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BASS International

Wednesday, September 1, 2004
by Ray Scott

The sport of professional bass fishing has officially gone global with the 2004 Bassmaster Classic win by Japan's Takahiro Omori. In 1968, when I founded B.A.S.S., the idea of a worldwide appeal of bass fishing wasn't on the radar screen. We were too busy just crossing the Mason-Dixon Line and getting the word about bass fishing to all American anglers.

Some 36 years ago, bass fishing seemed to be mostly a southern-fried sport of rod-and-reelers. After all, the community of B.A.S.S. anglers had its birth in my own hometown of Montgomery, Ala., the "heart of Dixie" as it says on the car tags.

But it wasn't too many years into the Bassmaster Tournament Trail on the weigh-in stand I was hearing peculiar Yankee accents along with the southern drawls. And even more interesting, along with the good ol' boys from all parts of the country were dentists, lawyers and CPAs. Then the occasional Japanese angler appeared on the trail, offering the merest hint at the bass mania in that country.

It was obvious that bass had universal appeal. We know now that the passion for this unique sport fish transcends any cultural or ethnic boundaries. B.A.S.S. members now span the globe, with substantial numbers of members in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Portugal, Italy, Spain, Mexico, Canada and most definitely Japan, to name a few countries.

And now the name Takahiro Omori will shine brightly in the Land of the Rising Sun, as it will in the U.S. Omori, a 33-year old Japanese immigrant to the U.S., was crowned Classic champ with much fanfare amidst confetti and streamers inside the Charlotte Coliseum.

Omori may be Japanese, but he is an all-American rags-to-riches success story. He caught his first bass at age nine. He says when he was 15 he saw an article about the Bassmaster Classic and knew that's what he wanted to do for a living. Of course, he'd have to move to the U. S. to do it and naturally his parents thought he was crazy.

But his fellow anglers don't call him "Hero" for nothing. He worked as a waiter and washed dishes to save money. He arrived from Tokyo in 1992 wearing flip flops and speaking no English. But he had a $2,000 stake and lots of determination. By the 2000 season he was among the top five bass pros in the country.

Omori's win was no less dramatic. It may not be new news, but let me recap his fishing experience at the Classic. Out of the gate on day 1, he paced the 53-angler field with a five-bass limit of 16-02. As fishing fate would have it, he and another contender, Dean Rojas, happened on the same fishing area on Lake Wylie, and on day 2 Omori watched Rojas boat a five-bass total of 10-12 to take the Classic lead. Omori slipped to 2nd with 25-10. A difference of only 10 ounces divided the leaders.

Omori's day 3 victory was slow to materialize. With less than an hour to fish, he had only two bass in the livewell and was bemoaning the fact that two 5-pounders had broken off the day before. His dream was fading.

But a lure change from a jig to a Balsa-B crankbait changed everything. A 3-pounder was hooked and boated. And then, with less than 10 minutes to fish, he quickly landed two larger bass. He made the check-in boat with only minutes to spare.

At the final weigh-in, Takahiro Omori thrilled the packed house and an ESPN TV audience worldwide with a 13 1/2-pound catch and a winning 3-day total of 39-02.

I had a lump in my throat as I watched Omori hoist the big Classic trophy over his head, backlit by dramatic fireworks. His acceptance of the crown was one of genuine humility, pride and gratitude. And like a lot of tough anglers in that most sought-after spot, he cried.

Now based in Emory, Texas near the likes of great bass fisheries Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend, Omori has adapted to his adopted land and established himself as a true fishing pro.

He may have shown up in this country with only $2,000 in his jeans, but as Classic winner he pockets a $200,000 payoff and more to come in endorsements. In anyone's language that adds up to a lot of Japanese yen, and a great success story that could happen only in America.

News Flash

Speaking of international bass, as I finished this column I had a phone call from Gerry Leach, my good friend in South Africa, formerly a resident of Zimbabwe. He told me an angler in Zimbabwe had just caught a new record bass weighing 18-04, which beat the previous record of 17-00. It was great news: the female bass was a descendant of an original Florida-strain bass I helped ship to Zimbabwe in 1982. I'll have the rest of the story in a later column.

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