By BassFan Staff
George W. Bush was still President of the United States when Casey Ashley began preparations to win the 2015 Bassmaster Classic. Back then he didn't know which year would bring him his second opportunity to compete in the sport's premier event on his home lake, but when it came, he'd be ready.
His long-awaited chance arrived over the weekend, and the 31-year-old with the mega-watt smile and silky-smooth voice made sure he seized it. He caught a 20-pound bag on the final day under drizzly conditions from chilly Lake Hartwell to move up 4 places in the standings and capture the title with a 3-day total of 50-01.
"My practice for this event actually started 7 years ago," he said Sunday evening. "I knew that at some time the Classic would be back on Hartwell and I really got started then."
He finished 17th in the 2008 Classic, which took place after his rookie year on the Elite Series. That was a respectable showing for a big-event first-timer, but he'd expected to fare better and his friends, neighbors and even fellow competitors had anticipated him being a much bigger factor in that derby.
"I was young back then and I didn't really know how to handle everything," he said.
He won an FLW Tour event on Hartwell a year ago as the prohibitive favorite, proving that he could overcome any perceived "hometown jinx." He was tabbed as the man to beat from the get-go in this Classic, and it turned out that nobody could beat him.
"Today was just a magical day," he said. "I could no wrong. Every bite, when I needed it, was the right bite. Hometown advantage or whatever it is, it was just my time."
Bobby Lane made it interesting, boxing 19-01 on day 3 to finish with a 46-15 aggregate. The Floridian's final deficit of a little over 3 pounds could be traced to the weather-delayed opening day, when he brought just four fish to the scale.
Takahiro Omori, the day-2 leader and 2004 Classic champion, ended up 3rd with 44-03 after catching 12-08 on the final day. Veteran Dean Rojas, who topped the standings after the first day with a tournament-best 21-02 stringer, ended up 4th with a 43-13 aggregate.
Jacob Powroznik completed the Top 5 with 43-01. His 18-15 haul Sunday bumped him up 14 places in the standings.
Here's a look at the totals for the final Top 12:
1. Casey Ashley: 50-01
2. Bobby Lane: 46-15
3. Takahiro Omori: 44-03
4. Dean Rojas: 43-13
5. Jacob Powroznik: 43-01
6. Mike Iaconelli: 42-06
7. Brett Hite: 41-11
8. Mike McClelland: 41-07
9. Justin Lucas: 40-02
10. Chris Lane: 38-11
11. Ott DeFoe: 38-07
12. Paul Mueller: 38-06
The Classic was the second straight championship event to take place in the Palmetto State and the second straight to be won by the hometown favorite. Ashley followed in the footsteps of Anthony Gagliardi, who topped the field in last summer's Forrest Wood Cup at Lake Murray. Ashley collected $300,000 for the win.
Ashley also defied pre-tournament scuttlebutt – and surprised himself – by winning off of just two locations. Hartwell is considered a "pattern lake" and the prevailing opinion was that the champion would need to bounce between at least a handful of lightly trafficked spots.
The tournament was unpredictable from the start, however, as record-setting cold weather invaded the region on the eve of day 1. The frigid conditions psychologically eliminated some of the field before the first boat left the launch on Friday and obliterated the strategies that had been formulated by many others during a practice period that took place under much warmer conditions.
All of that – and other factors – worked in Ashley's favor. He made it clear on the evening of day 2 that, based on the weather forecast, he knew precisely what he needed to do on day 3. Then he went out and did it.
Ashley became the third angler to win the Classic in his home state, following Alabamians Randy Howell (last year at Lake Guntersville) and Boyd Duckett (2007 at Lay Lake).
Ashley Win a Family Affair
A few weeks back, Ashley was hard at work prepping for the upcoming Elite Series season and especially the Classic. He was taking stock of his tackle, but also knew he had a Southern Open to fish at Lake Toho. Between that and other obligations that go with being the hometown favorite for the Classic, he was running short on time to get everything together that he knew he’d need for the event at Hartwell.
A quick call to his dad, Danny, solved that.
“I was going through my boat and getting everything ready about a month ago and I was getting super busy with interviews everyday,” he said. “I fished the Southern Open and I was running short on time so I called him up and told him I needed some blade runners. He said he’d pour some up. He gave me a Zip-Loc bag with 24 of them. He said, ‘That’s probably what you’re going to win the Bassmaster Classic on.’ I said, ‘I doubt it.’”
