FOR 2015 CLASIC CHAMP, HOME IS WHERE THE HARTWELL IS
Casey Ashley has never wanted to do anything but fish. He even wrote about it when he was in the 4th grade in a book report. He had read a book about professional fishing and wrote in the report, “It’s the only career I’ve ever wanted.” He caught his first bass at the age of four on a Zebco 33. His Mom loved to crappie fish, so his dad would take the family crappie fishing on Clarks Hill, his dad would cast for bass. When young Casey pestered him enough, his dad rigged up a Carolina-rigged lizard and Casey gave it a heave. Pretty soon Casey was fighting a pound and a half bass. The rest is bass catching history.
In the Ashley household, Sundays were special because Casey was allowed to watch Bassmasters TV show airing on The Nashville Network. Even though it was a school night, his dad let him stay up to watch his heroes, Denny Brauer, Tommy Biffle, George Cochran and KVD. Some nights he was so excited he had trouble falling asleep.
Fishing tournaments became common in Casey’s life as he rode in the boat with his dad starting at 8 years old. Sometimes he was the co-angler, and other times organizers would not let him fish because he was too young. His competitive spirit was furthered by playing football, basketball and baseball at Dixie High School. Sports took up a lot of Ashley’s time, but every spare minute was spent outdoors hunting or on the water fishing. His first job was working on a local farm, but that did not keep him from fishing evening tournaments along the Savannah River chain with his dad.
After graduating high school, Ashley attended community college, where he earned a degree in Industrial Electronics- his fallback plan in case pro fishing didn’t work out. That plan proved unnecessary, as in January 2006, Casey Ashley officially began his campaign to become a pro angler by fishing the season opener of what was then the EverStart Series. He was 22, and it was the first time he had ever left home. It was his first “big time” tournament, and it was on Okeechobee that Casey found himself leading after day one- a bit surreal. He went on to finish 17th, but that was enough to fuel his fishing fire even more.
He entered all five 2006 BASS Opens and ended up qualifying for the 2007 Elites. He even finished fourth in the last Open of the year and won a boat, which paid his entry fees for the Elites. At his first Elite event as rookie, he got a dose of pro fishing reality. His truck was broken into, resulting in stolen phone, GPS, and tackle. He cobbled together enough gear and drove his truck with broken window to the event on Amistad. He did not make a check to fix the window, and drove on to California for the next event- broken window and all. He had barely gotten started and he was broke. He pressed on and four tournaments later won the Elite Series event on Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia. That check paid quite a few bills, and Casey had clearly arrived. It also secured the rookie a berth in his first Bassmaster Classic- hosted in SC on Lake Hartwell
Nothing really prepares you for fishing your first Classic, especially on your home lake. Casey thought he could block out all the hype and the media but that proved impossible. It was everything he had dreamed and prepared for, and it was too big to block out the first time around. He finished 17th, and, as he later said, “it was that Classic that laid the foundation for 2015.” They had record crowds at that event, and it was only a matter of time before BASS would come back to Hartwell. Casey “vowed to get it right” when they did.
Since that first Classic, Casey has earned approximately $2 million in tournament winnings. He has fished in the Classic 10 times, finished in the Top 10 about 40 times, and won 4 tourneys, including one FLW on Hartwell. But nothing rivals his win in the 2015 Bassmaster Classic on his home lake.
His FLW Tour win on Hartwell came in March of 2014. He considered it a warning shot that he meant business in defending his home turf and would be ready the following year for the Classic. Casey knew the herring bite on Hartwell better than anybody, and he felt it would be his ticket to both the FLW win and a Classic championship. It did not quite turn out that way. Part of him worried that exposing his hand at the FLW event would take away any advantage at the Classic. But he decided to move forward with the FLW event. His concern proved unnecessary as the herring bite never materialized. When he realized it, he switched to fishing a jig in brush for the win.
Casey has a very good record on herring lakes. In addition to wins on Hartwell, he also has an Elite Series victory on Lake Murray. When asked why he is so dangerous on herring lakes, Ashley says he knows when to utilize the herring bite and when to leave it alone. “Sometimes they can make you look like a hero and sometimes they can completely derail you.” During practice for the 2015 Classic, that jig bite was nonexistent. But the herring? Well let’s just say, he was ready. He realized those herring were right where he needed them to be, and he was committed to the deep herring pattern. With that commitment came his biggest win to date- the 2015 Bassmaster Classic.
Since winning bass fishing’s biggest title, Casey’s life has been a whirlwind. Since that day it has been sponsor meetings, phone interviews, radio shows, fan events, and plenty of media attention. It also bolstered his budding singing career. The need to be present on social media has also forced him to become more tech savy. He is now fishing Major League Fishing’s Bass Pro Tour and it must be killing him not to be contending for another Hartwell Classic, but at the young age of 38, we have certainly not heard the last of Casey Ashley.