Off-limits period has made Ashley antsy

The mandatory off-limits period for the GEICO Bassmaster Classic presented by GoPro is nothing new for the 56 anglers taking part in this year’s event Feb. 20-22 on Lake Hartwell.

Most see it as a good chance to rest and relax and a welcomed opportunity to tie up a few loose ends before the pre-Classic craziness hits its final stretch.

But Costa pro Casey Ashley, who lives just 30 minutes from the host lake, admits this year’s off-limits period, which began Jan. 1, has made him a little antsy.

“I had to work a boat show for my dealer in January for four days,” said Ashley, also an accomplished musician who will sing the National Anthem before the opening round of the Classic Feb. 20 at Green Pond Landing in Anderson, S.C. “I stood up there for that four days, and I guarantee you I thought about the Classic 50,000 times. There’s nothing I can do to get away from it.”

It probably doesn’t help that Ashley has been mentioned as the “favorite” about that many times as well. But he’s earned the label for good reason.

After finishing 17th in the 2008 Bassmaster Classic – his first appearance in the championship event – Ashley assumed the tournament would visit the lake again, and he made an effort to familiarize himself with every inch of the fishery. He actually won an FLW Tour event on the lake last year.

But with the off-limits rule in place, the itch to check out all of his familiar hot spots has been on hold now for 43 days.

He’ll finally get his chance when the official practice period takes place Friday-Sunday. But to keep from going stir crazy, he’s been occupying his time on other lakes like Clarks Hill – another fishery on the Georgia/South Carolina border where he spent countless hours as a child.

“It helps to put a hook in the water, just to sharpen up the tools and get with it,” Ashley said. “I caught my first bass on Clarks Hill when I was 4 years old. I know that lake really well.”

Ashley has also spent some time hanging out with several members of Costa’s GEOBASS Adventure Group – Thad Robison, Brian Jill, Jay Johnson and Chris Owens. Though the group spends most of its time traveling the world fly fishing for exotic species like peacock bass, black bass and barramundi, they joined Ashley in Florida in mid-January for some trophy largemouth fishing.

“They had all their fly gear, and Florida is definitely not the place for fly gear, especially on a cold-front situation like the one we faced while we were down there,” Ashley said, laughing. “I was flipping those hyacinths with 1½-ounce and 2-ounce weights, and it didn’t take them long to put their fly stuff down.”

“When you go to Florida, all you really need is a flipping stick and a good pair of Costas and you can survive.”

The second season of Costa’s GEOBASS film series will premiere Feb. 20, the opening day of the Classic, and will feature footage of Ashley’s Florida excursion with the GEOBASS team. Ashley will also offer tips for the GEOBASS anglers as they travel to Brazil in search of peacock bass.

“I went to Brazil back in ’09, so I have some knowledge of that situation,” Ashley said. “They faced some super-high water conditions – and from what I learned while I was there, those peacock bass are just like largemouth. When you’ve got high-water situations, you’ve got to find places where they can’t get any further.”

Visit costadelmar.com/geobass to see the Feb. 20 episode featuring Ashley and future episodes of Costa's GEOBASS.