Sure enough, the 3/8-ounce white horsehead-shaped jighead with a size 3.5 willow-leaf blade and a 4/0 Mustad hook paired with a Zoom Super Fluke Junior turned out to be the key player in Ashley’s triumph. The fact that he used that bait to catch most of the fish he weighed in off a single area surprised him as he was among the majority of anglers thinking it would require several productive spots to win at Hartwell.
“Going into the tournament, I would’ve never believed I would’ve won it the way I won it,” he said. “What I was doing, the conditions had to line up perfect for you to be able to catch big bags doing that. I’ll always use that on this lake at this time of year to get a good start and get the day going. But I like to throw a jig around brush piles and docks or anything to try to catch a big one. That wasn’t working.
“I almost gave the tournament away by chasing that. Last night, I was lying there right before I went to bed and I told myself, ‘You’ve go to leave that jig alone.’ I spent way too much time the first 2 days trying to make it happen and it just wasn’t happening. Today with the overcast, you couldn’t have picked a better day to do what I was doing all day long.”
Details of his winning pattern, as well as those of the other top finishers, will be published soon.
Ashley said the cloudy conditions on Sunday played right into his hands.
2nd: Lane Gave it a Run
> Day 3: 5, 19-01 (14, 46-15)
Bobby Lane caught a superb final-day bag that gave him his best-ever Classic finish, but it wasn't enough.
"Everything kind of goes back to the first day," he said. "I made (Ashley) have a heck of a day to beat me, though. He's a Hartwell phenomenon and he knows what to do when the conditions change. I was out there flying by the seat of my pants.
"I didn't leave anything out there – I fished hard, I fished clean and I couldn't be more pleased."
He boated eight keepers on day 3, including a 6 1/2-pounder that was the biggest fish of the day. He lost one bite that he figures would've given him another pound.
He fished around docks with a jig, a crankbait and a hand-poured worm. He caught fish from as deep as 43 feet of water and as shallow as 2 (the big one on the final day).
"I'm fishing good right now, but 2nds suck," he said. "I just finished 2nd to Chad Morgenthaler a few weeks ago at my own home lake (in the Lake Toho Bassmaster Southern Open).
"It's all about that first day. I just didn't catch my fifth fish."
3rd: Omori Did All He Could
> Day 3: 5, 12-08 (15, 44-03)
Like Ashley, Omori caught the lion’s share of his fish this week off one spot. In Omori’s case, it was a 200-yard stretch on a main lake point. It produced 15 pounds on day 1 and more than 16 on day 2 to help him take the lead, but it started to peter out Sunday when he needed it most.
“I don’t feel like I lost. I just got beat,” he said.
Today, he left his best spot around noon to make a 20-mile run up a river where he cranked riprap banks and flipped docks and laydowns.
“The water got cleaner up there,” he said. “The last time I went there was last Sunday so all of that water got cleaner. We had a little rain last night but it wasn’t enough. The water temperature was 48 and I was waiting for it to warm up.”
He caught one keeper there and that was it.
“I could tell the bite was a little different today,” he added. “I had three bites I missed. Those could be little spots.”
4th: Rojas Needed Much More
> Day 3: 5, 12-04 (15, 43-13)
Rojas knew he'd need a giant bag to have a shot at winning today and he caught only one fish that was of the size required to compile such a haul.
"Listening to the confidence Casey had last night when he was talking about the weather and how he knew where to go and what to do, I was like, 'Oh, no,''' he said. "I went to the same place I've started every morning and after the first hour I said to heck with this, I needed to fish for big ones.
"I went into a pocket and started throwing a swimbait and on my fourth cast I caught a 5-05. I thought I was going to wreck them, but I never got another bite on it after that. Then I thought I'd better go and catch something to give myself a chance just in case nobody else did."
Like lane, he stayed around docks and pulled fish from all depth ranges. His primary baits were a shaky-head and a jig.
"I drove 2,700 miles to get here and I battled a local (ace) and held my own, and I beat him the first day. It didn't end up being a great week, but it was a good one."
5th: Powroznik Hammered 'Em
> Day 3: 5, 18-15 (14, 43-01)
Powroznik's haul went up considerably for the second straight day.
