(Editor's note: Membership in the BASS Federation Nation can improve your fishing skills through sharing and learning from fellow anglers. To find a club near your area, contact a president in your state. Or for more information call us at 877-BASS USA, option #4.)BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — It's possible that somewhere down the line there could have been an angler competing in the Bassmaster Classic who also worked full time as a kindergarten teacher.It's also possible there may have been a Classic competitor at one time who has been a writer, either as a hobby or to help a local publication with an outdoors story or two.But it's safe to say there probably has never been a Buddhist priest competing in the Classic.This week, all three of those unique qualities can be found in BASS Federation Nation qualifier Shigeru Tsukiyama of Tokyo.Tsukiyama qualified for this weekend's championship on Lay Lake by finishing third in the BASS Federation Nation Championship held last month on nearby Neely Henry Lake. He had a total of 38 pounds, 1 ounce, and claimed the Western Division spot in the Classic field.Tsukiyama is a member of the Shonan Bass Masters Club and is sponsored by the Japan Federation Nation. The 42-year old has been a Buddhist priest, kindergarten teacher and fishing writer for Nikkon Sports newspaper for the past 20 years. The newspaper is one of the most prestigious and well-known in Japan.With the help of a translator, Chi Takahashi of Birmingham, Tsukiyama said he has been fishing since he was 12- or 13-years old and loves it."The first time was trout fishing, the next time bass fishing," he said of his beginnings. "Bass fishing is very exciting. Trout fishing is on clear lakes, streams. Bass fishing ... clear, muddy, stained, many water colors. In Japan we have largemouth and smallmouth bass. No spotted bass. I like smallmouth fishing, and spotted bass fishing in winter is very exciting. Largemouths are not moving much and (are) very tough."Tsukiyama fishes from his Ranger boat on lakes Kasumi, Ashi and Nojiri in Tokyo, with jigs and jerkbaits being his favorite techniques. He used a swimming jig pattern for suspended spots in the Federation championship.
Winters in Tokyo keep him off the water, so he's "very excited" this week. The Federation championship whetted his appetite for more action with the hard-fighting spots."I hope to catch many spotted bass and a few largemouths (this week)," he said. "Japanese bass fishing is many waters fishing ... sometimes no bass fishing in the winter, but only in America and Alabama."As anglers do in the United States, Tsukiyama practices catch and release. However, if one dies then he takes it home to eat."I study the fish, the bass ... experiences of both sides, fishing and (his faith)," Tsukiyama said. Then, with Takahashi translating, he added that he tries to be in tune with the fish and his surroundings."They can tell "Somebody got me" and next time they can say "I won't be caught," she explained, acknowledging that Tsukiyama believes bass are aware and learn from experiences. "If a fish is going to pass away, he's going to eat that fish. But he's thankful for the food, thankful for their life."Tsukiyama is enjoying the experiences of Classic week and hit Lay Lake on Wednesday for practice day. But he admits to being nervous.Very nervous, not sleeping at night," he said, grinning broadly. "Not sleeping ... take my lake map, look at places where I hope to catch fish."