(Editor's note: This is the first of a series of articles by BassFan editor-in-chief Jon Storm that focus on the bass-fishing scene in Japan.)
The relationship between America and Japan has been long and complicated. Through the pre- and postwar eras of the 20th century, Japan went from being an American ally, to an American enemy, to one of America's closest world partners.
Back when I was young, other kids and I looked toward Japan with wonderment and awe. On the one hand there were the tiny transistor radios, stereo amplifiers, dirtbikes, TV shows like G-Force and Star Blazers, Walkmen and the first wave of arcade games like Space Invaders, Galaxian and Pac-Man.
On the other hand were laid-off mothers and fathers who used to work in the U.S. auto and electronics industry. There were patent fights, calls for tariffs, the death of the U.S. steel industry, and a sound disconnect between the generations and their feelings about Japan.
That was all a long time ago. Today, Mario is more recognized by children than Mickey Mouse. Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! define the 3rd-grade experience. Toyotas and Hondas are assembled in the U.S. Every family has a Nintendo or Sony video-game product of some sort. A Yamaha still isn't a Harley, but it's a respectable bike. And trade worries now surround China, not Japan.
The history of the bass-fishing relationship between Japan and the U.S. is somewhat the same, somewhat different. There are parallels to the larger U.S.–Japan history arc: The Japanese people adopted a U.S. passion and tradition, made it their own, and in many respects improved it. But it's also important to remember that in the upper circles of Japanese bass fishing, the respect given to U.S. bass fishing is nothing short of profound.
Lure names like Heddon, Rapala and Cotton Cordell possess a mythic quality in Japan. The U.S. and its vast bass fisheries represent the Holy Land to Japanese bass anglers, and legends like Larry Nixon, Kevin VanDam and Rick Clunn are idols to Japanese pros.
And when bass fishing first started to peak in Japan in the early to mid-1990s, the thirst for knowledge was unquenchable, and nearly all of it was imported from the U.S. Shortly afterward, Japanese anglers began their own era of innovation and we saw the explosive growth of hook companies like Gamakatsu, Owner and Daiichi, lure manufacturers like Daiwa, Lucky Craft, Megabass and Jackall Bros., rod and reel offerings from Daiwa and Shimano, line companies like Sunline, Silver Thread and Varivas, and so much more.
At the same time, Japanese fishing techniques began to gain hold in California, and the dropshot then joined the lexicon of bass anglers across the nation. Japan was seen by many in the U.S. as the land of fishing innovation.
The result has been that U.S. anglers, in many regards, respect Japanese bass angling much in the same way the Japanese respect U.S. bass angling. The desire for bass-fishing innovation stretches back and forth across the Pacific, and anglers in both countries are the beneficiaries.
I recently had the opportunity to make my second trip to Japan – my first in 20 years. I met and fished with many top Japanese bass pros and guides. I met with rod and lure manufacturers. I interviewed Manubu Kurita, who recently tied George Perry for the all-tackle largemouth bass world record. And I spent 2 days at the Osaka tackle show – one of the largest consumer fishing shows in the world.
Over the next few months, details of the trip will be published in various stories, fishing tips and opinion pieces. But I thought a new Japanese technique called the "hyper Muscle Deep" would be a good place to start – especially since most of the U.S. is currently locked down in a cold snap, and this is a cold-weather technique.
I think most BassFans would agree there's been a significant change in thought over the past several years. Conventional wisdom used to preach smaller baits, slower presentations during cold-front conditions. And that can work – just look at Cody Woods, who deadsticked a Smithwick Rogue to win the Sam Rayburn American Fishing Series last week.
But experiments and tournament results the past several years have proven the opposite approach can often be more effective, and a bigger bait fished more quickly and erratically can trigger reaction bites under the most difficult conditions.
That's where the hyper Muscle Deep comes in. The technique refinement was developed at Lake Biwa in Japan – a large, sprawling lake filled with Florida-Northern largemouth hybrids. It's the lake where Kurita caught his record, but it also receives intense fishing pressure. Hence the need for constant innovation.
