2015 Classic In-Depth – Casey Ashley – Champion

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Casey Ashley Enters Bon Secours Arena on Day One of the 2015 Bassmaster Classic - photo by Dan O'Sullivan

Casey Ashley Enters Bon Secours Arena on Day One of the 2015 Bassmaster Classic – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

by Dan O’Sullivan

As the announcement of the 2015 Bassmaster Classic location was announced at Lake Hartwell, there was one particular angler whose desire to be in the field piqued. Despite committing to fish both pro tours in the 2014, Donalds, S.C. pro Casey Ashley knew that he had the chance to do something nobody had done; hold both the Forrest Wood Cup and Bassmaster Classic trophies aloft in the same season.

Casey Ashley's Best from Day One - photo by Dan O'Sullivan

Casey Ashley’s Best from Day One – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

With the Forrest Wood Cup being held on Lake Murray in the summer of 2014, and the Bassmaster Classic being set for Lake Hartwell in February 2015; Ashley decided to fish both tours. His 2014 year would prove to be quite astonishing. He would win an FLW Tour event; ironically, on Lake Hartwell – in March of 2014, and would finish fourth in the Forrest Wood Cup on Lake Murray.

While he would have loved to have won both trophies, he had the 2015 Bassmaster Classic on his mind the whole time. In actuality, when he finished 17th at the 2008, Bassmaster Classic, Ashley prepared himself for this moment.

While I believe that too much knowledge usually has a negative effect on an angler, and I typically stay away from choosing a home lake angler in national tournaments; I went the other directions with Ashley for this event. He has long shown the ability to focus on the current without letting the knowledge force him to make “history decisions.” I in fact actually chose Ashley as the winner because of his ability to separate history, and combine knowledge with the current conditions.

In his champion’s press conference in the moments after the confetti had fallen atop him and the trophy, Ashley said that exact thing. “I started preparing for this moment when the Classic would come back to Lake Hartwell,” said Ashley. “2008 is the one Bassmaster Classic performance I had wanted back to do over, and I wasn’t going to leave this event having the same feelings again.”

Casey Ashley Takes off on Day Two - photo by Dan O'Sullivan

Casey Ashley Takes off on Day Two – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

Here is how Ashley became the 2015 Bassmaster Classic Champion.

Pre-Practice
It would be easy to assume that Ashley spent countless hours and days on Lake Hartwell in preparation for the Classic. While he did start going in November, he spent a total of 15 to 20 days on the lake. He reported spending at least two days a week on Hartwell during the week because he resides thirty minutes from the lake. “I knew that I really wasn’t going to learn anything specific that I could use in the tournament,” he said. “My intent was to start dialing in the water level.”

By getting a baseline in November, and then staying up to date with the conditions on the Internet with public databases, he was able to know how the lake would respond with the conditions. “We had a fairly dry winter around here, and that meant a lot once we got to start practicing for the tournament,” he said. “Because this fishery varies so much based on the water level; every five foot change makes this a completely different fishery, and our water level didn’t change much at all since November.”

Casey Ashley's Two Best from Day Two - photo by Dan O'Sullivan

Casey Ashley’s Two Best from Day Two – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

He prepared himself all winter for fishing for a moderate limit early, then spending the rest of the day looking for two or three kickers deep to separate himself from the pack.

Official Practice
He started immediately looking for the afternoon bite. Being proficient with the deep jig, he spent his days looking for those “one fish spots,” that make all the difference in a tournament. “I expected to catch fish chasing the (blue back) herring early, then catch a couple difference makers on the jig,” he said. “So, I spent my practice working towards that bite.”

Find it, he did. He reported getting 30 bites on a jig deep on the first day of practice, 20 the second day and 10 to 15 on the third day. While he wasn’t getting bites on the two lures he planned for his early limits – a jigging spoon and self-named “Bladerunner” his father and he make for themselves; he wasn’t worried about it, because he wasn’t hitting some very prime areas.

