CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Japanese pro Takahiro Omori conjured up some last-minute heroics Sunday to become the first non-American to win the CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer and capture the sport's world championship title.
The 33-year-old Tokyo native, who came to America in 1992 to become a professional angler despite knowing only one person and little English, caught his two largest bass with fewer than five minutes remaining Saturday to nail down the $200,000 top prize, trophy and title.
"This is the best day of my life," said Omori, who pounded the stage repeatedly and cried openly before the 13,200 spectators in the Charlotte Coliseum. "I've waited 18 years for my dream to come true - since I was 15.
"The money is great, but it's not about the money. It's the trophy, really. It's awesome."
Omori's final-round catch of 13½ pounds gave him a three-day total of 39 pound, 2 ounces, and a 2¾-pound margin over California's Aaron Martens (36-6).
The four-time BASS winner used a variety of lures (Yamamoto and Zoom creature baits, Lunker Lure jig and a Bagley Balsa BII crankbait) to target fallen trees in shallow water in Lake Wylie and collect the winning catch.
On Sunday, he abandoned the jig and creature baits in favor of the crankbait as his allotted fishing time wound down, and it proved to be a timely switch. It produced bass at 1:45, 2:10 and 2:12 p.m. He stopped fishing at 2:15 p.m. to make the run back to Buster Boyd ramp by the 2:30 p.m. deadline.
"I had lost two 5-pounders (earlier in the day) and I thought it cost me the Classic," said Omori, a Japanese citizen with an immigrant visa who lives full time in Emory, Texas. "But I never give up. With fishing, you never know what is going to happen."
For the second time in three years, Martens, 31, finishes second in the Classic.
"Sure, I'm disappointed," said Martens, whose success came by fishing the Highway 49 bridge with a homemade spinner that sported a Zoom Fluke plastic body. "But I had a good tournament and caught a lot of fish this week. I just didn't get enough big bites."
Former Classic champion Kevin VanDam of Michigan brought in a five-bass limit weighing 13-6 on Sunday to climb into third place with 35-11. Second-round leader Dean Rojas of Texas struggled to catch 9-1 to drop to fourth with 35-5, followed by fellow Texan Kelly Jordon's 34-7 on the strength of a 13-6 limit Sunday.
VanDam scored by fishing fairly deep rocks with a Strike King Series 6 crankbait and 10-inch Zoom worm.
"The competition is so good now to the point that you can't make any mistakes and you've got to be on top of your game," he said. "That's what makes the Classic so great."
Local favorite Jason Quinn managed just 9-13 Sunday to finish sixth with 33-14.
"It's been a good tournament," the Lake Wylie pro said. "I didn't get the bites I thought I could get. But, hey, that's fishing; I'll get them next time."
On Sunday, defending Classic champion Michael Iaconelli pocketed a second $1,000 Purolator Big Bass of the Day award with a 4-14 largemouth. Iaconelli also won the Purolator Big Bass of the Tournament award, boating a 7¼-pounder on Day 1 for another $2,000.
In addition to his Classic title, Omori earned the final berth in September's Busch Shootout, an invitation-only tournament on a mystery lake that hearkens back to the early days when the Classic location was kept secret until competitors arrived on site via a chartered plane.
Shootout competitors earned their berths by bringing in the heaviest sacks of the season on the CITGO Bassmaster Tournament Trail presented by Busch Beer. The final spot was reserved for the angler with the heaviest single-day catch at the Classic, which Omori won with his 16-2 catch in the first round.