The Bassmaster Elite Series motto is “Big Bass. Big Stage. Big Dreams.” In my view, no angler exemplifies these three ideals better than Takumi “Taku” Ito. Big bass? Ito has caught his share of lunkers in both Japan and America, but arguably his most profound big-fish accomplishment occurred at the 2021 St. Lawrence River Elite, where his winning four-day total of 90 pounds of smallmouth included two 6-pound bronzebacks — these lunkers copped the Phoenix Boats Big Bass award on Days 3 and 4. Bagging 90 pounds of smallmouth is an amazing enough accomplishment, but when you consider that Ito had never even fished for smallmouth before coming to America (these fish do not exist in Japan), the feat is truly mind boggling. Big stage? Ito is an international rock star angler, a fan favorite. He hits the Bassmaster weigh-in stage with a big smile (while usually toting a heavy bag of fish) and, despite his limited ability to speak English, consistently charms the audience with memorable quips, such as referring to his boat as “smallmouth Disneyland, a very fun place!” Big dreams? Ito first caught the bass bug at age 8 while playing the Bassin’s Black Bass with Hank Parker video game and has now realized his dream of competing and winning in the world’s most prestigious tournament circuit. Yes, Ito has overcome many angling challenges. But how will he fare on a remote “mystery” lake in midsummer? Stay tuned to find out!
Day on the Lake Challenge: Put a Bassmaster Elite Series pro on a small lake he’s never seen before. Give him seven hours to locate and catch bass while we log his every move
Date: July 29, 2022
Venue: Lake Q, a small flatland reservoir
Water: 92 degrees, moderately clear
Weather: Severe thunderstorms early, gradually clearing; high 84 degrees
Pro: Takumi Ito, 36, Chiba, Japan. A nine-year competitive angling veteran in both Japan and the U.S., this is “Taku’s” third season on the Elite Series. He had three consecutive Top 10 finishes in 2020, then three more Top 10 finishes in 2021, including a win at the St. Lawrence River (N.Y.). He’s qualified for two Classics.
Boat: Skeeter FXR with 250-horsepower Yamaha outboard, MotorGuide trolling motor, Lowrance and Garmin electronics, and twin Power-Pole shallow-water anchors
◗ 6:49 a.m. Torrential rain and lightning greet Ito and me upon our arrival at Lake Q in separate vehicles. “Not safe to launch now,” Ito texts. “I take nap. Text me when storm over.” Sounds like a good plan to me!
◗ 7:56 a.m. The monsoon passes, transitioning into a light drizzle. It’s 72 degrees with clearing skies predicted. “Let’s do it,” I text. Ito exits his truck and removes the cover from his Skeeter. “Yes, I’m ready!”
7 HOURS LEFT
◗ 8:11 a.m. We launch the Skeeter. Ito checks the water: It’s fairly clear and 90 degrees. “Wow, very hot! Bass probably offshore, but I want to check shallow first because of rain and clouds.” He pulls out several Nories baitcasting and spinning rods paired with Shimano reels, arranges them on the Skeeter’s front deck, then proceeds to idle around while eyeballing his electronics.
◗ 8:22 a.m. Ito moves to a rounded tributary point and makes his first casts of the day with a Nories Upper Cutter 128 topwater stickbait in the ayu color pattern. The rain is slackening and there’s a light breeze blowing from the east.
◗ 8:37 a.m. Ito is following the tributary’s shoreline while casting the surface lure to a seawall.
◗ 8:40 a.m. “Bass no show; let’s go!” Ito says as he stows his trolling motor. He idles into the middle of the cove and scans his electronics for structure, baitfish and bass.
◗ 8:46 a.m. Ito locates a 10- to 30-foot dropoff. He casts a 6-inch pearl white Nories Lady Balance needle-tail soft swimbait on a 1/8-ounce jighead to a submerged tree at the edge of the drop. Ito has painted a chartreuse stripe down the lure’s back with a marker “so bass see [it] better in rain.”
◗ 8:49 a.m. He switches to a brown Nories Escape Twin creature rigged on a drop-shot hook with a sliding sinker and drags it around the submerged tree while shaking his rod.
