A tip of the hat to Lincolnton, N.C. bass pro, Hank Cherry.
Cherry won the 2021 Bassmaster Classic held June 11-13 on Lake Ray Roberts near Denton. He weighed in 50 pounds, 15 ounces of bass over three days, topping runner-up Matt Arey of Shelby, N.C. by a margin of nearly two pounds.
Cherry’s ‘Classic victory is his second in two seasons. The win lands the 47-year-old pro in some tall company. Only three other anglers have won back-to-back Bassmaster Classic titles in the tournament’s 51-year history. Rick Clunn did it in 1976-77; Kevin VanDam, 2010-11 and Jordon Lee, 2017-18. Cherry went wire-to-wire to win the 2020 ‘Classic on Lake Gunterville in Alabama.
Originally projected to be an offshore event that would likely be won probing deep water or using forward-facing sonar in standing timber, the tournament quickly turned into a shallow water slop-fest as the result of significant rainfall that caused water levels to rise more than 3 1/2 feet above normal just before the event got underway.
Swim jigs, creature baits, bladed jigs and frogs were the dominant baits competitors tossed around jungles of willows and other newly flooded cover close to the bank.
The high water situation worked out exceptionally well for Cherry, who relied on Texas rig plastics, bladed jigs and jerk baits to win the world championship trophy and the $300,000 check that came with it. The big pay day bumped Cherry’s career earnings to more than $1.35 million.
Texas was well represented at the ‘Classic with five anglers in the field. Cody Bird of Granbury finished 19th and earned $14,000. Frank Talley of Temple, 22nd; Clark Wendlandt of Leander, 23rd; Chris Zaldain of Fort Worth, 38th; Brad Whatley of Bivins, 44th.
Bird, who spent nearly a month on lake before the April 4 cutoff graphing offshore structure in anticipation of a strong deep water bite, says the rising water threw many anglers an unexpected curveball.
“When the lake got high the fish didn’t have any reason to leave the shallows,” Bird said. “It worked out really well for the out-of-state guys, because they knew exactly what to do when they got there. It would have been a totally different game if the water level hadn’t changed so much.”
Near Record Crowds
The Bassmaster Classic is a fan-favorite fishing event that always lures a crowd. Not surprisingly, near-record numbers of spectators turned out for the 51st annual event hosted by the Fort Worth Sports Commission and Visit Fort Worth.
According to BASS reports, 147,197 fans attended activities including a Thursday evening kickoff party, daily takeoffs, weigh-ins, expo and other events associated with the three-day derby. It’s the second highest ‘Classic attendance mark ever. The all-time high attendance record was set in Knoxville, Tenn., where 153,809 fans gathered for activities at that 2019 ‘Classic held on the Tennessee River.
“It was our absolute honor and privilege to welcome nearly 150,000 visitors from around the country to Fort Worth for one of the most epic Bassmaster Classics ever,” said Jason Sands, Director of the Fort Worth Sports Commission.
BASS added the event also reeled in millions of followers via television and the Internet. According BASS reports, FOX Sports inaugural airing of the Bassmaster Classic drew more than 1.6 million viewers and ranked as the most-watched Bassmaster telecast in over a decade.
Additionally, fans viewed 18 million pages on bassmaster.com Classic week and checked BassTrakk more than 2.4 million times for real-time updates. The website was visited more than 1.7 million times by fans from 170 countries, including Australia, Brazil, Finland, Italy, Japan, South Africa, Switzerland and Zimbabwe.