Here's a look at the componentry – note the use of a conical rubber stopper (to reduce drag) and bead.
Shigenori Nakajima (Shegay for short) is one of the best-known and most-respected guides on Biwa. He told BassFan that he came upon the technique largely by accident.
"At the end of October last year, I was guiding a client on Biwa when the water temperature was 55 to 60 degrees," Shegay told BassFan through a translator. "We were fishing very deep – 40 feet in the rocks on bottom. My client suddenly started to use a crankbait with a Texas-rig. Nobody uses a crankbait that deep on Biwa, and he put a 1/2-ounce weight ahead of it, which was very unusual."
The client caught a 5-plus-pounder on his very first cast, which Shegay considered a fluke. "I was amazed," Shegay said.
But then the client caught a 6-pounder on his third cast, and continued to catch fish after that.
"Then I realized it wasn't just luck – maybe there was something to it," Shegay noted. "The first reason I think it's effective is that fish never see a crankbait that deep. But also, it's a way to get the fish to react in cold water. I've since learned that if you use a crank that deep it's a big advantage, especially when it gets colder, like when the lake turns over and the fish aren't very aggressive."
Of course, no BassFan would argue that a Texas-rigged crankbait is a "new" technique. But keep in mind that it's all about the refinements.
"I tested the rig one day in our aquarium to see how the lure actually moved with a weight on it," Shegay said. "When it hits bottom, the lure gets very, very erratic. It's the type of random movement that can get a reaction bite from un-aggressive fish."
I fished several hours with Shegay. The fishing was slow and we had other rigs to test and demonstrate. In other words, we didn't get a hookup on it, but I learned enough to report on the technique.
From what I discerned there are several keys to the presentation. One is the retrieve. Shegay casts as far as he can – and note that with a weight ahead of the crank, casting distance is immense. He then lets to crank sink toward bottom and reels very quickly with a 5.4:1 reel.
Each time the crank ticks bottom he snaps the rod upward. It's not an over-the-head type of snap – more like how you'd set the hook on a flip bite. He retrieves with the rodtip pointed directly at the bait, and when the lure ticks bottom and he snaps, he moves the rod from about the 5 o'clock to the 3 o'clock position. That style of snap is what creates the random side-swipe or "jacking" action.
Shegay thinks the Jackall Muscle Deep is the best crank for the technique because it's less buoyant than other cranks.
His crankbait is the – Jackall Muscle Deep 15+. "I guide many clients on Biwa, and in many cases, I'm testing all the different crankbaits with the technique," he said. "Sometimes I'll throw the Muscle Deep and my client will throw a different type of crank. I've found the Muscle Deep to be the best – I think because it's less buoyant. The Texas-rig with a less-buoyant bait is what creates the erratic action. If a bait has more buoyancy, it becomes more stable."
He throws it on a 7'4" Jackall Poison cranking rod with 12-pound fluorocarbon.
It's key to use tungsten, he said, because you want to keep the weight as small and compact as possible. Otherwise you'll dampen action. His weights are from Zappu and range from 1/32- to 1/2-ounce – dependent on target depth. He's had success down to 40 feet with the 1/2-ounce.
He uses a conical rubber stopper made by Zappu ahead of the weight, as well as a bead (again made by Zappu) between the weight and the crank to help protect the line.
Interesting is Shegay's report that this is a big-fish technique, and that most bass take the entire bait in their mouth – even though they're in a non-aggressive state and won't bite plastics.
Also noteworthy is the technique is a great way to cover water in cold conditions – more than you could ever hope to cover with a jigging spoon or worm rig – and because of the weight, the crank is in the strike zone for a very long time.
Will the technique work in summer when bass are set up on main-lake structure, but too deep to reach with a traditional 22-foot crank? He doesn't know, since he hasn't tried it yet. But he did say he's anxious to hear from BassFans who decide to experiment.
> Shegay has a website (click here), although it's in Japanese. Any English-speakers wanting to communicate with him can do so through the site, or by sending him an email, and he'll work to get the messages translated.