Desperately needing a strong finish in the final tournament of the Bassmaster Elite Series Tour, Casey Ashley finished Day 1 in first place with a total of 17-10, leading 2nd place angler Ott DeFoe by 3 ounces. 

After a rough time at practice this week for the La Crosse, Wisconsin event, Ashley said he would scratch and claw through the next few days. He needs to do well for a number of reasons. Currently in 41st place in the Elite Series, he needs to move up two spots to qualify for the Super Bowl of bass fishing, the Classic, which no angler wants to miss.

Today is just the kind of start he needed, as Ashley noted that getting behind at an event like this, where the numbers of quality bass are limited, and sure to shrink as the tournament gets going, is tough to overcome.

Ashley said one of the most important aspects of fishing in La Crosse is that it’s easy to find plenty of small fish that are biting well, and if you get caught up in catching them, you can lull yourself out of contention.

“If you fall back and get comfortable catching 2 1/4- and 2 1/2-pound fish and everyone else is catching 2 3/4-pounders and the occasional 3, you’re going to find yourself 30 places back,” said the Donalds, S.C. native.

“It can happen so easily. You can get in a groove if you’re catching 2s and 2 1/4s, and think you’re doing something, but come in 80th place,” he said. 

After the first day of the tournament at least, Ashley has avoided that situation. He came in feeling good about the vegetation here, and said as long as the water levels don’t fluctuate too much, the fish should react to his lures and tactics much like they have in the other tournaments he’s fished here.

“It’s going to be a nail-biter. It’s going to be super close, and that just adds to the pressure. If you catch one or two 4-pounders a day, you’re going to be way up in the standings. There’s just not a lot of big fish, so you can’t make a comeback on Day 2 or Day 3 to improve your position,” he said.

After Day 1, Ashley is in good spirits.

“I feel like I’ve got another shot at winning,” said Ashley, who relied on four smallmouth and one largemouth to fill out his limit today.