Tackle Warehouse 2014 ICAST Video Coverage 2014 ICAST Award Winners

Casey Ashley Wins FLW Tour Lake Hartwell

Casey Ashley's Winning Pattern, Baits & Gear

Like all angers who pursue bass, Casey Ashley likes to catch big ones - the more, the better. But tournaments at which a high percentage of the field weighs 20-plus-pound sacks every day aren't his forté. He excels in lower-weight, tougher-bite events, such as Lake Hartwell in his home state of South Carolina presented last week for the second FLW Tour stop of the 2014 campaign. His patience under less-than-ideal fishing conditions and his local knowledge combined to make him unstoppable. He dominated the event from start to finish and prevailed by 14 1/2 pounds over runner-up and defending Angler of the Year Andy Morgan. He weighed the biggest sack in the field on 3 of the 4 days to claim his first FLW Tour triumph to go along with a pair of Bassmaster Elite Series victories. Ashley kept an open mind as the derby approached and explored a lot of options when practice got under way on the Sunday prior to day 1. "I looked at everything I knew on the lake and found fish from one end to the other," he said. "I knew there was going to be a shallow bite, but every time I'd go up there, the fish I'd catch weren't near the size of the ones out deep. "And every time you'd be fishing a creek, (another competitor) would come in, or you'd move to another creek and somebody would already be there. It was like playing hopscotch, and I knew it would be that way in the tournament, too. "I hate fishing that way," he continued. "I wanted my bait to be the first one those fish had seen that day." The potential for crowding caused him to opt for the offshore action as his primary approach, but there was a big issue there, too - the weather. A major storm front moved in the day prior to the start of the tournament, bringing chilly temperatures and howling winds that would push or exceed 20 mph on each of the first 2 days of competition. The wind was an element he was willing to battle, however, in order to have his fish to himself. He also knew the deep-dwelling population, which he could entice with a jig or a shaky-head, would likely replenish whereas the shallow fish, given the conditions, probably would not. Nonetheless, he kept the shallow alternative open.

Competition:

Ashley was confident that an average of 15 pounds a day would be enough to win, and that assumption proved correct. He figured he could get there by catching a 12- to 13-pound bag of spots each morning and then upgrading with one or more largemouths. He hammered the largemouths on day 1, and that resulted in his tournament-best 21 1/2-pound stringer. The deep structure he focused on consisted of docks and brush in 35 to 40 feet of water. That's where the hefty spotted bass were located, and he caught a limit fairly quickly on day 1. He then went on a hunt for largemouths in mid-depth areas (15 feet and shallower) and ended up culling everything in his box. "With those (cloudy and windy) conditions in clear water, the largemouths that are already up will bite," he said. Day 2 wasn't quite as cold or windy, but rain fell for most of the day. Weights throughout the field fell off dramatically and Ashley's did as well, but he still added about a quarter-pound to his lead. The weather cleared up on day 3, but the Top-20 contingent was faced with a post-frontal situation under which the fish were highly uncooperative. Nobody came within a pound and a half of his 15-07 haul and he extended his lead to a massive 9 1/2 pounds. His final-day bag was 2 1/2-pounds superior to anyone else's as he closed out the win with ease.

Winning Pattern:

Ashley estimated that he visited about 15 different places each day, often with a lot of water between them. He had about half a dozen must-hit locations, but he didn't make repeat visits to the others. "The biggest part was my initial run from way up the Seneca River all the way to the dam," he said. "A lot of times I'd pull into a place way back in a creek and fish one dock or one brush pile, then turn around and leave and go to another creek. Every day after I got a limit I'd start checking different stuff to see if a big largemouth had pulled up or to try to find something extra for the next day." He spent some time early on the first two mornings pursuing schooling fish. That produced nothing the first day, but he caught a 4-pound largemouth on a swimbait on day 2.

Winning Gear:

Jig gear: 7'6" heavy-action Quantum EXO PT rod, Quantum EXO PT casting reel (7.3:1 ratio), 20-pound Hi-Seas fluorocarbon line, 1/2-ounce Shooter Lures jig (green-pumpkin), Zoom Super Chunk Jr. trailer (green-pumpkin).

Shaky-head gear: 7' medium-action Quantum Smoke PT spinning rod, Quantum Smoke spinning reel, 20-pound Hi-Seas braided line with 10-pound fluorocarbon leader, 1/8- or 3/8-ounce Mountain Man Lures jighead, Zoom Finesse Worm (gourd green for low-light conditions and watermelon candy under sunny skies).

Main factor: "As much as I want to point to something else, it boils down to local knowledge. I knew the areas that hold good fish and under the tough conditions, I knew where I needed to spend my time. A lot of the brush I was fishing, there was no way anybody was going to find it. A lot of it was natural stuff, not the stuff that people put out."

Performance edge: "I was burning 35 gallons of gas a day, but I never had to worry about a rough ride. You have to get there and get back before you can catch them and weigh them in, so I'd have to give it to my Triton/Mercury."

Hartwell FLW Winning Pattern Bassfan 3/11/14 (John Johnson)

Andy Morgan's Pattern, Baits & Gear

Morgan's numbers were indicative of just how big of a blowout this derby was: Ashley caught more than 15 pounds on all 4 days, but the runner-up and top-ranked angler in the world never achieved that mark even once. Nonetheless, as usual, his average was considerably better than just about everyone else's. He plied his usual M.O. - doing whatever he felt like whenever it suited him. "It was junk-fishing at it's finest," he said. "I just rotated around fishing for schooling fish or fishing channel seams, sticks in the backs of pockets in 3 feet of water, dirty water, pitching underneath docks or whatever. "The first day I got four out of one brushpile in 12 feet of water and one on a shaky-head from a point. After that it was a real hodge-podge - I just fished whatever was in front of me at the time."

