Tharp: Ashley is the real deal

Prior to last season I was aware of some of Casey Ashley’s achievements on the water, but until you compete against someone day in and day out you don’t truly have a sense of what they can do.

After Casey won the FLW Tour event on Hartwell last spring, I called my buddy Rob Newell to inquire about him. Rob covered tournaments for FLW at the time and has fished with, or watched, most of the greatest tournament anglers of all time when they’re in competition mode. I value his opinion and know that he’ll tell me the truth.

After Hartwell, this was Rob’s blunt assessment: “Casey is the real deal”.

The “real deal” is not a term that either of us throws around loosely. You may win a tour level tournament but that alone doesn’t merit “real deal” status. Come to think of it, winning is not really a requirement at all. In order to enter this esteemed group, it’s critical for an angler as to have his own unique style. He also has to have that sixth sense, an ability to make split-second gut decisions on the water. A “real deal” angler also believes in himself 100 percent and has the ability to reach the “zone.” I’m getting away from my topic a little bit, so I’ll save my additional thoughts on this topic for a future blog and get back to talking about Casey.

Casey may have no clue about this, but I watched him carefully over the course of the 2014 season. I do that with a number of anglers whose skills and styles intrigue me. I had to see for myself why Rob described him the way he did.

This is what I saw: Casey is a humble and down to earth guy. He is a very smart and fearless competitor and is also very respectful to others on the water. He fishes to his strengths and pretty much catches them everywhere we go. Honestly, Casey had achieved the “real deal” status in my eyes before the Classic even started.

When I compete on lakes where I have historically had a lot of success, I tend to feel a lot of pressure. It doesn’t result from any outside influences but rather just an internal drive to excel. In those situations I expect to do well and have a chance to win, and it genuinely hurts me when I fail to live up to those self-imposed/directed expectations.

I can only imagine what it would be like to be a hometown favorite at the Bassmaster Classic, the sport’s biggest tournament. But if Casey was feeling any added pressure as a result of the circumstances, I didn’t see an ounce of it. At all of the functions, at the hotel, before the launch, singing the national anthem, all I saw was calm, cool Casey. It was like he knew how it was all going to play out before it even happened.  

One aspect of tournament fishing that rarely gets discussed is the incredible level of strategy needed to manage fish over the course of a multi-day event. Casey’s strategy at Hartwell was perfect. He might not admit it, but I think he might have been holding back the first two days.

I will never forget leading the Classic at Guntersville, but in hindsight I think that leading after Day 1 or Day 2 might not be the best thing if you want to be leading when it counts, after the final weigh-in. Casey, on the other hand, was right where you want to be going into the final day – not leading but within close striking distance. It was total domination and I feel that he could have caught even more if he thought it was necessary to do so. Casey Ashley is the “real deal,” and I know that he will represent our sport well as the Bassmaster Classic champion this season.

We have a lot of miles and some exciting locations ahead of us this year. The addition of cameras providing a live feed from the water will improve coverage dramatically. It may be the best thing that has happened in the sport since I started competing.

The Elite Series field gets stronger every year and the fan base continues to grow. Each Classic I have fished has been special to me and I have memories to last a lifetime, but I’m still hungry to get back every year and win one…or more..

Thanks, Greenville, I had a blast.