It was a decade ago, possibly a little more, when I met Takahiro Omori, though he might not remember. We were both at the newly built home of Rick Clunn, nestled in a remote location in the Ozark Mountains. There we would attend Clunn’s school of angling awareness in an attempt to unlock the secrets of becoming a tournament champion by harnessing the mind’s potential. David Walker, Byron Velvick and a few dozen other hopefuls attended. At the time, Omori was just learning English.
Throughout the week, camping on Clunn’s property, students were taught one underlying principle: In order to excel, a person can only rely on himself. This was brought to us in various forms, from basic fire-starting classes to detailed accounts of tournament-wining patterns. Each and every day, Clunn’s message was clear: To win, accept no information, and learn only from your past and current experiences.
At the time, Clunn was popular in the media for his “self-reliant” lifestyle and approach to fishing. Other tournament anglers explored the idea. Throughout my travels, I met or learned of several champions with similar mindsets, men I felt, in some way, could be coined “Disciples of Clunn." Gary Klein and Randy Blaukaut were notables. I had spoken at length with back-to back All-American champ Jeff Coble about such alternative beliefs, and I’d heard Dave Gliebe once dominated the West Coast by fishing with inner direction.
The underlying principle, reprinted in various forms some may recognize outside of fishing, is quite simple: The answer to everything is already in your mind.
Nothing in fishing is greater than when we unlock this inner awareness. Just about everyone who’s spent much time in a bass boat has been witness to the phenomenon. Some scoff at it as coincidence. Others credit higher sources or influences for their direction. And a few have tried to harness and control it.
I was pleasantly surprised to see Omori at the recent Classic and get his thoughts on outside influences, local help and self-reliance. He's now a far better communicator than just a few years ago, and I felt confident I would get a unique opinion from an incredibly unique competitor. Omori is famous for his yearlong commitment to tournament bass fishing. If he’s not at an event, he is likely pre-fishing, sometimes for weeks at a time, for another. He’s the epitome of the hard-working professional.
Therefore, I was astonished to learn that Omori readily admitted he now receives pre-practice help from local anglers at many tournament sites. I had heard that he'd fished a few times with locals around the Great Lakes, but I really thought that was the exception. His reasoning was straightforward.
“Bass fishermen are the only pro athletes that do not have a coach. Every other sport has a coach, even auto racing.”
Takahiro summarized that local anglers serve as the traveling angler’s coach at tour stops. He also noted that it’s nearly impossible to have any other coaching influence; mentors in the sport are usually other competitors. Most successful anglers don’t just retire and take up coaching; they continue to compete, as Clunn, Klein and Larry Nixon are cases in point.
Therefore, Omori feels it’s a great help to get a starting point from local anglers, and he claims nearly all tour pros do, regardless of what the media wants us to believe. Throughout the interview, Omori made reference to several top pros whose time and schedule prevent them from pre-fishing tournament waters. They just “show up and fish,” as it’s commonly referred to.
In his early years of competition, Omori just assumed those pros were simply better anglers, able to unlock each lake’s secrets in relatively no time at all. Furthermore, Omori felt he was a lesser angler, and that he needed to work harder than the top money-winners.
But then, as time went on, one major change occurred. Omori's English improved, and he became better able to communicate. With improved language skills, Omori recognized that he could cut his learning curve down by gaining the assistance of those intimately familiar with each body of water. He also learned that nearly all other pros were doing the same thing.
Omori stated further that most tour anglers have far too much ego to admit this and that, he feels, he entered the sport in a very unique way, far separated from the ego side of things. You see, when you come to a foreign land with no future and no job, and you can’t speak the language, your ego is pretty much thrown out the window. Simply surviving takes the driver’s seat.
I agree that, somewhere in time, probably as a result of sensationalism by the media, it became very en vogue for the top competitors to be perceived as superior to all other bass fishermen, as if they didn’t need outside help. The best pros began being perceived as far superior in finding fish than local anglers.
But that’s simply not true, according to Omori, and I think he’s right. I mean, really, how could a traveling tour pro be as knowledgeable about a fishery as a guy who fishes there daily?
Besides, the job of the touring pro isn’t to go out and set lake records. It’s to go out and beat everyone in the tournament that week. While the professionals routinely make very strong catches wherever they stop, it’s not like they go out and pull off unheard of, heroic stringers. Often times, local events produce weights comparable to what the pros put on the board.
But what separates the best on tour from everyone else is their ability to turn in strong performances every day, adapt extremely quickly to current conditions and not get rattled when life-changing sums of money enter the mix. I’m not insinuating that the pros aren’t the best in the world at tournament bass fishing; they are. But that doesn’t make them the most knowledgeable anglers on the lake the instant they roll into town.
Omori goes further and explains that, when it comes to getting help, he really just tries to learn the generalities, like patterns, navigation and how the lake lays out, and is most concerned with lakes on which he has little prior experience. He also mentioned that pre-fishing alone is, frankly, boring, and he enjoys having someone else in the boat. While this may sound like backtracking, a real-life scenario illustrates his case.
After practicing for weeks for the final 2013 Elite event on St. Clair, much of the time fishing with local anglers, Omori abandoned his preconceived plans and ran to Lake Erie during the event, due to St. Clair’s below-par fishing. Doing so garnished him a Top-5 finish. He never utilized any specifics of his pre-fishing trips to St. Clair, but he did highly utilize the knowledge he gained there about smallmouth – how they set up on structure and what baits to use to catch them. That portion of his learning curve was greatly reduced with the help of locals.
Now the glaringly obvious argument to Omori’s new reasoning comes in his record. While still having trouble communicating a decade ago, Omori won the biggest title of his career, the 2004 Bassmaster Classic. In a series of events Jerry McKinnis once termed “spooky,” Omori had visualized winning the event the year before while at Clunn’s house, possibly further unlocking his inner potential. He won in the final seconds of competition after following an intuitive guidance to abandon his flipping pattern and begin cranking. Omori had received no help for the event.
So how does that fit in?
“Today is different,” he simply stated.
Omori went on to explain that, with today’s information superhighway, where everyone is instantly connected, the bar has been raised. Everyone is getting information instantly, and more than just tournament reports, he says.
The point he’s trying to make, I feel, is that, in order to compete with the best in the world, every advantage must be utilized. These guys show up at a lake with a great deal of knowledge, some in the form of local waypoints, but others just in the form of advanced map study, satellite imagery or instant water-level datum. In any case, when the best pros hit the water, they are light years ahead of where most average anglers are. They’re incredibly efficient and unbelievably talented.
Omori further stresses that today’s tour pros put more work into each event than just about any recreational fisherman could ever comprehend. They have to; their competitors are all doing the same. Omori continues to spend long periods pre-fishing for nearly every event, continuously striving for the next level. He makes it a point to eat healthy, stay in shape and safeguard his body from fishing-related injuries.
In his words, he wants to “maximize the opportunity to take (him)self to the next level." He feels that utilizing all the information available is simply one step in doing so, and it’s time the fans of bass fishing realized that.
(Joe Balog is the often outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)