"I had three flat places that have ditches in the back and they were on all three today," he said. "I caught the snot out of them. At one point my marshal couldn't even keep up – I was throwing back 2-pounders and by the time he could get one counted, I'd have another one on.
"I think I ended up catching 34 and my biggest one was a 5-02."
He did all of his day-3 damage on an under-spin with a V&M Shad trailer.
"We have a saying back home that you're 'standing on them,' and that's what I was doing. I knew what was going on.
"There's a lot of things I can look back on from this tournament, but for my first Bassmaster Classic, I can't complain. What's meant to be is meant to be."
6th: Ike Satisfied
> Day 3: 5, 11-06 (14, 42-06)
Iaconelli, who began the day just 11 ounces out of the lead, had his toughest day of the event as his fish moved out of their deep brush piles and suspended, making the biggest ones more difficult to connect with.
"I'm a little disappointed, obviously, but I'm happy with it," he said. "I stuck with my plan and I didn't get into the 'I should do this' or 'I should do that' thing or I should go fish docks or whatever.
"I had the mindset that the big ones are out deep at this time of year and I needed to stay deep and ride it to the end. It didn't pan out, but it was my best shot."
His magic depth range was 30 to 32 feet. The new Rapala Shadow Rap jerkbait produced early for him, then he switched to a 3/4-ounce Missile Baits jig with a Berkley Havoc Chunk trailer later in the day.
"I feel like I'm right there," he said in describing the overall state of his game. "For 2 or 3 years, I don't want to say it went away, but I was out of the zone a little bit.
Bobby Lane was mostly focused on targeting docks at Lake Hartwell.
"From the second half of last year until now I feel like I've made a lot of good decisions on the water. You just can't win them all."
7th: Hite Had Shot At Limit
> Day 3: 4, 12-04 (14, 41-11)
Brett Hite’s first bite today didn’t come until 9:30 a.m., but it was a solid fish. He added another swiftly and then boxed a 4 1/2-pound spotted bass.
“I was like, ‘Okay, I’m on the right track,’” he said.
He didn’t catch his fourth bass until he had 45 minutes to go in his day and then couldn’t capitalize when he had the fifth hooked up.
“I came back around the ramp where I had been fishing a lot and got my fourth one with 45 minutes and moved to a brush pile where I caught two big ones yesterday,” he said. “I had 15 minutes left and saw an arch down there and had my fifth on and lost it.”
He mainly had two presentations going all week: A wacky-rigged 5-inch Senko and a dropshot rig with a Pro Senko or six-inch Roboworm.
8th: McClelland Sacks 16
> Day 3: 5, 16-01 (14, 41-07)
Mike McClelland moved up seven places in the standings with his best bag of the derby.
"The only thing I regret at this point is the place where I lost the three good ones yesterday, I rotated through three times today and never caught one that helped me," he said. "I could've spent that time in other places.
"Why they show up on a place like they did yesterday and then they're completely gone today is baffling to me."
He caught fish on his Spro McStick 110 jerkbait and an under-spin trailed by a 3 1/2-inch Big Bite Baits Cane Thumper or a Cabela's Swimming Minnow.
"One thing is I really don't think I covered enough water in this tournament. Herring lakes are all about being in the right place at the right time and to give yourself the right opportunities you have to keep moving until you land on some that are biting."
9th: Lucas was Limited
> Day 3: 5, 16-00 (13, 40-02)
Justin Lucas caught every fish he weighed during the event from a single dock – the same one from which Aaron Martens pulled the 6-11 brute on day 2.
"It was at the mouth of a little spawning pocket and it had some nice features and broke off to 20 to 30 feet," he said. "The fish were in 18 to 33 feet of water."
He went through at least a dozen keepers on the final day. The five he weighed were all in the 3 1/4-pound range.
He threw a shaky-head tipped by a Berkley Havoc Bottom Hopper worm and a dropshot with a 4-inch hand-poured worm.
10th: Under-spin Worked For Lane
> Day 3: 5, 12-10 (14, 38-11)
The changing conditions prompted Chris Lane to have to change up strategy and presentations throughout the even
“I changed up every day except for today,” he said. “I caught a lot of my fish on a Luck E Strike crankbait on Friday, but never had another bite on a crankbait after that. I had no idea what happened.
“The bottom line is this lake is if you look at it, several guys in the top 10 didn’t catch a limit every day. That’s the kind of lake that this is. You can hammer them one day and it doesn’t mean you’re going to go do it again.”
