WETUMPKA, Ala. — They say Lake Jordan bass go deep in summer, but Casey Ashley proved on Sunday just how wrong “they” can be by winning the Ramada All-Star Semi-Final his way — in shallow water.
And while any pro likes to win — and win his way — Ashley was more impressed with the fact that he’d earned a spot in the $100,000 Evan Williams Bourbon All-Star Championship, which will begin Friday on the Alabama River out of Montgomery, Ala.
“Winning’s nice, but that I won today doesn’t really matter,” said the 27-year-old from Donalds, S.C., who had never before competed on Lake Jordan. He bested 11 other competitors with a two-day total of 25 pounds, 8 ounces.
Ashley was one of eight Bassmaster Elite Series pros who qualified Sunday to compete July 29-31 in the second half of Toyota Trucks All-Star Week. The Alabama River event will be three days of sudden-death match fishing. The format pits one angler against another; each day, half the field will be eliminated until only two remain on Sunday and go head-to-head for $100,000, winner take all.
Ashley, 27 years old and a two-time Bassmaster winner, was elated that his first Alabama River opponent would be Skeet Reese of Auburn, Calif., a fellow Elite pro with six wins, including the 2009 Bassmaster Classic.
“I wanted the best, and I got the best,” Ashley said.
A reporter asked Ashley if he felt he could take Reese. Ashley shrugged his shoulders.
“I’ve never been on the river before,” he said. “It depends how my practice days go. I’m not going to back down from him, I can tell you that.”
In the first minutes after he learned he’d been successful in making the top-eight cut, Reese said he was already thinking about his match against Ashley. But then Reese spoke of beating Kevin VanDam by 8 ounces for the last seat. VanDam, finishing the Ramada All-Star Semi-Final in ninth place, was first man out, eliminated along with Jeff Kriet, Steve Kennedy and Davy Hite.
“There’s satisfaction in knowing I beat Kevin out of this thing,” Reese said, grinning. “I don’t care what happens the rest of the week — I got Kevin, I took him out.”
VanDam has been Reese’s postseason nemesis, eclipsing him in 2009 and 2010 to take
Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year titles. On stage, VanDam, who won his seventh AOY and fourth in a row last month, said he was disappointed to miss the second half of All-Star Week.
“I really wanted to be there,” he said. “I jumped off a good one today that probably will haunt me.”
Off stage, VanDam and Reese shook hands and slapped each other on the back.
Besides Ashley and Reese, inside the cutline was 2010 Bassmaster Rookie of the Year Ott DeFoe of Knoxville, Tenn. He placed second in the Jordan leg, just 5 ounces behind Ashley. Like Ashley, DeFoe worked the backs of the lake’s creeks, where cooler water from streams keeps water temperatures down, a summertime draw for bass.
“It’s kind of a lot to take in,” DeFoe told the crowd from the stage. “It’s been an incredible week already.”
DeFoe and Michael Iaconelli of Pittsgrove, N.J., will face each other Friday on the Alabama River.
“We’re both passionate fishermen, we’re going to have fun,” Iaconelli said.
Aaron Martens of Leeds, Ala., was matched with Edwin Evers of Talala, Okla. Terry Scroggins of San Mateo, Fla., and Gerald Swindle of Warrior, Ala., will face each other.
All matches were determined by seeding each angler according to their finishes on Jordan. First will be up against eighth, second against seventh, third against sixth, and fourth against third.
Scroggins and Swindle happen to be travel buddies and roommates, and they operate on an agreement to share fishing information with each other.
“We’ve been sharing information all year long,” said Scroggins as he and Swindle jested on stage about how they’d handle the sticky situation. “He’s from Alabama, so I hope he shares now.”
Said Swindle: “We’ll give each other all we’ve got. If he beats me, I just hope he wins the whole thing.”