◗ 8:55 a.m. Ito casts a massive green and purple DRT Tiny Crash jointed crankbait to the dropoff. “This lure catch many big fish but is very expensive! You can change lip and tail position for different action.”
◗ 9:01 a.m. Ito is staring intently at his Garmin LiveScope forward-shooting sonar, a tool he will rely on heavily throughout the day. He points to the screen: “See? Fish suspend over dropoff, but maybe not bass. They not follow lure.”
6 HOURS LEFT
◗ 9:11 a.m. Ito tries a pearl blue shad Nories Tadamaki 112 jerkbait on the drop.
◗ 9:17 a.m. It’s raining harder as Ito again casts the creature to the dropoff. No takers here yet.
◗ 9:20 a.m. The wind is blowing out of the southwest as Ito grinds a Tennessee shad Nories Shot Over 5 diving crankbait around the sunken tree.
◗ 9:23 a.m. Ito locates a pod of fish hovering in open water and casts an earthworm-colored Nories Futo Hassun finesse worm wacky-rigged on a Ryugi hook to the suspenders. He retrieves it with constant twitches of the rod tip.
◗ 9:32 a.m. The rain is subsiding as Ito trolls around open water, scanning for suspended fish with his Garmin unit.
◗ 9:44 a.m. Ito moves to a secondary main-lake point, tries the jerkbait and wacky worm and hauls water.
◗ 9:49 a.m. Ito is unsuccessfully twitching the wacky worm around a pod of fish suspending 10 feet deep in 25 feet of water. The surface temp here is 92 degrees. “Wow, water too hot! Not healthy for bass.”
◗ 10 a.m. Ito returns to the secondary point and tries the Lady Balance. Still no luck here.
5 HOURS LEFT
◗ 10:11 a.m. Ito races downlake to a shallow point studded with submerged stumps and tries the jerkbait.
◗ 10:17 a.m. He moves farther off the point and scans open water with the Garmin. “I try to find, but no bass!”
◗ 10:34 a.m. Ito is scanning the mouth of a tributary arm for suspended fish. The Garmin’s forward-looking transducer is mounted on his trolling motor’s shaft; using the MotorGuide’s foot pedal, he swings the motor/transducer left, then right, “sweeping” the water in front of him until he locates fish (they look like radar blips on the Garmin’s screen). He finally pinpoints a pod of fish suspending 13 feet deep in 20 feet of water, casts the Lady Balance to the target and instantly hooks up! Ito swings aboard his first keeper largemouth of the day, 1 pound, 10 ounces.
◗ 10:38 a.m. The stock Lady Balance lure has “wing” projections molded along its side. Ito pulls out a fresh bait, trims the wings off so it sinks faster and runs a blue marker down its back. “I like painting!” He’s a piscatorial Picasso!
◗ 10:45 a.m. Still nosing around open water looking for suspended fish.
◗ 10:50 a.m. Ito bags his second keeper, 1-5, on the blue-pimped Lady Balance. He immediately pulls out a fresh lure, snips its wings, paints its back black and casts it to the same spot. ”Many bass here but not big.”
◗ 11:01 a.m. Ito speed trolls around open water in search of a pod of larger fish. I ask him if he’s fished Japan’s legendary Lake Biwa, home of the 22-5 world record-tying largemouth. “Oh, yeah; I fish Biwa many times. Every year [someone] catch 16-pounder there, but not me!”
4 HOURS LEFT
◗ 11:11 a.m. Ito runs to Lake Q’s dam, where he tries the Lady Balance around riprap.
◗ 11:20 a.m. He slow-cranks the big DRT crankbait parallel to the dam.
◗ 11:23 a.m. Ito rigs a 5 1/4-inch earthworm-colored Nories Latterie finesse worm on a 5/6-ounce Jackson wacky jighead and casts it to open water off the dam. “Do you know Michael Jackson?” he quips, mimicking the deceased pop icon’s moonwalk.
◗ 11:30 a.m. Ito is still nosing around offshore in Lake Q’s lower end. What’s his take on the day so far? “Very slow! Water temperature too much; no bass feeding. No more fishing shallow! Have to find brushpile with big fish offshore.”