Then, the “arctic blast” hit.

Casey Ashley's Super Six Entry on Day Three - photo by Dan O'Sullivan

Casey Ashley’s Super Six Entry on Day Three – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

In two days, the mild winter temperatures became unseasonably cold, and it changed up everything. He went out for his final practice day on Wednesday before the tournament and reported not learning anything new. “That day was a wash,” he said. “I could have learned as much staying in my warm hotel room as I did freezing on the lake.”

But, he still had his knowledge, and experience on the waterway. His plan was to find active schools in pockets and either catch them on the Bladerunner or the vertical spoon, then spend the afternoon with his jig rod in his hand.

While he spent 10 total hours in the tournament with the jig, he did not catch a fish in the event that he weighed on the jig. His two lures ended up being the 3/8-ounce Do-it Pony mold head with a 4/0 Mustad hook, Sampo ball bearing swivel and a size 3.5 nickel willowleaf blade on the chin. He threaded a Zoom Super Fluke Jr. on the head; both components were pearl white in color. He threw that combination on a 7’ medium action Quantum Smoke Inshore Rod (because of the full sized guides to avoid icing) and a 6.3:1 Quantum Tour Magnesium reel filled with 10-pound-test Hi-Seas Fluorocarbon line.

Casey Ashley Provides a Glimpse of What's to Come on the Final Day - photo by Dan O'Sullivan

Casey Ashley Provides a Glimpse of What’s to Come on the Final Day – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

The other lure – that he caught two fish on he weighed in during the event – was a 3.8-inch Keitech Swing Impact Fat 3.8 swimbait in Pro Blue Red Pearl. He rigged it on a 5/16-ounce Bite Me jighead designed by Mark Zona. He tossed it on the same Quantum Smoke Inshore rod, matched with a 6.6:1 Quantum EXO reel spooled with 10-pound-test Hi-Seas Fluorcarbon line.

Day One
Ashley reported having no concern with the two hour safety delay because of the freezing conditions in Anderson, S.C. “I wasn’t concerned because I knew I had so much stuff that I could do,” he said. “I wasn’t going to let the delay get under my skin; it was the same for everyone.”

He went to his first stop, and reported catching them quickly. “I started catching them right out of the gate,” he said. “I had a 15-pound-limit in the boat by 10:15 that I caught on the Bladerunner. I felt pretty good about it, because I had planned on being able to catch 12 or 13 pounds on it early.”

He spent the rest of the day running deeper docks and deeper brushpiles with his football jig looking for kicker bites; he never got any. He returned to weigh-in with his 15-pound, 3-ounce limit that he caught first thing in the morning. His weight found him in sixth place after the first day, nearly six pounds behind leader Dean Rojas; who produced 21 pounds, 3 ounces.

Casey Ashley Reacts to his 20-pound, 3-ounce limit on Day Three - photo by Dan O'Sullivan

Casey Ashley Reacts to his 20-pound, 3-ounce limit on Day Three – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

Day Two
He started the second day feeling confident, because he knew that he still had a lot of different water he could run, but also because he knew the chances of the anglers who weighed twenty pounds were going to have a hard time duplicating. “That is not something that too many people have been able to string together for several days,” he said. “I felt like if I continued to do the things I was planning, it would work out.”

He began the day in his same starting location and found the fishing a little bit slower. “It took me a little longer, but I was able to get a limit and begin my search for a bigger bite,” he said. “I spent more time with the jig but didn’t get anything, so I started looking for other things to do to increase my weight.”

He ventured into the back of a pocket towards a dock, and started throwing the swimbait. He noticed that the water temperature was 43-degrees, and he got a bite, but missed connecting with the fish. “A school started schooling right after I swung and missed,” he said. “I threw back in there and caught a four and a half pounder, and that was my best for the day.”

