In the 45-year history of the Bassmaster Classic, no qualifying angler who completed in the event held on his home waters has ever won the championship — until now.
This year’s tourney was held at Lake Hartwell in South Carolina, where 56 of the world’s best professional bass anglers spent three sub-freezing days tournament fishing.
I don’t remember ever watching a Classic in which anglers were bundled up in snowmobile suits like they were in this one, but South Carolina angler Casey Ashley didn’t let the cold affect his goal to win.
On day one, the anglers had to deal with boats that were frozen to their trailers, livewell lids frozen shut, heavily iced rods and reels and a two-hour delay of the start of the tournament, but these are pros.
At the end of the day, Arizona angler Dean Rojas took the lead with a five-bass catch totaling 21 pounds, two ounces. Ashley was in the hunt with 15 pounds, three ounces.
Day two, Takahiro Omori of Japan took the lead with 16 pounds, 11 ounces and a two-day total of 31 pounds, 11 ounces.
Ashley weighed in a 14-pound, 11-ounce bag on Day 2, which put him in fifth place with a total of 29 pounds 14 ounces. But on the last day of the tournament, Ashley hauled in 20 pounds, two ounces to finish with 50 pounds.
On the final day, Ashley stuck to his game plan and continued to fish between two primary areas using a spinner and jig. The final day, everything got bigger for him.
He used a lure his dad built prior to the Classic, later admitting it was the simple bait they had made for years with a three-eighths-ounce powdered white head and a 3.5-inch willowleaf blade. Casey also said the final rainy and overcast days were perfect for what he was doing.
His dad gave him 24 in January and said: “You’ll probably win the Classic with this.” Obviously, father knew best!
Last year, Ashley won the FLW pro bass event in March on Lake Hartwell with a four-day wire-to-wire win.
FLW stands for Forrest L. Wood the founder of Ranger Boats and developer of the Ranger fishing boat. Wood had a short tournament career and fished two Classics. His one win was the 1979 B.A.S.S. Invitational in New York state on the St. Lawrence River.
While Ashley was accepting the $300,000 winner’s share of the $1.04 million purse and the 45-pound trophy, the speakers in the Bon Secors Wellness Arena played Ashley’s own song — “Fisherman.”
In addition to being a good bass fisherman, this 31-year-old professional bass tournament angler from Donalds, S.C., is also an accomplished musician who opened the Classic with a rendition of the national anthem.
This win also elevated him up into the elite group of the B.A.S.S. millionaire club. Winning the Classic, depending upon the individual, can also offer very lucrative earnings in endorsements and speaking engagements.
Bobby Lane of Florida was second with 46.15 pounds ($45,000), followed by Takahiror Omari of Texas, 44.3 ($40,000); Dean Rojas of Arizona, 43.13 ($30,000); and Jacob Powroznik of Virginia, 43.1 pounds ($25,000).
All of the 56 Classic qualifiers received a check based on their total weights. Those finishing in 26-56 places received $10,000.
Two anglers who qualified for the Bassmaster Classic through the B.A.S.S. Nation tournaments finished in the top 10. Some say it’s the hardest way to qualify for the Classic because it’s based on state B.A.S.S. Federation events and a series of regional events.
Paul Mueller of Connecticut, who has qualified twice for the Classic, finished 12th this year with 38.6 pounds and received $14,500, and Coby Carden of Alabama had 37.2 and received $13,750.
In local “hard-water” fishing, Nancy and Lou Stutzke will host their 17th annual Weekend Long Ice Fishing Contest on the Great Sacandaga Lake beginning at 4 p.m. Friday and running continuously through Sunday. There’s a $25 entry fee that includes a pig roast beginning at 3 p.m. Saturday at Wally’s Driftwood Park, Vandenburg Point, Mayfield.
There will be monetary prizes totaling $3,850 for the six longest walleyes, northern pike, trout and perch, plus $100 for the longest mud Puppy and $50 for the longest non-game fish for a total cash purse of $4,000.
There will also be other prizes given in a raffle after the cash payout. Two of the bigger prizes are a power auger and a new Tracker boat, motor and trailer package. For more information, go to www.fuelnfood.com or call 661-6917.
Slingshots for rabbit
I recently received a letter from 86-year-old Peter Drahos, who reads my column and said my Florida rabbit/squirrel column brought back some childhood memories.
He said his dad regularly fed 9-15 people with rabbits he hunted. At that time, they had to skimp for money, grew their own vegetables and “ate a lot of stew and never asked where the rabbits came from.”
How did he get the rabbits? Not with a shotgun or bow and arrow, but with a slingshot.
“What an eye he had,” Peter said, “It was unbelievable.”
A slingshot — quite a challenge. I’m going to find out if rabbits and squirrels can be hunted with a slingshot in New York state, and if so, I’ll give it a try. Thank you, Mr. Drahos, for your letter.