By Todd Ceisner
What would a Bassmaster Elite Series season be without a little down-to-the-wire drama involving Takahiro Omori and his quest for a berth in the Bassmaster Classic?
It's not by design, he swears, but the 2004 Classic champ has made it an annual ritual now to be one of the final qualifiers based on Elite Series points.
This season marked the fourth straight campaign in which Omori's Classic hopes hinged on him making a charge at the season finale or, in the case of this season, a final-day rally.
After spending the entire season inside the Classic points cut off, he slipped out after a lackluster first day of the Angler of the Year Championship at Lake Michigan. With the event shortened to 2 days that meant he had one day to make up the ground he'd lost on day 1.
He delivered a 21-10 stringer of smallmouth and rallied for a 22nd-place finish, earning enough points to close the year 38th in the AOY points. He'd made the Classic again the 11th of his career by 2 points.
"I thought it would be easier this year," he said. "I had a great start at Seminole (finished 4th). The last few years, I was outside the Classic and made it in in the last tournament. This year, I was in (all year) and didn't want to screw it up."
In 2011, he was 42nd in points entering the season finale at Lake Wheeler. A 12th-place finish there moved him up to 32nd and inside the Classic cut.
A year later, he was 39th prior to Oneida Lake. A 4th-place result there was good for a 15-spot jump in the standings and another Classic trip.
Last year, he found himself 41st in points heading to Lake St. Clair, again on the bubble. Another 4th-place finish allowed him to breathe easy as he jumped to 27th and notched his 10th career Classic berth.
Omori had high hopes this year of heading to the AOY Championship without the pressure of needing another high finish to make the Classic. He was on the right track until a 90th-place finish at Cayuga Lake dropped him 17 spots in the points standings to 37th and putting him on the Classic bubble.
"Cayuga was hard to forget," he said. "I'd never fished a tournament there. I pre-fished there and had a decent practice. The first and second day, everything I did it seemed like I was behind somebody every time and my timing was off. It got into my head. Everything went wrong. You're going to have that kind of tournament sometimes, but you hope it's not at the end of the year.
"Until I got to Escanaba I was so mad at myself. I wanted to go have fun up at Escanaba. I didn't want to worry about points. It was supposed to be a fun trip, not a work trip. It was a lot of pressure."
The pressure only intensified after he caught 14-04 on day 1 of the AOY Championship, a below-average stringer that had him 41st in the 50-man field. He was suddenly on the outside of the Classic looking in.
He sat through the three canceled days wondering if he'd be able to pull off another rally.
"I was worried," he said. "I practiced in both bays and I know how to drive the boat. B.A.S.S. was going to decide to let us go or not. I was ready either way."
'It Was On'
When word came that the event was shortened to 2 days, Omori knew his margin for error was suddenly slim. He had to catch a much bigger bag than he had on day 1 to save his Classic hopes.
On the second day, he had about 12 1/2 pounds at noon before running to an area in Big Bay de Noc that he'd located on the first day of practice.
"I had a place I found Monday where there were some crankbait fish," he said. "I went back closer to the tournament and they were gone. They were on main lake points and I was catching them on a Lucky Craft 3.5DD."
When he checked the area, the fish were there again.
"I went there and it was on," he said. "I think those fish come and go with the wind. The more wind I think those fish feed more aggressively. I fished from noon until 2:45 and was catching 3- to 5-pounders every drift."
Facing a 25-mile run back to check-in, he figured leaving with an hour to go would give him plenty of time. However, a wind shift made his run longer and rougher and he made it back with 5 minutes to spare. The 21-14 sack he brought with him proved to be just enough to achieve his goal.
"I did everything I could," he said. "I was just really fortunate again.
"I'll feel good about it for the next five months. My motivation is really high right now. I know I'm in prime of my career and to be considered among the top anglers you have to be in the Classic. I put lot of pressure on myself at the beginning of the year and I had a great start this year. I was in the Classic points all season. I'm so happy it worked out."