Maiden’s Hank Cherry won the Sept. 27-29 BASS Evan Williams Bourbon Championship on Michigan’s Muskegon Lake, with a 5-fish catch of smallmouth bass weighing 17-8 to beat out Michigan bass whiz Kevin VanDam, who had 14-14.

Cherry banked $51,000 and a $1,000 bonus from Power Pole; VanDam received $12,000.

The tournament was part of the BASS Elite Series’ All-Star Week. The top 14 in points on the circuit fished for two days, and the top four after two days had their totals zeroed and fished the final day. Cherry led the field with 30-5 at the cut. VanDam tied Edwin Evers of Oklahoma with 26-6, and Mississippi’s Cliff Pace was third with 26-5.

On the final day, Pace took third with 11-6, winning $11,500 and the big-fish award of $1,000 with a 4-pound, 14-ounce smallmouth.

Evers finished fourth with 10-15 and collected $8,000.

Cherry’s overnight success story began in 2011 when he turned pro and fished BASS Open events. He earned a spot in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic and on the 2013 Elite Series with a win in an Open event on Smith Lake, Ala., and he promptly won BASS Rookie of the Year honors, finishing 14th in the points standings. The Muskegon win was his first BASS Elite win.

Like most overnight success stories, Cherry’s success was years in the making as he honed his skills in local tournaments and in FLW competition.

“It took a lot of hard work to get where I am,” said Cherry, who fished the now defunct J & J Spring and Winter Bass Trails on Lake Norman and FLW tournaments starting in 2001.

Cherry said his fishing days at Norman paid off big dividends.

“Norman’s not an easy lake to fish,” said Cherry.  “If you can catch fish there, you can catch fish almost anywhere.”

Cherry said fishing against the BASS. pros “is a whole different ballgame” from fishing against local competition and credits his years fishing the FLW circuit for helping him get over his jitters while competing against seasoned fishermen.

Cherry has fished 74 FLW events since 2001, winning four tournaments and placing in the top 10 16 times.

His “rookie” year in B.A.S.S. was akin to a ballplayer who spends 10 long years in the minor leagues, yet becomes a designated rookie when he arrives in the big leagues.

Cherry believes his long road to overnight success will prevent him from experiencing any sophomore slump.

“In one way, I didn’t expect to be where I am,” said Cherry, “but in another way, I knew I had put in the time to be a successful fishing pro.”