Photo BASS/Overstreet Story by Steve Wright
DURANT, Okla. — And to think Casey Ashley turned down a chance to be a country music star for this – four days of heated competition on Lake Texoma in a bass boat.
But it's Sundays like this one that make Ashley even firmer in his belief that he made the right decision in shaking off that Nashville country music scene a few years ago.
"I love to sing, and I love music," Ashley said Saturday, prior to festivities at the GEICO Bassmaster Bassfest presented by Choctaw Casino and Resort. "But if I had somebody telling me where to be and what time to be there all the time, day after day, I just wouldn't enjoy it anymore."
"I don't like people telling me what to do," he added, with that million-dollar smile. "That's why I fish for a living, and I'm out there on a boat by myself."
It's when you see that smile and think about how beautifully Ashley can sing – he knocked it out of the ballpark singing the National Anthem before winning the 2015 Bassmaster Classic on Lake Hartwell – that you're reminded this wasn't some country music fantasy Ashley had five years ago. He had a legitimate shot.
"He's good-looking, got a great personality and he can sing. He's got all the tools," said Nashville songwriter Rodney Clawson. "It's just a matter of time. You don't just show up and do this. You've got to put in the time. And I don't think Casey wanted to put up with all the B.S., and the asses you've got to kiss."
It's when Ashley was an Elite Series rookie in 2007 and Clawson was fishing as a co-angler that Ashley's singing career took root. Clawson had moved to Nashville from a small town in the Texas panhandle and was in the process of establishing himself as a successful songwriter, when he heard Ashley sing the National Anthem before an Elite Series event.
With that love of bass fishing and country music in common, Ashley and Clawson became friends. Clawson wrote a song entitled "Fisherman," which Ashley recorded in Nashville in 2008. They teamed up on a six-song demo recording in 2011, but by then Ashley had swallowed his fill of Nashville.
Now, nine years into a professional bass fishing career with $1.2 million in B.A.S.S. tournament winnings, two Elite Series titles, plus that Classic championship, Ashley doesn't even think about country music's bright lights anymore.
"I spent enough time in Nashville," Ashley said. "That's a cutthroat business. And there's more to it than what people on the outside know."
There is one good story about Ashley and kissing rear ends in Nashville, or, more accurately, his refusal to do so. When he walked into the recording studio wearing Rocky boots, blue jeans and a hooded sweatshirt, one of the studio executives asked where were Ashley's cowboy boots and cowboy hat.
"I said, 'I ain't never claimed to be no cowboy. I'm a country boy, and this is about all I can give you,'" Ashley recalled.
When video producers wanted to add some choreography to Ashley's George Strait, stand-still style, he said, "I don't dance for nobody."
Ashley will take fishing on Sunday in the Top 12 of an Elite Series tournament and be just fine with that. No cowboy hat, no cowboy boots, no dancing.
"Music is just something I enjoy doing, and I want to keep enjoying it, not make work out of it," Ashley said
Bass fishing at Lake Texoma this week sure looks like work to most. It has been hot, the bites have seemed to come at random and every day has been a struggle. But Ashley hasn't stopped smiling. He's just glad to be fishing on Day 4 of an Elite Series event again.
Ashley finished 64th in the Toyota Angler of the Year standings last year following his Classic victory. That's a normal drop-off for most anglers following a win like that, which entails so many obligations to both the sport and personal sponsors.
But Ashley has struggled to get back on track this year, as well. Coming into Lake Texoma, he was ranked 59th in AOY points, with a season-best finish of ninth at Bull Shoals/Norfork and a season-worst of 109th at Winyah Bay in his home state of South Carolina.
The BASSfest title carries an automatic berth in the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic. Suddenly Ashley is one day away from another Classic berth, with a 3-pounds-plus lead over his two closest competitors.
"I love to sing," Ashley said. "But fishing is where my heart is."