Just Shin, baby!

Opens angler Scott Siller was in about as terrible a position as you can occupy and still be leading a Bassmaster tournament.

Although no one was within a pound of him at the Bass Pro Shops Northern Open presented by Allstate on Champlain, the anglers breathing down his neck were a formidable group – Shin Fukae, Dave Wolak, Mike Iaconelli and Aaron Martens. Four dudes you definitely do not want in your rearview mirror. All of them tour-level winners, not a got-lucky-for two days jackleg in the bunch.

I don’t know Siller, don’t believe I’ve ever been around him or talked to him. Couldn’t pick the Wisconsin police officer out of… well, out of a police lineup. Therefore, I definitely can’t say that he choked. Can’t say that he didn’t deserve to be there, either. Maybe one day he’ll be KVD, Bill Dance and Rick Clunn rolled up into one, but this week the murderers’ row that trailed him heading into the final day of competition got the best of him. All except Martens passed him on Day 3.

In hindsight, it’s a little silly to compare that quartet to murderers’ row. Yes, Ike has his occasional tantrum and Wolak might give you the stink eye, but they’re all by and large gentle giants of the fishing world, fan favorites and sponsor darlings. The one who seems most gentle is Fukae, the one who came out on top. It took him all of nine B.A.S.S. tournaments to take home a trophy – after a near miss on Oneida in 2005 – and he’s only missed the money once.

None of this success should surprise anyone who’s followed the sport over the last decade. On the FLW side of things, he’s won three times, in three disparate parts of the country – at Okeechobee, at Beaver Lake, and at the site of this week’s repeat bloodletting, Champlain. He also won a PAA event at Douglas Lake last year. On top of that he won the FLW Angler of the Year award his first year on tour and has qualified for the Forrest Wood Cup every year on tour but one. The smile lights up the room but he’s twisting the knife in your back as he shows off those pearly whites.

Despite having interviewed Shin six or seven times for various articles and meeting him and his lovely wife, Miyu, on multiple occasions, most of my knowledge of the Champlain champ comes from other sources, people who’ve fished with him and other anglers who are around him on tour. The sum total of my knowledge is that no one seems to have a bad word to say about him, except for the fact that he apparently understands and speaks far more English than he lets on.

Those who currently have nothing bad to say about Fukae may be singing a different tune next year if he’s taking their money on the Elite Series, or if he elects to double dip and take their lunch money on both tours. Everyone likes a gracious winner…until he wins just a little too much.

I believe Shin’s smile to be natural, but it might also be a bit of a rope-a-dope to avoid being labeled as the cold-blooded assassin that he clearly is. If he had the frame for football, he would have fit in perfectly with the black and silver badasses on the Raiders. The catchphrase of their longtime owner, Al Davis, was “Just win, baby!”

After a while, they might’ve had to change it to “Just Shin, baby!”

To date, Fukae’s been pigeonholed as a finesse guru and as a result is often excluded from the list of VanDams and Martenses and Morgans and Dudleys when fans talk about which anglers could compete on any tour and always be near the top. Based on his track records it’s abundantly clear that he can compete on any tour you put him on. If he does qualify for the Elites and makes the jump, then I’ll be able to stop feeling sorry for Siller. The new object of my sympathy will be those pros who are consistently on the bubble for a check. With one more smiling assassin on tour, the available slots in the money line will decrease by one.