AN AUSSIE BASSER IN THE LAND OF THE RISING SUN

ABT Director Steve Morgan recently took the opportunity to fish a largemouth bass tournament – the WBS Super 3 Day event on Lake Kasumi, north of Tokyo. Want to know what it was like? Read on…. If a normal ABT report is an easy read, then be warned – this is long winded!

Occasionally we’re presented with opportunities that are too good to pass up. After hosting a couple of Japanese anglers from Marukyu – the company that makes Ecogear soft plastics and tackle – an invitation arrived to fish a high-profile Japanese bass event. With enough Frequent Flyer points to make it happen, how could I say no?

Travelling with Tony Shao, head of JML Trading, the Australian Distributor of Ecogear tackle and Yamatoyo leaders, the opportunity was unique for several reasons.

Firstly, we’d be able to see first hand, the reputedly tough fishing conditions that contribute to the need for incredibly fine tuned tackle that the Japanese have developed for their bassing.

Secondly, we’d get to fish with a couple of top-notch Japanese bass pro anglers – Tony fished with Mr Orimoto, Marykyu’s tackle designer and one of their full-time professional anglers, while I was paired with the diminutive Mr Nishimura, another of Ecogear’s Pro Staff and holder of the weight-record for a seven bass limit in a tournament of over 10kg.

And thirdly, of course, I’d get to set the credit card loose in some of the coolest tackle shops on the planet.

I’ve been lucky enough to fish bass tournaments in several parts of the world – so the one thing I did expect was to be surprised. Everywhere there are bass tournaments, there are different formats and protocols, different etiquitte and techniques, even though the fish themselves behave similarly wherever you are.

And after a day and a half of tough practice fishing where we saw around 10 bass between four anglers, I was quite prepared to sit back, take it easy, soak up the atmosphere and learn some new tricks….

Like hell I was. This was a tournament and I’ve always convinced myself that fishing hard and learning on the run is even better that the philosophical approach. Still, a safe goal as a fallback was simply to weigh a bass in. Bassers can justify anything in the sport they love.

THE START RITUAL

Like many Japanese cultural traditions, their tournaments have their own special procedure – and with a group of experienced anglers, such as those competing in this event, the process was eye-opening.

After departing your hotel at 4am and grabbing some breakfast in one hand and lunch in the other at the local store (open 24 hours, of course), anglers would arrive at the event site at around 4.15, check-in with tournament officials and receive their boat and vehicle number.

The boat number was a cloth flag with your number screen printed on it and the car number was the same, but printed on some fridge magnet material. You’d apply the magnetic number to your bonnet and then proceed to the designated parking spot – for your car and boat.

At this point, anglers prepare their boat for the day’s event and their boat for a quick launch. Rods are removed form the lockers or vehicles, re-checked and strapped to the deck. Boat covers are rolled up and jammed in the back of the car or strapped to the roof and anything that’s not immediately needed is stowed away.

At 4.40am, the organisers called the briefing and ran quickly through the finish times and weigh-in procedure. It was Summer in Japan, so the sun was well and truly up. It was getting light when the alarm went off at 3.45am!

The end of the meeting, though, was where things really got interesting. After a quick ‘good luck’ teams scurried to their rigs and launched with the precision of a well drilled army platoon. I donned my PFD, gunned the 225 Yammy when the engine hit the water and joined the line of boats picking up the drivers after they’d again parked their vehicles in a strict order. Keys were left with the organisers.

And the boats themselves? They’re all 18 to 21 foot fibreglass rigs with the substantial horsepower that accompanies craft of this type. Mr Nishikura’s – in which we represented “Team Fishing Monthly Australia” was a 21 foot Triton with all the bells and whistles. I was electric-ing to the dock in a congo-line of Rangers, Gamblers, Tritons and Skeeters powered with Yammies and Mercs. At a glance, you’d think you were in the USA, except the anglers were nearly universally shorter, quieter and often better mannered!

And that I couldn’t understand a word they said.