He switched to an under-spin jig head after Friday and caught the rest of his keepers on that.
Asked why he thinks that particular style of bait is so productive at Hartwell, he said, “I have no idea. I think it’s just because it resembles a shad. It’s one of those things where you throw what people throw to catch fish there. It’s like when you go to Florida, you don’t throw green-pumpkin, you throw black and blue, or something fish like to key in on.”
11th: DeFoe Improved Again
> Day 3: 5, 15-00 (15, 38-07)
Ott DeFoe was another competitor whose weights improved throughout the event.
"The first day when we had the delay, everything was kind of a scramble for me and I was fortunate to scrape together a limit," he said. "I took what worked that day and built on it the second day, but I think what it was worth was 12 to 14 pounds.
"Today I just went fishing again because I thought with the conditions we had, it was my best chance for a big bag. I caught two solid ones right away, then I hit a dead period, and then finally I got on a place that had a few good ones."
Most of his weight was compiled on an under-spin. He caught one good fish on a football jig and one on a Berkley PowerBait Jerk Shad attached to a VMC jighead.
16th: Calm Conditions Hurt Howell
> Day 3: 2, 6-07 (12, 37-02)
On the final day of last year’s Classic, Randy Howell made all the right moves and decisions and it resulted in a memorable come-from-behind victory at Lake Guntersville. Today, the conditions seemed to conspire against him as he weighed just two
“It was the deadest activity of the week,” he said. “I never saw any activity up there at all. It was just slick and calm and looked like the water had gone down some. I guess maybe they pulled up during the night thinking it was going to rain and then it didn’t rain much and they cut it off. If those fish fed, I bet they fed late at night or last evening.”
He stuck with his cranking program around riprap or rocky banks and also fished docks. He caught a 4-pounder cranking a point on one of his first casts today.
“Then I didn’t catch any other fish on any other points like that,” he said. “If I was in between rocky spots, I’d go into pockets and skip five or six docks or if I saw a point or two that looked right, I’d hit those.
“It just wasn’t meant to be, but I’m thankful anyway.”
19th: Big Ones Eluded Lester
> Day 3: 5, 9-09 (15, 34-15)
Brandon Lester was one of just nine anglers this week to weigh a limit each day and he did it by fishing likely the warmest water of anyone in the field.
“I was way up the Seneca River and the water temperature up there in practice was 60 degrees,” he said. “I really think those fish were a couple weeks ahead of the others. Some of the fish I caught were skinny and maybe had already spawned.”
His numbers bait was a Zoom finesse worm. He threw that around channel swing banks and isolated laydowns. Once he had a limit, he threw a crankbait and flipped a jig, hoping to catch some bigger specimens.
“If I could get bit flipping, they’d be good ones, but I’d only get one to two bites doing it and it was only after 11:30 in the morning,” he added.
He said competing in the event for the first time has made him hungrier to qualify again.
“I can’t even describe this experience,” he said. “I’m going to do everything in my power to make it back. I wish we could weigh in in front of a crowd like that all the time.”
> Additional details will be published shortly.
> Day 3 stats: 17 fives, 3 fours, 1 three, 3 twos, 1 one.
> On his way back to Greenville from the launch facility in Anderson, David Kilgore was nearly involved in a wreck on Interstate 85. He said a Ford Mustang merged in front of him from an on-ramp, then began to spin completely around. Kilgore slammed on his brakes and eased to another lane as the car continued to spin. He said it narrowly missed his truck and boat and he watched in his side mirror as the car slammed into the median. “My knees are still shaking from it all,” he said in the media room afterward.
