By BassFan Staff
The fishing was not easy at Lake Hartwell over the past week, but Casey Ashley sure made it look that way.
The South Carolina native son closed out a dominant victory today on a venue that sits just 40 miles from his home as he caught a 15-10 bag to win by 14 1/2 pounds. He entered the final day with a 9 1/2-pound advantage and his goal was to box 10 pounds, but just 1 1/4 would've been sufficient to give the two-time Bassmaster Elite Series winner his first FLW Tour triumph.
Andy Morgan, the top-ranked angler in the world, finished a distant 2nd with 53-13 after a 12-04 stringer today. Clent Davis managed just four fish for 7 1/2 pounds today and ended up 3rd with 50-09.
Californian Cody Meyer saw his 4-year streak of weighing a limit on each competition day come to an end as his 9-14 sack was one fish short of the maximum. It didn't cost him any ground in the standings, though, as he held onto the No. 4 slot with 49-14.
Florida's John Cox caught a stout 13-06 today to complete the Top 5 with a 48-14 total.
Here are the final numbers for the Top 10:
1. Casey Ashley: 68-05
2. Andy Morgan: 53-13
3. Clent Davis: 50-09
4. Cody Meyer: 49-14
5. John Cox: 48-14
6. Brett Hite: 46-14
7. Anthony Gagliardi: 43-15
8. Dan Morehead: 43-14
9. Ryan Davidson: 41-04
10. Charlie Ingram: 40-02
The sun shone on the Seneca, S.C. area for the second straight day, but the appetite of the fish hadn't fully recovered from the frigidity leading into the weekend as only half the field weighed a limit. Ashley's winning weight was within a few pounds of the top totals from the Tour's previous two visits to Hartwell in 2011 and 2012, but nobody else was in the ballpark.
Hite, the winner of the season opener at Lake Okeechobee who gained four places today with a 13-02 bag, leads the Angler of the Year (AOY) race with the season one-third complete. He has a 2-point edge over Meyer and an 8-point advantage over defending points champion Morgan as all three have finished among the Top 10 in both events.
The derby was the start of a 6-week run of consecutive tournaments for the 14 pros (including Ashley and Hite) fishing both major circuits this year. FLW Tour competition resumes March 27-30 at Sam Rayburn Reservoir in Texas following Elite Series tournaments at Lake Seminole and the St. Johns River.
Ashley Breezed Home
> Day 4: 5, 15-10 (20, 68-05)
Ashley's Elite Series victories came at Lake Murray (also in South Carolina and the site of this year's Forrest Wood Cup) in 2011 and at Virginia's Smith Mountain Lake during his rookie Elite Series campaign in 2007. He said this one was a lot less nerve-wracking than those two were.
"This is pretty sweet," he said. "Those other ones I had to scratch and beat around on the last day and do whatever I could just to get a bite.
"Today, having almost a 10-pound lead, it was a lot more relaxing. It's a lot easier to fish that way."
He said the most stressful part of the weigh-in was singing the national anthem prior to the start of the proceedings. By that time, he knew the victory was sewn up and he didn't want to butcher the song like many celebrities have at major sporting events (it came off without a hitch).
"I'd already talked to (his fellow competitors) in the back and I knew what the deal was. I was pretty sure about everybody except Andy Morgan. He said he had a limit with one good one and I wasn't sure if I should believe him or not."
He caught his first keeper about a half-hour into the day and had a limit before 10 o'clock. He boated his biggest fish, a 5-pounder, at about 12:30.
"I knew it was over then," he said. "This is a good way to start that long stretch of tournaments. Hopefully I can keep it rolling."
Full details of his winning pattern, as well as those of the other top finishers, will be published soon.
Andy Morgan's final-day bag was headed up by a 5 1/4-pound largemouth.
2nd: Morgan Best of the Rest
> Day 4: 5, 12-04
In light of Ashley's dominance, Morgan was pleased to beat the other 174 other entrants.
"Casey had kind of a big of a leg up on us," he said. "When you've got a guy with that much local knowledge who's also a dang good fisherman, he's hard to beat. This one was right in his wheelhouse – he knew exactly what was going on with those fish.
"My hat's off to him. I like to see guys win when they're supposed to win."
He didn't get a bite in the early morning today, then caught four run-of-the-mill spotted bass in quick succession at about 10 o'clock.
"That at least gave me something to weigh in," he said. "I was trying to ride the time out until the sun got high enough that I could catch some largemouths up shallow."
He eventually boated three of those, including a 5 1/4-pounder.
"Except for that one, I just didn't get the bites today. Even though the time change (to daylight savings time) was just 1 hour, that makes a big difference big difference in the springtime when you're fishing a warm-up (period).
"I think we'd have all caught them better if we'd had that extra hour of daylight."
