Born and raised in Donalds, S.C., Casey Ashley caught his first bass at the age of four or five on a Zebco 33.
“Mom loved to crappie fish so dad would take us all crappie fishing over on Clarks Hill,” said Ashley, who turned 32 in Feb. 2016. “While we crappie fished, dad would cast for bass. Of course, I wanted to fish just like dad for bass. So he rigged me up a Carolina-rigged lizard and let me sling it around.
“Pretty soon I was tangling with a pound and a half bass,” he added. “It was barely a keeper, but it was a monster to me. That was it. I was hooked.”
As a kid, Sunday nights were special in the Ashley household because Casey was allowed to watch The Bassmasters TV show, which aired on The Nashville Network at the time.
“That was the original Bassmaster show and it came on late Sunday night,” Ashley remembered. “Even though I had school the next day, dad let me stay up to watch it. I could hardly sleep after watching those shows.”
From an early age, Ashley imprinted on fishing legends like Denny Brauer, Tommy Biffle, George Cochran and, of course, Kevin VanDam.
“When I was in the fourth grade I did a book report on professional fishing as the job I wanted to have when I grew up,” he added “It’s the only career I’ve ever wanted.
“I started fishing tournaments with dad when I was probably 8 or 9 years old,” he recalled. “Sometimes they wouldn’t let us fish, saying I was too young to be a participant.”
In middle school, classes and sports took up and a lot of Ashley’s time, but every spare minute was spent in the outdoors.
“If we weren’t in school or on a ball field, we were in the woods chasing critters or on the water fishing,” he said. “During the winters, we would go coon hunting every night after dinner. On the weekends we would start the day rabbit hunting, then go fishing, deer hunt in the afternoons and then coon hunt at night – I mean it was nonstop.”
During the summers, Ashley worked on a local farm, hauling hay and fishing evening tournaments along the Savannah River chain with his dad.
“Dad would pick me up after work with the boat in tow and I’d be covered in hay dust,” Ashley recalled. “He’d bring me a pair of swim trunks, I’d jump in the water at the lake for my bath and then I was ready to fish the derby – those were good times.”
After graduating from high school in 2002, Ashley attended Piedmont Technical College, a two-year community college, where he earned a degree in Industrial Electronics as a fallback plan in case pro fishing didn’t work out.
In January of 2006, Casey Ashley officially began his campaign to make it as a pro angler. He teamed up with fellow Carolinians Marty Robinson and Jason Williamson and headed for fabled Lake Okeechobee to fish what was then called the EverStart Series.
Fishing in his first “big time” tournament at Okeechobee, Ashley found himself leading the event after the first day, but eventually finished 17th, which only fueled his fishing fire more.
“After that event I entered all five of the 2006 B.A.S.S. Opens and ended up qualifying for the 2007 Elites,” he said. “I finished fourth in the last Open that year and won a boat, which paid for my deposits into the Elites. In fact, Marty, Jason and I all qualified for the Elites together that year.”
At their very first Elite event as rookies in 2007, the Carolina contingent got their first dose of pro fishing reality. While en route to Amistad, all three of their trucks were broken into, resulting in stolen phones, GPS units and tackle.
“We limped on to Amistad with broken windows and sharing tackle to get by,” Ashley said. “None of us made a check in that event, and we had to drive to California for the next one. I remember thinking at that moment, what in the world have we gotten ourselves into, here? We had barely gotten started and I was already broke!”
But Ashley pressed on and four tournaments later won the Elite Series event on Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia.
“That was huge for me,” he said. “It took me from being behind to being ahead of the game financially. And it also helped secure a berth into my first Classic – the 2008 Classic on Lake Hartwell.”
Country road detour
During the 2007 season, Ashley volunteered to sing the national anthem at takeoff and it caught the ear of famous songwriter Rodney Clawson, who was fishing the event as a co-angler.
With a love of fishing and country music in common, Clawson and Ashley became friends, which led to a slight detour down a country road, so to speak.
“Rodney wrote a song called Fisherman about the pro fishing lifestyle that he wanted me to sing,” Ashley said. “We took it to Nashville in 2008, recorded it as a single and did a video for it and it became my theme song on tour.”
In 2011 Ashley and Clawson teamed up again to record a demo CD of six songs entitled Released. Ashley said he still has a passion for music but over the last few years professional fishing has taken precedence.
“It’s hard to chase two dream careers down at once,” he said. “If anyone thinks pro fishing is too expensive and competitive, go to Nashville to try to sing. There are hundreds of extremely talented singer/songwriters waiting tables for that big break. I love to sing, but fishing is where my heart is and that’s where I’m going to stay for while.”
Home is where the Hart(well) is
Professional fishing is all about preparation but Ashley contends there are a couple things in pro fishing that you can never prepare for:
“Fishing your first Classic and winning a Classic, especially on your home lake,” he said. “At my first Classic, I thought I could block it all out; heck, I couldn’t even block out media day the first time around.”
Ashley finished 17th in his first Bassmaster Classic at Hartwell. But that event laid the foundation for his Classic win in 2015.
“A lot of people have asked me when did I first start practicing for the 2015 Classic,” he said. “And the honest answer to that is, seven years ago at my first Classic. Since they had record crowds at that event, I knew B.A.S.S. would eventually come back to Hartwell, and I vowed to get it right when they returned.”
Since winning bass fishing’s biggest title on Feb. 22, 2015, Ashley said his life has been a whirlwind.
“Like I said, nothing can prepare you for a Classic win,” he explained. “You think you have an idea of what’s fixing to happen, but you don’t. Actually, the day after I won was somewhat quiet. But looking back, I realize that was just the calm before the storm.”
Ashley’s biggest challenge after winning the Classic was getting up to speed with an online and social media presence.
“I’m more of a reserved person and I’ll be the first to admit I’m not tech savvy – if those are even the right words,” he explained. “But my goal is to change that. I want fans to know what this year will be like for me; I want them to be able to follow along with what’s going on in my career. So we’re getting the ball rolling on that front as well as trying to keep up with media and appearance requests.
“But the last thing you will hear me do is complain,” he added. “It has been my dream to win the Bassmaster Classic since I watched it on the Bassmaster TV show when I was 7 years old and now it’s happened and I want to soak up every moment of it.”