Casey Ashley says he’s going to go out on Lake Hartwell today and “pound it” in the final round of the FLW Tour qualifier.
His fellow anglers may contend that he has been doing just that all week.
Ashley not only maintained his lead Saturday on the tournament’s third day, but threatened to turn the event into a runaway.
The 30-year-old pro from Donalds entered Saturday with a 2-pound, 12-ounce lead; he headed for home with a 9-pound, 10-ounce lead and the inside track at a $100,000 payday.
On a day of fishing that was shortened by a three-hour fog delay, several pros and co-anglers came to the weigh-in with light, or even empty bags.
Not so for Ashley, who checked in with a five-bass limit weighing 15 pounds, 7 ounces, easily the best catch of the day and one that drew much applause from a crowd of around 2,000 that clogged the Walmart parking lot in Seneca for the festivities.
“Most of the time I have to scratch and claw to get where I'm going,” Ashley said. “This is going to be new to me, but I’m ready for it.”
Ashley, who finished 11th in the Bassmaster Classic last month, continued to catch his fish on a jig and a shaky-head, but had to work numerous locations.
“I’m not catching a lot of fish in one place,” he said. “I have to move around and work hard.”
But his first bite of the day, which came around 10:45 a.m., was a good one – a 4-pound largemouth that Ashley said “lightened the mood.”
Ashley, who has led every day of the four-day event, enters today’s final round with 50 pounds, 11 ounces – nearly 10 pounds ahead of second-place Clent Davis of Montevallo, Ala. Reigning FLW Tour Angler of the Year Andy Morgan of Dayton, Tenn., is third. While it was a big day for Ashley, it was a not-so-good day for Barton Aiken, the Greenville dentist who entered the day in fourth place.
Aiken, who said he hadn’t “zeroed in two or three years” at Lake Hartwell, failed to catch a keeper bass. His 31-11 total for three days failed to make the final-day Top 10 cut, but he finished 12th in just the second FLW Tour event of his career.
“This has been a lot of fun and a fabulous week,” Aiken said. “My only regret is that I let some people down, but I will be back. Fishing is a lot like life – there are ups and downs and days like today you understand that’s what really important is your faith and your family and your friends.”
David Redington of Sulphur Springs, Texas, won the co-angler division and its $25,000 top prize. Dennis Cameron of Travelers Rest placed fifth.
Today's final weigh-in featuring the Top 10 pros is set for 4 p.m. at the Walmart in Seneca.