3rd: High-Water Mark for Davis
> Day 4: 4, 7-08 (19, 50-09)
Third-year pro Davis' finish was easily his best at the tour level, as his previous standard was 10th (achieved at Table Rock Lake in 2012). It was particularly gratifying considering that he'd bombed in the three previous Tour events dating back to last June.
"It feels awesome," he said. "No matter what happened today, I was happy to get some momentum back because I'd fallen in a hole going back to last year. When you're going bad, it can be hard to get it turned around."
Just as he did on day 2, he broke off two fish on dock cables today, which caused him to return to the launch with a short sack.
"I saw a bunch of big ones under docks today, but they would not eat. I'd cast all around them and then leave and come back later, but they weren't feeding at all.
"It was frustrating not being able to get them to bite. I tried all kinds of stuff, but it just wasn't going to happen. I did all I could."
4th: Meyer Covets a Win
> Day 4: 4, 9-14 (19, 49-14)
Meyer, now in his 5th year as a pro, has been a threat to win on many occasions and has yet to break through. That aside, he was pleased with yet another single-digit finish.
"I'm really, really happy," he said. "If you'd have told me a month ago that I'd have two Top-5s after the first two events, I would've laughed at you. This start has just been incredible.
"I absolutely want to win, though. Getting close so many times gives me the confidence that I can do it and I really want to get it done."
He'd have continued his long limit streak if he'd have boated any of the four fish he put a hook in during the final hour of the day.
"Everything good comes to an end," he said. "It had to happen sometime. If I hadn't had the fifth one on several times, it'd be no big deal at all."
His first bite didn't come until 1:05 and that was his biggest fish of the day – a 4-pound spotted bass.
"The deep fish I'd been catching completely left. I finally figured out that some were moving underneath the deeper docks, suspending down a couple feet."
5th: Cox Bounced Back
> Day 4: 5, 13-06 (16, 49-14)
Cox rebounded from a one-fish day 3 to catch a strong sack that moved him up one place in the standings.
"I was kind of disappointed with yesterday, but by the end of today I felt a lot better," he said.
He only had one in his livewell when 1 o'clock rolled around, but he caught fire over the last 2 hours of the day.
"At the last point I hit I kept seeing fish, but I think they were swimming so fast to the back of the pocket that they weren't stopping or looking at anything."
Once he moved to the back himself, he caught a 5 1/2-pounder on his third cast.
"Then I hammered them for 30 minutes."
> Day 4 stats – 10 anglers, 5 limits, 3 fours, 1 three, 1 one.
Day 4 (Final) Standings
1. Casey Ashley -- Donalds, SC -- 21-07 (5) -- 15-13 (5) -- 37-04 (10) -- 15-07 (5) -- 15-10 (5) -- 68-05 (20) -- $100,000
2. Andy Morgan -- Dayton, Tn -- 14-15 (5) -- 14-13 (5) -- 29-12 (10) -- 11-13 (5) -- 12-04 (5) -- 53-13 (20) -- $30,000
3. Clent Davis -- Montevallo, Al -- 16-14 (5) -- 17-00 (5) -- 33-14 (10) -- 9-03 (5) -- 7-08 (4) -- 50-09 (19) -- $25,000
4. Cody Meyer -- Auburn, Ca -- 16-04 (5) -- 10-14 (5) -- 27-02 (10) -- 12-14 (5) -- 9-14 (4) -- 49-14 (19) -- $20,000
5. John Cox -- Debary, Fl -- 18-13 (5) -- 15-11 (5) -- 34-08 (10) -- 1-00 (1) -- 13-06 (5) -- 48-14 (16) -- $19,000
6. Brett Hite -- Phoenix, Az -- 13-07 (5) -- 13-11 (5) -- 27-02 (10) -- 6-10 (3) -- 13-02 (5) -- 46-14 (18) -- $18,000
7. Anthony Gagliardi -- Prosperity, SC -- 12-03 (5) -- 14-07 (5) -- 26-10 (10) -- 7-08 (3) -- 9-13 (5) -- 43-15 (18) -- $17,000
8. Dan Morehead -- Paducah, Ky -- 12-11 (5) -- 14-09 (5) -- 27-04 (10) -- 7-00 (3) -- 9-10 (3) -- 43-14 (16) -- $16,000
9. Ryan Davidson -- Huntington, WV -- 8-15 (5) -- 19-09 (5) -- 28-08 (10) -- 10-01 (5) -- 2-11 (1) -- 41-04 (16) -- $15,000
10. Charlie Ingram -- Centerville, Tn -- 11-12 (5) -- 16-06 (5) -- 28-02 (10) -- 6-15 (2) -- 5-01 (4) -- 40-02 (16) -- $14,000