Any angler worth his salt can head out onto his home lake and catch a handful of bass in a day of fishing.
What sets the pros apart — and makes their job so difficult — is that they don’t get to fish their home lakes very often.
Instead, they’re hopping from state to state, hitting new waters every weekend, and they’re doing it without the benefit of any insider knowledge.
On Thursday, the 14 Bassmaster Elite Pro Tour anglers headed out onto White Lake in Montague, which will be the site of Sunday’s final day of the $100,000 Toyota All-Star Weekend.
After struggling mightily to catch fish on Muskegon Lake during Wednesday’s practice session, the anglers were eager to turn around their fortunes on White Lake.
I had the privilege of riding along with Hank Cherry of Maiden, N.C., on Thursday. Cherry earned a spot in the 14-man field by claiming Bassmasters Elite Series Rookie of the Year honors for his performance on the tour this past year.
We met at the White Lake boat launch Thursday morning, a day after I signed my life away on a half-dozen consent forms swearing that I wouldn’t divulge any information to Cherry about the lake (which is fine, because I’d never fished there before). I also promised not to give away his successful tactics.
So, while I can’t tell you what methods he used to catch the most fish, I can take those methods and put them to use next time I’m on the water.
Actually, the most interesting aspect of watching Cherry go about his seven-hour practice session was watching how he approached a lake he’d never fished before.
Some of the other pros slid into their custom-wrapped boats powered by behemoth 250-horsepower outboard motors and tore off across the lake.
Not Hank Cherry.
Instead, he patiently sorted out eight rods onto the deck of his blue and black Skeeter bass boat. When he was done, Cherry was armed with everything from his two favorite presentations — jerk baits and jigs — to topwater and deep divers.
He then began to methodically spray casts every which way as he stood at the stern of his boat, one foot perched on the trolling motor.
“I do things different than most of the other guys,” Cherry said in his pleasant southern drawl. “I like to stick with baits I’m comfortable with.”
Since Thursday was a practice session, Cherry wasn’t as concerned with putting fish in the boat so much as he was finding where the fish might be holding. If he got a few hits in a certain location, even if he didn’t connect, he marked the spot — noting that, should he make Sunday’s four-man final, he could return to that spot and fish it hard.
Cherry ran from one spot to the next, never staying in one place too long, and switching back and forth to different presentations every few minutes, just to see what might get bit in different spots on the lake.
He said that on his home waters in North Carolina, he loves to fish docks and boat lifts, especially lifts holding pontoon boats.
Now, I’ve been fishing since I was 3 years old, and I’m fairly capable when it comes to making precision casts. But watching Cherry fire a jig into tiny targets was like watching Tom Brady dissecting a defense on the football field.
Cherry could fling his jig up a 1-foot gap between a dock and a boat without thinking twice. He slings the jib between the small gap between a pontoon boat’s pontoon and its engine, sizzling it several feet up under the boat. He’s perfected a method of skipping his jig off the water a few feet from the boat and sending it careening inches off the water underneath a dock.
It looks like you’ve done that a few times, I commented.
“Only a few hundred thousand,” he said with a grin from behind his blue Coasta DelMar sunglasses.
Follow this weekend's action live at bassmaster.com/.