Rain muddied the water at last weekend’s Bassmaster Classic, but it couldn’t stop South Carolina’s Casey Ashley from a finish among the leaders. Ashley, 30, from Donalds, finished 11th in the tournament, held on Alabama’s Lake Guntersville. His catch of 57 pounds, nine ounces got him his second 11th-place finish in a Classic; he was fourth after the first day and sixth after the second day

Ashley came into the tournament with a strategy ready.

“Going into the Classic, I had pretty much made up my mind what I was going to do,” Ashley said. “I said I was going to throw a (lipless crankbait), and I was going to cover as much water until I found them. Either I found them or I didn’t; that’s kind of the way I looked at it.”

Ashley used that mindset – and a Lucky Craft RTO 150 lipless crankbait – to catch more than 23 pounds of bass the first day of fishing, 18 pounds the second, and 15 the final day.

The weighty catch was a surprise for Ashley.

“I’ve been to Guntersville several times, probably eight or nine times, fishing different tournaments there,” Ashley said. “You can look at my track record; I’ve never really caught them there.”

Add in an unfamiliar time of the year and a late arrival, and the tournament posed even more challenges.

“We’ve never been in February,” Ashley said. “I know the lake pretty well. I know where the grass was, so I didn’t feel the need to go out there in December and confuse myself any more than I already would be. I like to fish a tournament open-minded.”

Ashley was snowed in leading up to the tournament but arrived for the second day of practice – with rain in tow.

“We had a big storm the night before the first day of the tournament, and it kind of stained the water up everywhere. Then, they pulled the water big-time over the next two days, and my creek got really, really clear,” Ashley said.

What had been two to three feet of murky water became crystal clear. Ashley was able to see everything perfectly – including how difficult it would be to fish a lipless bait in his chosen spawning bay.

“But (that’s) all they would bite,” said Ashley, who was ripping the bait through the weeds, drawing enough strikes to put Ashley in competition all the way to the final weigh-in and a $15,000 check.