By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
Like all angers who pursue bass, Casey Ashley likes to catch big ones – the more, the better. But tournaments at which a high percentage of the field weighs 20-plus-pound sacks every day aren't his forté.
He excels in lower-weight, tougher-bite events, such as Lake Hartwell in his home state of South Carolina presented last week for the second FLW Tour stop of the 2014 campaign. His patience under less-than-ideal fishing conditions and his local knowledge combined to make him unstoppable.
He dominated the event from start to finish and prevailed by 14 1/2 pounds over runner-up and defending Angler of the Year Andy Morgan. He weighed the biggest sack in the field on 3 of the 4 days to claim his first FLW Tour triumph to go along with a pair of Bassmaster Elite Series victories.
Here's how he did it.
Ashley kept an open mind as the derby approached and explored a lot of options when practice got under way on the Sunday prior to day 1.
"I looked at everything I knew on the lake and found fish from one end to the other," he said. "I knew there was going to be a shallow bite, but every time I'd go up there, the fish I'd catch weren't near the size of the ones out deep.
"And every time you'd be fishing a creek, (another competitor) would come in, or you'd move to another creek and somebody would already be there. It was like playing hopscotch, and I knew it would be that way in the tournament, too.
"I hate fishing that way," he continued. "I wanted my bait to be the first one those fish had seen that day."
The potential for crowding caused him to opt for the offshore action as his primary approach, but there was a big issue there, too – the weather. A major storm front moved in the day prior to the start of the tournament, bringing chilly temperatures and howling winds that would push or exceed 20 mph on each of the first 2 days of competition.
The wind was an element he was willing to battle, however, in order to have his fish to himself. He also knew the deep-dwelling population, which he could entice with a jig or a shaky-head, would likely replenish whereas the shallow fish, given the conditions, probably would not.
Nonetheless, he kept the shallow alternative open.
> Day 1: 5, 21-07
> Day 2: 5, 15-13
> Day 3: 5, 15-07
> Day 4: 5, 15-10
> Total = 20, 68-05
Ashley was confident that an average of 15 pounds a day would be enough to win, and that assumption proved correct. He figured he could get there by catching a 12- to 13-pound bag of spots each morning and then upgrading with one or more largemouths.
He hammered the largemouths on day 1, and that resulted in his tournament-best 21 1/2-pound stringer.
The deep structure he focused on consisted of docks and brush in 35 to 40 feet of water. That's where the hefty spotted bass were located, and he caught a limit fairly quickly on day 1.
He then went on a hunt for largemouths in mid-depth areas (15 feet and shallower) and ended up culling everything in his box.
"With those (cloudy and windy) conditions in clear water, the largemouths that are already up will bite," he said.
Day 2 wasn't quite as cold or windy, but rain fell for most of the day. Weights throughout the field fell off dramatically and Ashley's did as well, but he still added about a quarter-pound to his lead.
The weather cleared up on day 3, but the Top-20 contingent was faced with a post-frontal situation under which the fish were highly uncooperative. Nobody came within a pound and a half of his 15-07 haul and he extended his lead to a massive 9 1/2 pounds.
His final-day bag was 2 1/2-pounds superior to anyone else's as he closed out the win with ease.
> Ashley estimated that he visited about 15 different places each day, often with a lot of water between them. He had about half a dozen must-hit locations, but he didn't make repeat visits to the others. "The biggest part was my initial run from way up the Seneca River all the way to the dam," he said. "A lot of times I'd pull into a place way back in a creek and fish one dock or one brush pile, then turn around and leave and go to another creek. Every day after I got a limit I'd start checking different stuff to see if a big largemouth had pulled up or to try to find something extra for the next day."
> He spent some time early on the first two mornings pursuing schooling fish. That produced nothing the first day, but he caught a 4-pound largemouth on a swimbait on day 2.
Ashley used the high-speed version of the Quantum EXO PT casting reel on his jig setup.
> Jig gear: 7'6" heavy-action Quantum EXO PT rod, Quantum EXO PT casting reel (7.3:1 ratio), 20-pound Hi-Seas fluorocarbon line, 1/2-ounce Shooter Lures jig (green-pumpkin), Zoom Super Chunk Jr. trailer (green-pumpkin).
> Shaky-head gear: 7' medium-action Quantum Smoke PTspinning rod, Quantum Smoke spinning reel, 20-pound Hi-Seas braided line with 10-pound fluorocarbon leader, 1/8- or 3/8-ounce Mountain Man Lures jighead, Zoom Finesse Worm (gourd green for low-light conditions and watermelon candy under sunny skies).
The Bottom Line
> Main factor in his success – "As much as I want to point to something else, it boils down to local knowledge. I knew the areas that hold good fish and under the tough conditions, I knew where I needed to spend my time. A lot of the brush I was fishing, there was no way anybody was going to find it. A lot of it was natural stuff, not the stuff that people put out."
> Performance edge – "I was burning 35 gallons of gas a day, but I never had to worry about a rough ride. You have to get there and get back before you can catch them and weigh them in, so I'd have to give it to my Triton/Mercury."
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