Casey Ashley is known for his love of flip flops, laid back style, and Costa sunglasses, but as Labor Day night turned into Tuesday morning, he found himself beached well past midnight in very distressed fashion during practice for the Plano Bassmaster Elite on the Mississippi River.
Finally, on Tuesday night, after losing most all of Day 2’s practice to the sandbar mishap, the likeable 2015 Bassmaster Classic Champion stood in a dark, rainy, hotel parking after a much-needed trip to Olive Garden with friends, recounting his taxing first 36 hours in La Crosse.
“Our first day of practice was Monday, Labor Day, and I was running back in to the ramp to call it a day, when I got stuck at about 7:30 that evening,” says Ashley. “I was so shallow, that nearly my entire boat was out of the water, I knew there was no way I could call a fellow competitor to help me, because they’d have got stuck too.”
“It was so shallow, that just before dark, as I sat there waiting on help, I had a raccoon wade past me and he didn’t even get the fur on his belly wet – I’m dead serious,” he grinned.
Thankfully, he had cell service, and after placing a call to Trip Weldon to explain his predicament, Ashley and longtime girlfriend Kenzi Hartman, who was back at their hotel in La Crosse, began placing calls in search of a tow. However, on Labor Day evening, help was hard to come by. And eventually, a marine rescue team from a local fire department was dispatched.
“I gave them my GPS coordinates, and text them a pin on my phone’s map, and for nearly three hours I could sit there and watch the red light flashing on the top of their boat, but they couldn’t see me,” explains Ashley.
A raccoon wasn’t the only wildlife on the scene. Mosquitos were taking full advantage of his desolation. “They were eating me alive, so I put my rainsuit on, my cold weather face mask on, and stuffed my feet into the arms of my hoodie, because they were biting my feet so bad.”
“Finally, just before 1:00 a.m., the fireman got to me with a Go-Devil style boat, and carried me back to the ramp, but I had to leave my Triton stuck on the sandbar all night,” he explains. “I got back to the hotel at 1:45 a.m., and all I could do was lay there and think about how in the world I was ever gonna get my boat off there in the morning.”
That’s when help ironically came from a fellow angler in the form of longtime FLW pro and La Crosse resident Tom Monsoor, a Mississippi River tournament king often credited with inventing the swim jig. “We owe the people at Island Outdoors a ton of thanks, because they were the ones that put us in touch with Tom and his airboat on Tuesday morning,” says Ashley.
Monsoor pulled him free from the sandbar in minutes, but then Ashley had to visit the Mercury Service Team to make sure no dirt had damaged the inner-workings of his outboard. Finally, Ashley returned for a very limited 4-hour practice session Tuesday.
Wednesday, the final practice day, begins with rain and occasional lighting flashes to further remind Ashley and other Bassmatser Elites what a stressful grind the life of a pro can be. Plus, he desperately needs to do well in this event, as he sits in 41st place in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year race.
“I’m a bubbly boy to make the Classic, and there’s about 10 of us all packed together in the points, so I need to catch ‘em. But at this point, even though I missed a lot of practice, I just gotta roll with it,” says Ashley, who certainly won’t dare go near the backwater that left him high, dry, and sleepless throughout much of his time in La Crosse thus far.