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BASS FISHING IN JAPAN

Posted 7/27/2010

Manabu Jurita, Largemouth Bass World Record Holder.  Phil Dyskow and Mr. Kurita during a recent fishing excursion in Japan.

By Phil Dyskow, Strategic Advisor, Yamaha Marine Group

I recently had a chance to fish on Japan's Lake Biwa with the Largemouth Bass World Record Holder Mr. Manabu Kurita. Even though I have been going to Japan for over 35 years, this was my first opportunity to go Bass fishing there. Japan's culture is both ancient and diverse, but I was surprised at how much Bass fishing is similar to what we see in the U.S. However, there are some exceptions, which I will try to explain.

To begin with, Lake Biwa is a very large lake. Its area is over 165,000 acres, and it has about 146 miles of shoreline. It is over 300 feet deep at its deepest point, and it averages about 30 feet in depth. Most Bass fishing takes place in about 15 feet of water on huge offshore grass flats, or close to shoreline structure. The lake level is kept constant due to the many rivers and streams that feed into it. Water exits the lake via the Seta River, which flows into the Yodo River on its way to the Pacific Ocean. I am told that Lake Biwa represents about 90 percent of the Bass fishing activities in Japan.

Due to the fact that Lake Biwa (Biwa-ko in Japanese) is only a short 20-minute ride on the local train from Kyoto, the area around it is very built up.

I was expecting a country atmosphere, and a fisherman's style accommodation. However, there are a number of very large and luxurious resort style hotels, and the shoreline is very developed and heavily populated by our standards. Although Bass fishing is a very visible activity, most visitors come there simply to relax, sightsee and enjoy the lake.

One big difference between Japan and the U.S. is readily apparent when I reached the shoreline. Because the vehicles and roads make it close to impossible to trailer a boat in Japan, Bass boats are stored in racks at marinas that line sections of the lake. Literally thousands of Bass boats of every age, size and type can be seen at these marinas. The place we launched at had somewhere between 500 and 750 Bass boats of every description. The most popular brands appeared to be Ranger® and Skeeter®, but all U.S. brands are represented at some level. The boats are launched with the assistance of forklifts much as they would be at a dry stack in the U.S. One big hassle is that there is no electrical power available in the storage area. That means that Bass fishermen have to take their batteries home to charge them.

I had never met Mr. Kurita before so I did not know what to expect. All I knew was that he had caught the new World Record Largemouth. I found him to be a very modest and unassuming guy who was just as excited to be fishing with me as I was with him. He caught his world record Bass out of a Skeeter® ZX 250 with a Yamaha VMAX SHO® 250. He has owned 3 Skeeter®/Yamaha packages over his lifetime. It is interesting to note that he is not a professional fisherman, and that he pays for everything himself. Mr. Kurita is very dedicated to his pursuit of trophy-size Bass. He fishes an average of five days per week, and he takes a very scientific approach to fishing. He has studied the characteristics of large Bass in more detail than anyone I have ever met.

Many have questioned whether his world record catch was a fluke or whether it was based on talent. I can honestly assure everyone that it was based on talent, technique and perseverance. We spent about five hours crank baiting, using spinner baits, jig fishing and throwing plastic worms and crawdads. Mr. Kurita is skilled with each technique, and he easily out fished me until he graciously stopped fishing to run the trolling motor. We caught several of what I would call average-sized Bass. I could tell that he really wanted to show me his style of fishing for really big Bass. He very enthusiastically agreed to show me how, where and why he caught the World Record Largemouth Bass.

The first step was to catch the appropriate live bait. As most of you know, many of the largest Bass have been caught on live bait. In the U.S., they use Golden Shiners, Shad or other forms of bait. Lake Biwa does not have either Shad or Shiners, so the best live baits are Bluegill. Bluegill are a non-native species imported to Japan for the Emperor in the Meiji Period. Bluegill were placed in Lake Biwa as a food source for other species, so it is natural to use them for bait. When catching bait, I noticed that Mr. Kurita would only keep the large Bluegill, throwing all of the small ones back. He obviously subscribes to the theory: "bigger baits – bigger fish!"

We motored in Mr. Kurita's Skeeter® to a place where the lake narrows between the two main sections. This sort of resembles the neck of an hour glass. The current flows pretty good through this area, there is a highway bridge and lots of shore structure. Mr. Kurita did not hesitate to take me to the very spot where he caught the world record. He was very generous, and seemed willing to share his knowledge freely.

Conditions on the day we fished were not ideal. It had rained very heavy the day previously, and the water was somewhat cloudy for Lake Biwa. Mr. Kurita prefers fishing in clearer water, and likes to sight cast to the largest fish he can see. We used six and a half to seven foot trigger stick rods with conventional reels and 20-30 pound line. Remember that the baits we were using weighed about one pound, and many of the places we fished had heavy structure.

We both cast over and over into the precise areas that Mr. Kurita indicated. However, fishing was very tough on this day due to the previous day's rain. I had one nice bite near a bridge piling, but I panicked and set the hook too soon. I was not used to Bass fishing with such large bait, and I didn't give the fish time to swallow it. We fished on and on until it was late in the day and we were both very tired (me especially).

Back at the dock, we met a friend of Mr. Kurita named Mr. Jun Maeda. Jun is the top guide on Lake Biwa, and he is a very interesting person. He looks like a cross between a rock star and a fishing ninja. Mr. Maeda fishes out of a brand new Skeeter® FX 21 with a Yamaha VMAX SHO® 250. It is rigged with more electronics and optional equipment than I have ever seen. It is a real fishing machine! There are not major Bass® Tours in Japan like there are in the U.S. Being a professional guide is the only way to make a career Bass fishing in Japan. Mr. Maeda must be very good at what he does because he is usually booked 300 days a year.

At the end of the day I went back to my hotel to rest up for the long trip back to Atlanta. I can honestly say that fishing with Mr. Kurita was the most fun I have ever had in Japan. I learned from Mr. Kurita and Mr. Maeda that Bass fisherman are the same throughout the World. To that end, I have invited Mr. Kurita and Mr. Maeda to attend the 2011 Bassmaster Classic® as our guests. They will also have time to visit and tour Skeeter®, and experience Bass fishing in the U.S. Mr. Kurita will most likely be available to sign autographs in the Skeeter® and Yamaha booths. I hope to be able to have the world record Largemouth Bass on display at the Classic as well.