Mr Nishikura (which I quickly shortened to Nishi-san), though, spoke a little English, and when we both got really confused, a notepad and pen sorted things out.

I smiled when he tossed me a pair of ski-goggles and said, “Hold on … we go … fast.”

The whole process took less than 10 minutes and as the last of the boats were putting in, the first of the fleet were waving to the starters as their number was displayed and taking off at the only speed bassers around the world know how.

Flat out.

Lake Kasumi around 90 minutes drive north of Tokyo and it’s a substantial body of water. From the launch site at the top of the dam to the bottom of the lake is around 30 minutes at 70+mph. You can’t see the other side in places, an artefact of its breadth and proximity to Tokyo’s smog. As you can imagine, it’d make Glenbawn’s chop look like waterskiing weather in strong winds. Hence the big boats.

We were heading to a place that Nishi located in practice – the mouth of a river that flows into the lake. As the bass had already spawned for the year and were in what largemouth anglers call a ‘post-spawn’ pattern, it meant that the fish could be virtually anywhere – over rocky bottom, along steep banks, around bridge pylons or even around the millions of bits of standing structure in the lake.

Lake Kasumi bass will hold on as little as a pencil-thin piece of bamboo poked into the lake bed to mark the position of an eel trap.

Armed with this information, we narrowed the potential holding spots for bass at this time of year down to about two billion. So we started fishing ’em one at a time.

ATTACK OF THE SECRET WORM

Nishi explained at the start that he caught his fish the previous, practice weekend by pitching unweighted plastics at the banks with a little current and shade that were adjacent to deeper water. Deeper water was anything around 2 metres. Shallow water ate MotorGuide propellers.

He rigged a white Yamamoto 4″ Senko weightless while I used a new Nories bait that Mr Orimoto was about to release onto the market – I can’t remember the exact Japanese/English name of it, but it adopted the generic name ‘secret worm’ pretty quickly.

I’d already realised that I couldn’t match the Japanese when it came to accurate pitching and flipping. During the practice day, Orimoto was easily delivering his bait into places that I couldn’t even see into, let alone that I thought would hold water – and bass.

Nishi landed one a little too deep and in the process if retrieving it, lost his footing and splashed into the drink. I didn’t know whether to laugh, help him out jump in there, too. Maybe it was a secret pattern that woke the fish up first thing in the morning.

Actually, the last thing I’d do was jump in there with him. The water looked like it was full of more crap than a philosophers’ convention.

Back on deck and dripping wet, there was nothing much to say, so we kept fishing. I would have killed for some smart-ass comments in Japanese.

Nishi explained the pattern with the aid of the pad, drawing a substantial undercut under the water level and in from the shoreline. If you could drop the bait into a gap in the foliage about the size of a one yen coin after skipping it across and under some fallen reeds and a mat of debris, you were in with a chance.

Cripes. I was happy just to make a backlash-free overhead cast!

So, I concentrated on places that Nishi was missing – targeting the miniature points that stuck a foot out into the small current and sunk the lure under those.

And luckily, that technique took our only bass of the day. As the soft plastic bait sank, the line traced mysteriously upstream – a trait typical of largemouths – so I set the hook in a manner that’d make any American angler proud and deposited an 830 gram Japanese largemouth on the deck.

It was only 8.30 am. At this rate, with a nine-hour fishing day, I made a quick mental calculation, compared it with the previous year’s results and derived a top five placing within seconds.

FROM ROOSTER TO FEATHER DUSTER …

It was a pretty long bow to draw, and, as usual, my theory turned out to be total crap. We gave up on the river mouth after another couple of fruitless hours and hit dozens of areas down the lake shore.

At the time we left the prime area at the river mouth, there was another couple of tournament boats there – faring just as well – a couple of float-tube anglers and up to half a dozen ‘small’ bass boats – 11 to 12 foot cartoppers with 15hp engines, bow mount electrics and solo anglers practicing for the next weekend’s 300 to 400 boat event.

A couple of the were Aussie-built Quintrexes.