As for gear, he used a bunch. The list of baits included War Eagle jigs and spinnerbaits, a Sworming Hornet Fish Head Spin, a Livingston Lures jerkbait and a shaky-head with a Zoom finesse worm. He employed Zoom Super Chunk trailers on his jigs and all of the baits were tied to Gamma fluorocarbon line (8-, 10-, 12- or 16-pound).

Main factor: "It was one of those deals where I just kept moving and I knew not to rely on anyplace or anything I'd fished the day before. The main thing was just to try to stay patient, but also stay on the pedal all day. If a fish was in one place for the moment, an hour later it'd probably be gone."

Performance edge: "I signed with iRod this year and I'm definitely impressed with those rods - they've done an excellent job for me. They're really parabolic and they load up good, and the more they load, the fewer fish you lose."

Hartwell 2-5 Patterns Bassfan 3/12/14 (John Johnson)

Clent Davis' Pattern, Baits & Gear

Davis was a man on the move throughout the event. He focused his attention on flat-lying boat docks that tapered out into 10 to 15 feet of water. "I had over a hundred of them," he said. "I have no idea how many I ran each day." He got onto that pattern pretty much by accident. "I fished deep for half a day (during practice) and I just happened to be close to some docks. I eased over there and started pitching around them and I was getting bit pretty well. "I'd start on the back quarter and pitch back under there as far as I could. Then I'd go to the front quarter, and then come back to the middle."

Eighteen of his 19 weigh-in fish were enticed by a weightless, wacky-rigged Mister Twister Comida (a Senko-style bait). The lone exception was a brush-pile fish that fell for a jig.

Worm gear: 7'4" medium-action Phenix rod, Shimano Stradic CI4 spinning reel, 10-pound Sufix 832 braided line (lime green), 8-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon leader (6 to 8 feet), 1/0 straight-shank Gamakatsu hook with weed guard, Mister Twister Comida (green-pumpkin).

Main factor: "Just keeping an open mind in practice."

Performance edge: "That rod I was using is just unbelievable. It's got the perfect tip for setting the hook on a wacky rig and it loads well. It's got a lot of backbone to it."

Hartwell 2-5 Patterns Bassfan 3/12/14 (John Johnson)

Cody Meyer's Pattern, Baits & Gear

Meyer got onto some good deep-water action in practice, but that began to peter out during the second day of the tournament. He switched to docks at that point and went on to post his second straight Top-5 showing of the campaign. He's just 2 points behind Brett Hite in the Angler of the Year (AOY) race going into the middle third of the season, but isn't thinking about the points title at this still-early juncture. "I'd love to win it, but I'm not going to worry about it unless I'm right there going into the last event," he said. "My focus right now is just on making the (Forrest Wood) Cup." His offshore program centered around points that contained either brush or scattered rock at depths from 18 to 35 feet. "I found the deeper stuff in practice," he said. "I fished some docks then, too, but the fish weren't there yet. Things kept changing and they eventually moved back up there." He alternated between a jig and a finesse rig throughout the event.

Jig gear: 7'2" medium-heavy Shimano Expride rod, Shimano Metanium HG casting reel (7.4:1 ratio), 12-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon line, 3/4-ounce G Money jig (brown/purple), 5" Yamamoto Twin Tail trailer (cinnamon/purple/black flake).

Worm gear: 7'2" medium-action Shimano Cumara rod, Shimano Sustain 2500 spinning reel, 10-pound PowerPro Super 8 Slick braided line, 6-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon leader, 1/8-ounce Jackall Wacky Jig Head, 5.8" Jackall Flick Shake worm (watermelon candy).

Main factor: "Adapting to the conditions, because they changed every day. I had to fish really open-minded."

Performance edge: "That Flick Shake is a deadly little bait."

Hartwell 2-5 Patterns Bassfan 3/12/14 (John Johnson)

John Cox's Pattern, Baits & Gear

"Unpredictable" is as good a word as any to describe Cox, who's now in his 4th year of tour-level competition. The young season has been the epitome of that as he turned in a 175th-place stinker in his home state of Florida, then was in contention all the way in this chilly-weather event. If not for a dismal day 3, his final placement would've been even higher. He wouldn't have contended with Ashley, but he easily could've ended up 2nd. He did the vast majority of his damage from a transition area to a spawning flat. It was a place where two creek channels came in close proximity to each other and the fish were holding on scattered rock. "There were times when I could pull in and catch like 10 fish in 15 minutes," he said. "I tried some similar creeks, but I never got a bite in them." He used a rattlebait and a spinnerbait to catch fish at depths ranging from 2 to 12 feet.

Rattlebait gear: 7'6" medium-heavy MHX rod, unnamed casting reel, 15-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon line, XCalibur Xr50 (foxy momma).

Spinnerbait gear: 7'3" medium-heavy MHX rod, unnamed casting reel, 20-pound Seaguar InvizX fluorocarbon, 1/2-ounce Rattle Head spinnerbait (chartreuse/white).

Main factor: "I think I just got lucky finding those fish that were coming in there to spawn."

Performance edge: "The rods, for sure. I didn't miss any fish. Even when it was so cold that I couldn't feel my hands or my face, I could still make a full cast and I could still feel the bites. The sensitivity is incredible."

Hartwell 2-5 Patterns Bassfan 3/12/14 (John Johnson)