1. Casey Ashley -- Donalds, SC -- 15, 50-01 -- $300,000
Day 1: 5, 15-03 -- Day 2: 5, 14-11 -- Day 3: 5, 20-03
2. Bobby Lane -- Lakeland, FL -- 14, 46-15 -- $45,000
Day 1: 4, 10-10 -- Day 2: 5, 17-04 -- Day 3: 5, 19-01
3. Takahiro Omori -- Emory, TX -- 15, 44-03 -- $42,500
Day 1: 5, 15-00 -- Day 2: 5, 16-11 -- Day 3: 5, 12-08
4. Dean Rojas -- Lake Havasu City, AZ -- 15, 43-13 -- $32,500
Day 1: 5, 21-02 -- Day 2: 5, 10-07 -- Day 3: 5, 12-04
5. Jacob Powroznik -- Port Haywood, VA -- 14, 43-01 -- $25,000
Day 1: 4, 09-02 -- Day 2: 5, 15-00 -- Day 3: 5, 18-15
6. Michael Iaconelli -- Pitts Grove, NJ -- 14, 42-06 -- $22,000
Day 1: 4, 14-07 -- Day 2: 5, 16-09 -- Day 3: 5, 11-06
7. Brett Hite -- Phoenix, AZ -- 14, 41-11 -- $21,500
Day 1: 5, 15-07 -- Day 2: 5, 14-00 -- Day 3: 4, 12-04
8. Mike McClelland -- Bella Vista, AR -- 14, 41-07 -- $21,000
Day 1: 5, 12-02 -- Day 2: 4, 13-04 -- Day 3: 5, 16-01
9. Justin Lucas -- Guntersville, AL -- 13, 40-02 -- $20,500
Day 1: 3, 08-04 -- Day 2: 5, 15-14 -- Day 3: 5, 16-00
10. Chris Lane -- Guntersville, AL -- 14, 38-11 -- $20,000
Day 1: 5, 14-00 -- Day 2: 4, 12-01 -- Day 3: 5, 12-10
11. Ott DeFoe -- Knoxville, TN -- 15, 38-07 -- $15,000
Day 1: 5, 10-06 -- Day 2: 5, 13-01 -- Day 3: 5, 15-00
12. Paul Mueller -- Naugatuck, CT -- 15, 38-06 -- $14,500
Day 1: 5, 13-12 -- Day 2: 5, 14-03 -- Day 3: 5, 10-07
13. Clifford Pirch -- Payson, AZ -- 14, 38-02 -- $14,250
Day 1: 5, 11-13 -- Day 2: 4, 12-09 -- Day 3: 5, 13-12
14. Jacob Wheeler -- Indianapolis, IN -- 15, 37-10 -- $14,000
Day 1: 5, 12-10 -- Day 2: 5, 12-14 -- Day 3: 5, 12-02
15. Coby Carden -- Shelby, AL -- 13, 37-02 -- $13,750
Day 1: 5, 09-03 -- Day 2: 5, 19-13 -- Day 3: 3, 08-02
16. Randy Howell -- Springville, AL -- 12, 37-02 -- $13,000
Day 1: 5, 15-05 -- Day 2: 5, 15-06 -- Day 3: 2, 06-07
17. Skeet Reese -- Auburn, CA -- 11, 36-11 -- $12,900
Day 1: 5, 20-02 -- Day 2: 2, 06-15 -- Day 3: 4, 09-10
18. Jared Lintner -- Arroyo Grande, CA -- 15, 36-08 -- $12,800
Day 1: 5, 10-09 -- Day 2: 5, 14-10 -- Day 3: 5, 11-05
19. Brandon Lester -- Fayetteville, TN -- 15, 34-15 -- $12,700
Day 1: 5, 11-00 -- Day 2: 5, 14-06 -- Day 3: 5, 09-09
20. Mark Davis -- Mount Ida, AR -- 15, 34-13 -- $12,600
Day 1: 5, 09-06 -- Day 2: 5, 12-13 -- Day 3: 5, 12-10
21. James Niggemeyer -- Van, TX -- 14, 34-06 -- $12,400
Day 1: 4, 08-10 -- Day 2: 5, 14-00 -- Day 3: 5, 11-12
22. David Kilgore -- Jasper, AL -- 12, 31-11 -- $12,300
Day 1: 5, 14-01 -- Day 2: 5, 12-10 -- Day 3: 2, 05-00
23. Todd Faircloth -- Jasper, TX -- 14, 30-08 -- $12,200
Day 1: 5, 14-06 -- Day 2: 5, 09-09 -- Day 3: 4, 06-09
24. Jason Christie -- Park Hill, OK -- 10, 28-07 -- $12,100
Day 1: 3, 07-06 -- Day 2: 5, 16-08 -- Day 3: 2, 04-09
25. Keith Combs -- Huntington, TX -- 8, 25-11 -- $12,000
Day 1: 5, 18-08 -- Day 2: 2, 03-14 -- Day 3: 1, 03-05
Big Bass Award
> Aaron Martens -- Leeds, AL -- 6-11 -- $2,500