It’s Day One of competition at the Bassmaster Elite Series Diet Mountain Dew Mississippi River Rumble in La Crosse, Wis. The sun sets late and rises early. The days are long. And for 29-year-old Casey Ashley, a two-time winner on bass fishing’s toughest trail, the day begins in a hotel parking lot, at a speed matched well to his thick, near whisper, of a drawn-out Southern drawl.
5:30 a.m. – Casey walks out of his hotel and adds instant calm to chaos. “Nah, ain’t no need to be in a hurry,” he says, as other competitors file into a line of trucks and trailers exiting the hotel parking lot like morning commuters at rush hour.
5:38 a.m. – Before hooking his boat to his truck, Casey arranges five Quantum EXO rods and reels in perfect order on the port side of his Triton that he’ll use mostly for Texas rigged plastics and jigs. The starboard portion of his front deck is saved for frogs. Topwater frogs were much a part of the dominant pattern for successful anglers during the Bassmaster Elite held here in June 2012, and they look to be again this year. Two of Casey’s frogs are shades of green and yellow, but a third is a more radical looking ribbit with a silver belly and purple legs. “I’ve never thrown that one, but I just might if I get bored throwing the other two,” laughs Casey. In a vocation saturated with stress, the accomplished young pro seems to approach his profession more like the ‘toes in the sand’ situations he loves to indulge in when not competing.
5:43 a.m. – Casey is the last pro to pull out of the hotel parking lot. What was a traffic jam of fiberglass 13 minutes earlier is now a lonely looking patch of asphalt. “This river is fishing a lot different this year. You could get 50 bites a day last year, but in practice Monday and Tuesday, I fished 15 hours for 15 bites a day,” he explains with confirmation of the days being long here.
5:51 a.m. – He jumps back in his Toyota Tundra. Something’s missing this morning. Music. Predictably, Casey, who once recorded an album in Nashville, chooses to play Kenny Chesney’s “Welcome to the Fishbowl.”
5:55 a.m. – Casey meets his Marshal for the day, Chad Haabala, a 26-year-old Wildlife Management major from North Dakota State University in Fargo, who carries a camera to “help remember all this, and remind my buddies of what they missed by not hurrying to sign up to be a Marshal fast enough. I marshaled last year at this Elite, and I had so much fun, I made sure I got signed up in time to do it again,” says Haabala.
6:15 a.m. – America’s national anthem is sung by a young girl presumably from the La Crosse area as the sun shines clear and bright in the seemingly room temperature perfect morning air.
6:20 a.m. – Boat #1 is called for official takeoff.
6:35 a.m. – Casey’s boat number is called. “I don’t get nervous throughout the morning, but I still get psyched as I’m runnin’ to my first spot,” says Casey. As his Triton surpasses the 70 mph mark, it’s the first time all day the laid back South Carolina pro has been in any sort of hurry.