It was at that time that I realised just how heavily pressured these Japanese largemouths are. I wouldn’t be surprised if these bass saw a lure – if not several – every day. As it turned out, we did catch bass later that had obvious hook scars in their mouths – nearly all of them did, but one fish in particular looked like it had been caught three times in recent months.

This is why Japanese bass tackle – and I suppose Japanese tackle in general – is so meticulously crafted and diverse. There’s the constant motivation of showing fish lures that they haven’t seen before. I certainly saw plenty that were new to me!

Apart from the bass fishermen – by far the minority on the lake – there were bankside carp anglers fishing floats and long poles and long commercial boats that were trawling for a baitfish-sized sardine-like prize and hundreds of carp farms – mazes of poles holding up net cages that are fed by automatic feeders. You could smell ’em from miles away.

Kasumi is shallow, nutrient rich and productive and the Japanese sure do take advantage of it.

During our search we came across Tony and Orimoto. They were faring even worse – no bites at all by 11am. But they had the last laugh on day one, with a single kilo-plus bass that was the second biggest weighed-in on the first day.

Still, we weren’t last – a couple of teams weighed in nothing. I was getting the feeling, though, that you had to be John Schofield to catch a limit of bass in Kasumi.

Word around the weigh-in was that anglers fishing near the dam’s outlet head some great fishing – for Japanese standards – and several teams weighed in their 7-fish limits. The leader had over 6kg. It seemed as though the race for the bottom of the dam would be on in earnest come 5am Friday.

… AND BACK AGAIN

If possible, the second day’s start was smoother than the first, and we were blasting down the lake mere minutes after the morning meeting. Seconds before our number appeared on the start-board, Nishi changed his mind. We were going back to the river mouth from day one. He thought that they wouldn’t let water out of the dam today and that yesterday’s leaders would struggle.

We were getting to know that piece of water pretty well by now, so I knew just where to point the boat at as Nishi unstrapped the rods and prepared for the day’s innings.

A couple of tussocks of reeds defined the edge of the creek channel and we pitched ‘secret worms’ around them. Then, moving to the start of the ‘deep bank’ my first pitch saw the line head back towards me.

Setting the hook on a 1.3kg-ish bass had our spirits up as Nishi landed it in a unique, double-handed, scruff-of-the-neck, grab-the-bastard-at-all-costs tackle that would have earned him with about a dozen stitches if it was an Aussie bass and one less hand if it was an Awoonga barra!

We were happy, but remembered the previous day. One bass does not a limit make.

Two bass, though, are a start, and a 900-grammer joined his kin in the livewell at the other end of the 200 metre stretch half an hour later.

After trying the same structure that yielded yesterday’s catch, a return to the ‘deep bank’ added a third fish of around a kilo for Nishi. With three fish in the first two hours, Nishi’s plan was looking good and I was starting to make those stupid calculations again.

But, an hour of painful nothing had us changing location to a tiny feeder stream 200 metres away. I talked Nishi into it – more for a change of scenery than for any real logic. It did hold, though, the clearest water we’d seen in the lake. You could see the bottom in 1.2 metres.

So, I felt like a goose as we spent 20 minutes in there for not a bite and just as I was about to give myself a public upper-cut, Nishi sank the hooks into our best bass of the tournament – a 1.86kg fish that again missed big-bass by a whisker.

It was definitely high-five time and a great turn-around from day one. Go the Secret Worm!

With continued effort on our ‘deep bank’, we scratched out another couple of fish before noon. And heard the reports of slow fishing in the lower dam from anglers running and gunning into the river mouth.

The last fish of the limit, though, was hard work. It ate a Carolina-rigged Berkley Brush-hog that Nishi dragged across a section of hard bottom. We pinpointed areas of harder bottom by feeling the consistency through the line via a tungsten weight. Nishi had his fish-finder turned off in the river. He thought that it spooked the fish.

WEIGH COOL

We’re familiar with ‘drive-through’ style weigh-ins from several BREAM events here in Australia. This Japanese drive-through, though, was manicured for the media. In fact, there were few spectators – the majority of the attendees at the weigh in were fishing media – both TV and print.

