By Todd Ceisner
Takahiro Omori certainly has a knack for coming through in the clutch.
Who will ever forget the last-minute flurry at Lake Wylie that carried him to victory at the 2004 Bassmaster Classic?
More recently, though, he's needed similar rallies at the end of the season to earn enough points to qualify for the Classic.
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 ago, he was 39th prior to Oneida Lake. A 4th-place result was good for a 15-spot jump in the standings and another Classic trip. This 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.
So what's his secret to executing fishing's equivalent of the two-minute drill?
"I put pressure on myself to make the Classic every year so I have a lot of motivation to make it," he said. "There's more pressure to fish smarter or harder."
Of course, being in position to have the opportunity to fish his way into the Classic, he says, is the key that sometimes gets overlooked.
"You don't make the Classic just based on the last tournament," he said. "They count every single point from the beginning of the year. It's a lot more about mental toughness and how you deal with the pressure and maybe I've done a better job than some other guys who had a chance to make the Classic in the last tournament. It sounds way better to make the Classic in the last tournament 3 years in a row than to miss it. It could've gone either way each time.
"Coming into the last tournament, if you know you have a chance to make the Classic, you do more homework and more preparation. Those things also help. You don't just show up hoping to have a good week. The more you prepare, you have more options. It's just like any other business. You have to understand what's going on and you have to prepare to have success."
If his Classic triumph taught him anything, it's that fishing hard right to the end of the day can turn disappointment into elation in the matter of a hook set.
"I fail more than the times I make it happen in the last second or the last tournament," he said. "If you fish hard to the last minute and try to maximize every opportunity, sometimes good things happen even at the last second. It's just part of the big picture. You have to put everything into it because you never know when things are going to turn around.
"It's easy to say, don't give up, but I just try to figure out the way I can bring my best effort every second. I guess that can turn into a good result for the end of the season or the end of the week."
Ready to Contend
Omori can now be considered a veteran of the North American bass fishing scene. He's been fishing professionally since 1992. He has five B.A.S.S. wins and an FLW Tour victory to his credit, but none since 2005.
Rather than take his Classic chances down to the wire in the future, he's focused on becoming a more consistent performer across all types of fisheries so that he can one day contend for an Angler of the Year award. The closest he's come was finishing 9th in the 2004 B.A.S.S. standings. He'd also like to challenge for victories on a more regular basis.
"I want to get to the next level and try to fight for Angler of the Year. That's my next priority," he said.
Asked what he needs to do to take that next step in his career, he said, "That's what I don't know. If I knew I'd probably have already won Angler of the Year.
"I've tried to figure out so many times how to win a tournament and how to be consistent and I still haven't figured it out yet. I think that's why I still enjoy it because of the challenge after 20 years. I understand myself more and more as a fisherman every year, but I still need to put in time pre-fishing to learn how to get better. Whether it's after a bad tournament or at a new lake, I'm not the most gifted and talented guy on tour like a few guys who are always in contention for Angler of the Year."
Even before the season hit the stretch drive and Omori was making his push toward Classic qualification, he was already battling a setback that forced him to stow his spinning rod for the final two tournaments.
"At the Alabama River, I was trying to hold my boat in that strong current and tried to tie my boat to a tree on the bank," he said. "I was pulling my boat so hard against the current in order to fish this one spot that I messed up a muscle or tendon in my elbow. It's been stiff and has hurt these last few months. It's not too bad now. I haven't gone to a doctor yet, but I'm going to in the off-season. I thought it would've healed right away, but it's been 3 months."
He couldn't use a spinning rod at the St. Lawrence River or Lake St. Clair and instead fished a dropshot on baitcasting gear.
"It's not because I make 2,000 casts a day or something," he said. "It was just a freak thing. I've had to take care of my elbow so it didn't get worse. Sometimes I'll use a baitcaster for a dropshot anyway, but that's my main thing right now. I need to take care of myself for next year."