This time, Mighty Casey didn’t strike out. Casey Ashley, a 31-year-old bass pro from Donalds, S.C., hit a homerun on Sunday, fishing on his home water, to the cheers of an adoring, hometown crowd, winning the Bassmaster Classic with a great final-day catch of better than 20 pounds.
Ashley mined the waters of Lake Hartwell – which is around 30 minutes from his home – for a five-fish limit that weighed 20 pounds, 3 ounces. His three-day total of 50 pounds, 1 ounce, gave him a winning margin of slightly more than 3 pounds to win the “World Series” of bass fishing and the $300,000 first-prize money.
“I’ve been out there all week struggling, nothing going quite right, and I knew I had to catch ‘em today, and I had the perfect conditions for me to catch a big bass,” said Ashley, who had a limit fairly early in the day and cemented his win with a 4-pound bass an hour or so before fishing came to an end. “I probably caught 20 fish today, and every one I caught, I could see it getting closer and closer.”
Bobby Lane of Lakeland, Fla., had a great 19-pound, 1-ounce catch to move from ninth place to second, finishing with 46-15. Dean Rojas of Lake Havasu City, Ariz., the first-round leader, was third with 43-13 after bagging a 12-pound, 4-ounce limit, and Takahiro Omori, the Japanese pro from Emory, Texas, who led after the second day, finished fourth with 43-3 after catching a 12 ½-pound limit on Sunday. Virginia angler Jacob Powroznik caught 18-15 on Sunday to jump to fifth place with 43-1.
Ashley, who has won three times on the BASS Tournament Trail, had been pointing to Hartwell and the Classic for much of a year. He expected to catch fish during the tournament on a jig, his favorite bait, but he couldn’t catch a big bass all week. So on Sunday, he went in a different direction.
“I won this tournament on a homemade lure,” Ashley said. “My daddy made this bait two weeks ago – he made about 24 of them – and he told me I’d win the Bassmaster Classic on them.”
Ashley fished a white Zoom Super Fluke Junior on the homemade “spinhead” – a leadhead jig with a spinnerblade twirling from a swivel molded into the jig. The style of lure is popular on reservoirs that have a big population of spotted bass, which 56,000-acre Hartwell does.
“It’s nothing special; we’ve made them for years,” Ashley said. “I was going through, getting my tackle ready about a month ago, and I was super busy. I called (my dad) and told him I’ve got to have some of those “Blade Runners.” He gave me a Ziploc bag with 24 of them in it.”
The spinhead was a basic “pony head” jig, with a 4/0 Mustad hook and a No. 3 ½ nickel-colored willow-leaf blade attached to the head with a swivel.
But Ashley had to overcome his expectations before he turned the bait into a winner.
“Going into the tournament, I’d never have believed it would be the way I won it,” he said. “The conditions have to line up perfectly to catch a big bag of this on that bait.”
Ashley boated limits that weighed a few ounces on either side of 15 pounds the first two days with the spinhead and Fluke, then he’d spend several hours fishing brush piles and docks with a jig, looking for a big fish that never bit.
Catching an overcast day on Sunday, he stayed with those fish the entire day. He had a limit quickly and culled three fish to upgrade his weight, culling a 3-pounder about an hour before he had to be in.
“I spent way too much time the first two days trying to make it happen on a jig,” he said. “I would have never been behind if I’d stayed on those fish there.”
Ashley has been looking forward to fishing the Classic on his home lake since the 2014-15 BASS schedule was announced.
“Fishing the Bassmaster Classic on Lake Hartwell was the only thing that mattered to me all year,” he said.