After the boat was parked in front of the main stage, anglers would add bass to their weigh bags one at a time. As each big bass was removed from the livewell, the media would capture its likeness on film. An especially big fish would draw gasps and applause from the bystanders.

Of course, this meant that we loaded the bass in reverse order – starting small and ending with Nishi’s big bass. Once loaded into the weigh-bag, we presented the to the weigh-master.

Penalties were deducted for dead fish. Two of ours didn’t survive the rough trip home after the weather changed for the worse on Day 2. We lost 500 grams for this, but still managed 7.28kg – the second biggest bag for the day and jumping us from 24th to 7th position.

As Nishi commented … “we have chance”.

A FLASH IN THE PAN

We have a chance, all right, the chance to go backwards!

Day three was as frustrating as Day 1. Conditions seemed the same, but the fish just didn’t bite with the same frequency as the day before. We converted both of our bass bites for 1.85kg – with my 1.36kg bass that ate a crankbait bounced across a section of hard bottom again missed the big bass mark by 70g.

For the entire event, all 10 of our bass came from a stretch of river that was 500m long at the most.

Overall, Team Fishing Monthly Australia landed 10th spot and the Ecogear International Team placed 26th.

LESSONS LEARNED

The most valuable thing that I take from experiencing different tournaments are the lessons learned. If fishing with fellow anglers in Australia is an eye-opening experience, then fishing with overseas anglers is akin to taking a university degree in bassing!

Probably the best lesson I learnt during the trip is that if you’re confident that the fish you’re chasing are in an area, then back your intuition and keep fishing for them. You don’t catch fish in tournament by driving around in your boat with your lures on the deck.

Another point that was made evident is that we have some excellent bass fishing in Australia, and even on the most pressured of our lakes, the fish have an absolute holiday from angling pressure.

When Japanese talk of visiting Australia, they nearly universally talk of fishing reaction baits – such as spinnerbaits, jerkbaits and topwater lures. They do this because it’s rare for Japanese bass to be in such a mood that they blast topwaters time and time again as Australian Bass do more often than not.

Also, a 10 bass day in Japan is real boasting material. We take for granted the 30 and 50 fish days that we’ve all experienced in the past – and that we’ll probably do so again on one of our next trips.

As for me, I have a new little tackle box full of Japanese innovations and gadgets – from jointed topwater stickbaits through to snagless drop-shotting hooks and barra-sized minnows with fizzer blades on the tail. And, of course, a pack or two of ‘secret worms’. Just don’t tell Mr Orimoto that I liberated them from him!

RESULTS
PLACE TEAM FISH WEIGHT
1. [Japanese] Team 19/19 15.680kg
2. [Japanese] Team 18/18 12.610kg
3. Bikers 14/12 11.780kg
4. KTC 17/17 11.400kg
5. Team [Japanese] 12/12 11.280kg
6. Team Spin2 13/13 11.170kg
7. [lots of Japanese] 15/15 11.140kg
8. Team SURVIVE 18/17 10.230kg
9. Team Spin 15/15 9.980kg
10. TEAM FM AUSTRALIA 10/8 9.960kg
12. TEAM hideoutBARshin 15/15 9.060kg
13. TEAM 53up! 12/12 8.320kg
13. [Japanese] 10/10 8.320kg
15. Fish Leaguer with Eco 13/12 7.880kg
16. TEAM DAIKO Spirits 13/12 7.870kg
17. [Japanese] 12/12 7.210kg
18. Typhoon 9/8 6.800kg
19. CLUB-CURIOUS.com 7/6 6.460kg
20. TEAM-51 9/9 6.150kg
21. TEAM GOOBER 8/8 5.050kg
22. TEAM MEGABASS 7/7 4.500kg
23. KAMAKASE PAIRS 6/5 3.660kg
24. OUTLAW 6/6 3.520kg
25. kanegon WEB 5/5 2.530kg
26. TEAM ECOGEAR INTERNATIONAL 1/1 1.520kg

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