concentrated on a causeway near a bridge and grass flat.
“I never put gas in the boat all week. Y’all know me. If it’s windy, I’m not going to be making a lot of long runs. And, anyway, I just didn’t need to,” Cherry said.
His 29-pound, 3-ounce, stringer the first day, most on a Z-Man Jack Hammer Chatterbait, opened some eyes and backed up Lake Guntersville’s tremendous reputation. Cherry had 16 pounds, 10 ounces, the second day and more than 19 pounds the final day.
Sumrall, 32, fishing his second-ever Bassmaster Classic, made short runs and long runs on Friday and came back two bass short of the 5-bass limit. He got two of them far upriver from the same spot — a shallow area with lots of vegetation, much like he fishes in the heart of Cajun Country — and one of them was a 4-pound class bass to give him 9 pounds, 9 ounces.
Rather than start near the boat launch on the second day, Sumrall ran far upriver and caught 16 pounds, 1 ounce. The switch nearly got him into the Top 25 to fish the final day.
Sumrall confident all week
Sumrall never lost confidence on the second day. His long, deft casts found their mark in mostly 5- to 7-foot depths before he probed the shallows in 3 feet and less.
Sumrall began the first day with 12 rods on the front deck of his boat, all loaded with moving baits. Nearly two hours after the start, he boated a 2-pounder on a Spro Wameku lipless crankbait in a grassy area at his third stop of opening day.
He covered that stretch thoroughly before deciding to go upriver to another shallow, grassy area. A few casts later, he slammed the hook home on a 2¾-pound bass, fought it quickly and flipped it in the boat.
“Yeah, I just need a couple more fish to show up,” he said.
They never materialized. He traveled farther upriver, turned into a creek and entered into a sprawling lake, where he kept a punching jig in his hand most of the time. He left 45 minutes later, saying, “This was a big ol’ waste of time. That was my best area of practice.”
Sumrall rallied on the second day. Gleason didn’t get the right bites that day.
A Northwestern State University graduate who taught elementary school seven years before turning to pro bass fishing, Gleason opened the tournament in fairly strong fashion, leaving the stage with 14 pounds, 4 ounces, to put himself in good position.
On the second day, he didn’t catch his first keeper, a 2-pound fish, until around 1 p.m. He said, “I ain’t going to zero. I still have a chance…. It’s one o’clock. I’ve still got a lot of time.”
Gleason had boated four non-keeper bass before his first keeper. Two hit in the first three minutes after turning off his outboard after takeoff. After his first keeper, he caught another fish that didn’t make the 15-inch minimum.
“Thanks for playing,” he said as he released the bass. “Maybe Caleb caught them today so one Louisiana boy will make the last day.”
Gleason gets 4-pounder
At 2:43 p.m., with slightly less than 40 minute before weigh-in, Gleason was rewarded for his persistence and perseverance with his second bass, a hefty one in the 4-pound range. It slammed the ½-ounce Rayburn gold Rat-L-Trap.
“We ain’t done yet. That fish nailed it,” he said.
The clock inevitably ran out on him. After announcing “last cast” before the 10- to 12-minute run to the boat ramp, he made as many casts as possible until 3:19 p.m., when he made his final “last cast.”
“My wife will be heartbroken. I’ll have to cheer her up. When you got one (spouse) like that who cares that much, you’re doing all right,” he said.
Then he got back to business.
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