By John Johnson
BassFan Senior Editor
There's a commonly held belief among people of Japanese descent that the ages of 39 through 41 are a bad period during a man's life. Kota Kiriyama isn't sure that he fully buys into that dogma, which he says is based on the natural physical decline that occurs with age, but the fact is that he's 41 now and the last couple of years haven't been kind to him.
The six-time Bassmaster Classic qualifier has endured back-to-back brutal seasons on the Elite Series, stemming at least in part from a series of off-the-water hardships. In four tournaments this year – half the season – he finished 96th, 97th or 98th on a circuit that never featured more than 98 entrants.
"I kind of always thought it was just an excuse, but it's been pretty weird," he said in reference to the jinx-age matter. "I'm right in that (range) right now.
"It's interesting. All Japanese people know about it, but then you look at the American people and they don't know about it, so they don't even think about it, so I don't know. I'm still trying to figure it out."
Perhaps he can turn the momentum around after his 42nd birthday, which arrives on Feb. 2.
"Oh, yeah," he said, "but I have to make it to that point first."
One Pitfall after Another
Kiriyama turned in a respectable 16th place finish in the 2010 Classic at Lay Lake, which was contested just a few weeks after he turned 39. A difficult year on the Elite Series ensued, and he ended up 64th in the final Angler of the Year standings.
That was nothing compared to what was still to come, however. During the initial tournament of 2011, his homeland was rocked by a monster earthquake. His home in Alabama was damaged by a tornado later that spring, and then he suffered minor injuries in an auto accident just a week after that.
All the while, the tournament finishes in the 70s, 80s and 90s continued to pile up. He ended 2011 at No. 89 in the points, and then duplicated that placement this year.
He was 97th (dead last) in this year's finale at Oneida Lake – the type of Northern fishery on which he normally excels. At that event he incurred some type of ailment that caused blisters to break out all over his body, resulting in intolerable itching and two trips to see doctors that provided very little relief. The condition went away several weeks later, but he still bears scars from the blisters.
No Better Luck Overseas
Kiriyama is in the midst of a several-week journey to his native country and recently competed in the annual All-Star Classic, an invitational derby put on by the Japanese magazine Basser. He managed one fish each day from the stingy Tone River and finished 16th out of 25 competitors in what he describes as that country's version of the Bassmaster Classic due to the amount of interest it generates.
Kiriyama managed just one fish a day during the ultra-tough All-Star Classic on Japan's Tone River.
Shinichi Fukae and Morizo Shimizu, two other Japanese anglers who fish the U.S. tours, ended up finishing between Fukae and the winner. No competitor weighed a limit on both days.
"It took 13 pounds for 2 days to win it," he said. "I think that's why Japanese fishing technology is so advanced – it's because it's so hard to catch bass over here."
When he gets back to the U.S., he'll immediately start planning for the 2013 Elite campaign. He's already pre-fished for two of the events – the Detroit and St. Lawrence rivers – and that puts him farther ahead already than he was at this point in either of the past 2 years.
"I know I have to spend more time pre-fishing and learning places better than I have before – I need to be more prepared. The last couple years I've had a lot of other things to take care of and I couldn't really concentrate on fishing, and now I'm in a position where I can change that."
He hasn't logged a single-digit finish on the Elite Series since his victory at Lake Erie in 2008. The presence of the two previously mentioned bronzeback meccas on the 2013 slate gives him hope for the near future – once he's turned 42, that is.
"I'm really looking forward to those smallmouth lakes and rivers. I think that might be something that's good for me."