Casey Ashley, Trip Weldon and Dave Mercer Show Off Ashley's Limit - photo by Dan O'Sullivan

Casey Ashley, Trip Weldon and Dave Mercer Show Off Ashley’s Limit – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

That fish gave him 14 pounds, 11 ounces for the day, bringing his two-day total to 29 pounds, 14 ounces, and sliding him up a spot to fifth place in the standings.

Day Three
Overnight, Ashley reported thinking about a country music song while lying in bed that made him rethink his strategy. The song “Why Lady Why?” by the band Alabama, is about a man who knows he needs to stop taking up with a woman, but has a hard time doing so. Ashley reported during his Champion’s Press Conference thinking about the song the night before, and realizing he was doing the same thing with the jig; so he planned on making a change.

“The cloudy, warming weather made me commit to the Bladerunner,” he said. “If I had been sitting at home that day with nothing else to do, I would have gotten up and gone to Lake Hartwell to do the same thing. Those dark, gloomy days are the best conditions for that bite.”

Casey Ashley Takes his Place on the Hot Seat - photo by Dan O'Sullivan

Casey Ashley Takes his Place on the Hot Seat – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

By 10:30, he had 18 pounds of fish in the boat. He then made a short move to a ditch near his primary area that he had been watching to make sure no other competitor had fished, and quickly caught a three pounder that helped him. Then, after running several more ditches, he came back to his starting spot at 2:00PM, and the screen on his Lowrance was dead. “I couldn’t see anything on the screen,” he said. “Then, at 35 feet, I started seeing some arches up high in the water column, and I knew what to do.”

He started swimming the Bladerunner and the swimbait the moment it hit the water, and he started catching them instantly – a four pounder was one of them, and his limit for the day was complete. He went to Bon Secours Arena to see how he fared.

He reported finally getting to a point of anxiety. “Once the fishing was over, and it was out of my hands, I started getting nervous,” he said. “I told Skeet Reese when he asked me how I did, that I was as nervous as a cat, and he laughed.”

Casey Ashley is Crowned the 2015 Bassmaster Classic Champion - photo by Dan O'Sullivan

Casey Ashley is Crowned the 2015 Bassmaster Classic Champion – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

He waited for his chance to weigh-in during the Super Six, and when he put his fish on the scales; the readout hit 20 pounds, 3 ounces – the second heaviest bag of the event. That brought his total to 50 pounds, 1-ounce, and after waiting for the final anglers to weigh-in while he sat in the hot seat; he was crowned the 2015 Bassmaster Classic Champion in front of his home crowd.

Competitive Edges
Ashley said that knowing the lake in a “non-tournament” way helped him in this tournament. “I’ve not fished a lot of tournament days on Hartwell,” he said. “I’ve fished here a lot, and I know the lake very well, but not having a lot of tournament days here helped me be able to keep focused on the conditions and adjusting to how the fish would react to those conditions; I think that was the biggest reason why I was able to win.”

Casey Ashley Takes his Parade Lap around Bon Secours Arena with his son Troy - photo by Dan O'Sullivan

Casey Ashley Takes his Parade Lap around Bon Secours Arena with his son Troy – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

Wrapping Up
Like many other champions, Ashley said that the pace of his life has increased dramatically since his win. “I didn’t know my phone could ring this much,” he said. “But, I took the time to call Kevin (VanDam) and ask his advice as to how to handle everything. He told me to ride it and to take all of it (the media requests); to do as much of it all as I possible could. I figure that he’s done more than just about everyone, and I think it’s great advice.

Casey Ashley at his 2015 Bassmaster Classic Champion's Press Conference - photo by Dan O'Sullivan - Advanced Angler

Casey Ashley at his 2015 Bassmaster Classic Champion’s Press Conference – photo by Dan O’Sullivan – Advanced Angler

“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” said Ashley. “But, I catch a glimpse of that trophy every once in a while sitting here at the house and I stop and think for a minute that I’ve accomplished something I’ve long dreamed about. I’ll try to get back to everyone as best as I can, and allow all of that to happen as it comes; it has been a great ride so far.”