Bass Fishing in America

How Takahiro Omori defied his family, flew to Texas, slept in a van and made his crazy dream come true

The jig might work in the early morning if the day is clear and the fish are hungry. If it's overcast and the water level's low, crank bait might stir a reaction. At night, a creature lure could work well in an area in which no one else has fished.

On and on the scenarios went. Sometimes the bass would abide by them. Sometimes they wouldn't. And when they wouldn't? "That's when I started fishing every day," Omori says.

At 15, he entered a junior bass fishing tournament in Japan. Competitive fishing had gained popularity there, and Omori loved to compete. And it was here, on these waters, against these kids, that his obsession became something more, something else. Or rather, he became something else. His obsession became him. Because that tournament combined everything he loved. He had to overpower the fish and outthink them and do so against other people--for a trophy as small as that first fish he'd caught. Which didn't matter either. In later tournaments he entered, the prize was often cash.

They still talk about Omori's win in the little fishing community outside Emory, Texas.
Steve Satterwhite
They still talk about Omori's win in the little fishing community outside Emory, Texas.

Fishing in a tournament for money. Could there be anything better?

Well, yes. Fishing in a tournament for money in America, against the best in the world.

Jimmy Houston, Larry Nixon and other American fishermen often trekked to Tokyo to satisfy their Japanese sponsors. At each boat show they'd slog through, there'd be a teenage Takahiro Omori taking pictures with them and later hanging the portraits on his bedroom wall. The smile on his face would be equaled only one other time, much later in Omori's life.

But taking pictures wasn't enough to sate his drive. So Omori took out a subscription to Basser magazine, the first Japanese publication devoted entirely to bass fishing. He studied that more than he did his homework. What would it be like, he thought many nights in bed, to win the Bassmaster Classic he'd read so much about?

At school, English classes were mandatory, but Omori had trouble learning anything that didn't include the word "bass" or "lure."

He didn't date much either.

At 18, Omori won the first professional Japanese tournament he entered. The thrill didn't last. The bass were tiny, the competition easy. Jimmy Houston would have crushed the field, too. In fact, any American would have won.

Before his high school graduation, Omori told his parents he wasn't going to college. He was instead saving his money to one day fly to America and live out his dream as a professional bass fisherman. "Are you crazy?" his father, Toshichika, asked. "You're going to college."

Toshichika was a businessman with business sense who expected no less from his firstborn son. Flying halfway across the world to chase around bass in a boat--that was no way to make a living. That was no way to be respected in your community. Toshichika would be laughed at. The oldest of his three children, wasting the good grades he'd spent 12 years accumulating, fishing in America. No way.

But his son was just as firm. The fall after his high school graduation, Omori was the only student in his class not to go to college. He fished in pro tournaments when he could but spent most of his time as a dishwasher, waiter and an after-school mentor, teaching kids math and science.

In 1992, Omori approached Japan's Ranger Boats dealer, Popeye Hartman Co., about a sponsorship. The company backed a Japanese angler in America, Masaki Shimono. But Popeye was hesitant about backing another.

The company did agree to hire Omori as Shimono's assistant. This meant Omori would have to shuttle Shimono from tournament to tournament, but it also meant, at some tournaments, Omori would get to fish. And an American exporter for Ranger Boats, Jim McKean, who did a lot of business in Japan, agreed after a discussion with Popeye to house Omori in his Mabank, Texas, home.

So with $2,000 in his pocket, Takahiro Omori flew to America to live his dream, leaving behind nearly all of his childhood possessions, nearly everything he had cared for and held close, including the love of his father.

From an American's perspective, it kept getting worse. Omori landed stateside, and his parents refused to support him. He had trouble finding sponsors. He had trouble driving--a cop once pulled him over because he thought he was drunk. Omori couldn't speak English (which turned out to be a good thing: Some of the bubbas on the bass fishing tour were racist, mimicking the trouble he had speaking and making jokes about sushi). He was on the road for days, months even. He had no social life. He longed to cast lines into shallow waters and, sure, he got to--but only as a scouter, the man who fished for days before the tournament and then handed his rod, reel and knowledge to the pro. In this case, the pro was Masaki Shimono, who, it turned out, was indifferent at best to his new assistant.

Finally, when Omori did fish for money, he finished 269th, and then, two months later, in November 1992, dead last. He took home no cash for either tournament.

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