The 45th Bassmaster Classic is now less than a month away--it will be fished at Lake Hartwell near Greenville, S.C., Feb. 20-22, with $300,000 going to the top angler.
The 56 Classic qualifiers range in age from 24 (Jacob Wheeler) to 63 (Paul Elias) and in experience from first-time qualifiers (13 of them) to Mark Davis, who is fishing his 18th championship. They've had success on Hartwell (Casey Ashley won an FLW event at about the same time of year in 2014) and they've bombed (Chris Lane was 49th out of 50 there in the 2008 Classic). Who's going to win this year? Read More
Recently, B.A.S.S. held the drawing for boat numbers for the upcoming Bassmaster Classic at B.A.S.S. headquarters in Birmingham, Ala. The numbers were randomly drawn by B.A.S.S. staffers and will determine the order in which boats leave the dock on days 1 and 2 of the event.The top two positions were automatically given to reigning Angler of the Year Greg Hackney, who will be boat number 1, and Randy Howell, the 2014 Classic winner, who will be boat number 2. During the Classic, the full field of participants will be split into two flights, boats 1-28 and 29-56. On Day 1, the boats will head out on Lake Hartwell in numerical order. On Day 2, the order will be reversed with 56-29 followed by 28-1. On Day 3, after the field is cut to the Top 25, takeoff order will be decided by angler rank in the tournament.
Pro anglers are expected to have all the answers, know all there is to know about bass, but Casey Ashley confesses that when it comes to smallmouth, they’ve got his number.
“I’ve never sniffed a 20-pound limit in a smallmouth tournament, and best I can remember, I’ve never even cashed a check in a smallmouth dominated event,” said Ashley soon after weighing-in a respectable 15-pound limit on Day One at the Bassmaster Elite Series Angler of the Year Championship on Lake Michigan. Read More
Casey Ashley made a strong comeback from a 9-pound stringer on day 1 that had him in 21st place. After an abbreviated practice since he was coming from the Delaware River Elite Series in Philadelphia, he opted to go straight to his comfort zone – shallow water.
"If I'd have had 1 more day, I think I could've figured out that deep brush a little earlier," he said. "That could've changed the game. I fished a good tournament, though. I didn't lose any fish."
He said there was no pattern to what he caught fish off of, saying it was "as random as random could be."
"I just covered water and caught some on points, ramps, grass, the backs of pockets," he added. "All I had was a bait that for the most part if they blew up on it, they were going to eat it."
He focused mostly on Hollow Creek and Bear Creek because he'd had success there in past tournaments. He said the fishing was tough during pre-practice in July, but he opted to not go into Hollow Creek.
"I never went in there because I knew it was tough and if I couldn't get a bite I didn't want to mess my confidence up in that area," he said. "Bear Creek is just a really good area and about 80 percent of local tournaments are won around there."
His plan for the tournament was to fish shallow and try to catch a limit that way, then if he was close to some deeper brush, he'd stop and try to catch some upgrades. The key to his success was simply covering tons of new water every day.
He didn't get dialed in on the brush-pile bite until day 3 when he yanked a 4 and a 2 3/4-pounder off one spot.
"On day 1, I fished some and actually broke one off because it surprised me when he bit," he said. "On day 2, I ran some other brush, but I was in the wrong area up the river.
"On the last day, I fished some brush around 10 a.m., but there wasn't any fish in them and I only had one," he said. "Then I went to the back of this creek that I'd found that was full of 2- to 2 1/2-pounders. There were a ton of fish in there and I'd found it on the first day of practice. I fished it on day 1 to catch five. I never fished it on day 2 and caught another limit in there on day 3. I caught two more on day 4."
After he came out of the creek, he ran more brush and finished his limit with two more good keepers to run his weight to 14 pounds.
> Topwater gear: 6'8" Quantum Smoke PT Inshore casting rod, Quantum Exo PT casting reel (7.3:1 ratio), 15-pound Hi-Seas monofilament line, XCalibur Zell Pop (Z-Shad or Arkansas Shiner).
> Buzzbait gear: 7' medium-heavy Quantum Smoke PT casting rod, same reel (6.6:1 ratio), 17-pound Hi-Seas monofilament line, unnamed buzzbait (gold blade with shad color skirt), Zoom Horny Toad trailer (green-pumpkin pearl).
> His bait of choice when fishing brush was a 10" Zoom Ol' Monster worm. Read more
> Day 4: 5, 19-05 (20, 73-12) Entering the final day in 12th, Ashley knew he had nothing to lose, but he continued to hammer away at the same area that produced virtually all of his fish this week.
The seven-spot jump on the final day pushed him up to 20th in the AOY points and closer to a berth in next year's Classic at Lake Hartwell, his home lake and site of his FLW Tour victory earlier this year.
"Points mean everything now and I didn't think I could win," he said. "I did lose one today about 7 pounds that probably would've put him in second. Other than that, most everything I caught was on one little deal."
Casey Ashley is proving that he’s one of the Tour’s best spotted bass and clear-water anglers this season. He won the second event on Tour at Lake Hartwell last month with limits of spots, and today he brought in a strong 14-pound, 10-ounce limit at Beaver Lake.
“I came here and practiced for three days from daylight to dark,” said Ashley, who’s fishing in his first tournament on Beaver this week. “I wanted to see everything. I found one good area where I caught three good ones. It’s just hard to get good bites.”
His best success has come by covering water in the clearer parts of the lake and “fishing the wind.”
“The wind makes them bite here,” he said. “I caught more fish today in the wind than all three practice days combined. The clear water is more stable this time of year. But if it gets slick tomorrow, it’s going to get tough.”
Like Thrift, Ashley caught his three best fish with a shaky head – he actually has three shaky heads rigged and ready on his deck.
His plan for Friday is to start in the same places that produced today, but to have his boat gassed up and ready to roll to new areas the instant the conditions suggest that a change is necessary.
Photo by Garrick Dixon - It’s been a strong season for South Carolina pro Casey Ashley and his bid to qualify for both the 2014 Forrest Wood Cup and 2015 Bassmaster Classic, which will both be held in his home state. Ashley won stop No. 2 at Lake Hartwell, and this week in his first-ever tournament on Beaver Lake, Ashley finished fifth. His final-day limit weighed 16 pounds.
Ashley spent most of his week at the far upper end of Beaver Lake in the reservoir’s clearest water by fishing a Keitech 3.8 swimbait rigged on a 5/16-ounce jighead and a Zoom Trick Worm rigged on a shaky head.
“[Today] I went down to the clear water and threw a swimbait,” Ashley said. “I caught a 3-pound smallmouth but only caught a small limit. I had that by 12:30.
“Then I came back up the lake and started covering water,” he added. “I tied on that silly Wiggle Wart that everybody catches them on, and I tell you what, they love it. I caught a 5, a 3 and another about 2 1/2. I should have done that all day. Those fish in that clear water just wouldn’t bite.”
This week, Ashley targeted “flatter” banks with scattered rock that tapered out and ran into steep drop-offs. He caught his fish by holding the boat in 15 to 20 feet and bombing the swimbait toward the bank. A slow-rolled presentation near bottom but not on bottom was a spotted bass and smallmouth killer.