◗ 11:38 a.m. Ito has moved to a steep channel bank where he gets short strikes on two consecutive casts with the black-back Lady Balance.
◗ 11:44 a.m. Ito moves to open water 100 yards off a swimming beach. He pulls out a 7-foot heavy action baitcasting outfit spooled with 20-pound fluorocarbon and ties on a 1.34-ounce Nories Dairakka metal spoon in the Wakasagi color pattern. The lure features a four-pronged rotating hook wrapped with shiny green Mylar. “This spoon not wobble; it glide to [the] bottom. Hook [spins] so spoon very hard for bass to throw.” Ito casts the heavy lure toward the beach, lets it sink on a tight line, then snaps it off the bottom.
◗ 11:46 a.m. The spoon looks like a falling meteor on the Garmin’s screen as it sinks around several suspending fish. “Why fish no follow?”
◗ 11:59 a.m. Ito LiveScopes a big suspending fish and pitches out the spoon. It sinks to the bottom, then he swings back his rod. “Big one!” Ito exclaims as the hooked fish bolts toward the surface. He quickly swings aboard his third keeper, a beautiful 4-6 largemouth. “Yes! Bass suspend 6 feet deep, then follow spoon down to 23 feet.”
3 HOURS LEFT
◗ 12:14 p.m. Ito bags keeper No. 4, 1-6, on the spoon.
◗ 12:24 p.m. After several minutes of pitching the spoon to a loose aggregation of suspending bass, Ito sticks his fifth keeper, 2 pounds even. “Have limit, now time to cull!”
◗ 12:27 p.m. The sky is starting to clear as Ito continues probing open water with the spoon. “Not see much bait today.”
◗ 12:34 p.m. Ito has moved back toward the dam where he’s checking out a water overflow with the Garmin. He pitches the spoon to the structure and gets a short strike. “This spoon perfect for LiveScope, very easy to see.”
◗ 12:53 p.m. Ito exits the dam and runs a quarter-mile uplake to probe open water off a steep point.
◗ 12:57 p.m. Ito bags his sixth keeper, 3-6, on the spoon; it culls his 1-5.
2 HOURS LEFT
◗ 1:14 p.m. Ito catches a short fish on the spoon.
◗ 1:17 p.m. He boats keeper No. 7 (1-7) from the same school on the spoon; it culls his 1-6. “Not big improvement!”
◗ 1:26 p.m. Ito idles farther uplake and spots another small school of suspended fish. He tries the spoon here without success.
◗ 1:34 p.m. Ito is still patiently perusing open water with his LiveScope. “Very few bass!”
◗ 1:47 p.m. It’s clearing off and rapidly getting hot as Ito continues his search for suspending fish. “Very slow now. Not many bites.”
◗ 1:58 p.m. Ito’s spoon sinks to the bottom and comes back with a strip of moldy carpet. “Wow! Not a bass.”
1 HOUR LEFT
◗ 2:11 p.m. Ito casts the Lady Balance to some suspending fish, but they ignore it.
◗ 2:17 p.m. He catches a nonkeeper on the spoon.
◗ 2:19 p.m. Ito runs back to the dam overflow and tries the spoon and Lady Balance.
◗ 2:38 p.m. No luck at the dam, so Ito races uplake to hop the spoon in open water off a main-lake flat.
◗ 2:41 p.m. Ito LiveScopes a giant ball of suspended baitfish. He pitches the spoon to the school and watches the minnows scatter like a zillion welding sparks on his Garmin. “Wow! Shad gone; no bass!”
◗ 2:57 p.m. Ito moves patiently around the same open-water area looking for suspended fish but can’t locate any.
◗ 3:11 p.m. Time’s up! It’s been a slow day on Lake Q, but Ito has managed to boat seven keeper largemouth, including two good fish. His five biggest bass total 12 pounds, 13 ounces.
THE DAY IN PERSPECTIVE
“Water too hot and bass not feed,” Ito told Bassmaster. “Fish all suspend, and spoon was my best bait. I never find any brushpiles; if I [were to] fish here tomorrow, I still look for them. I also might try shallow because lots of wood cover.”
WHERE AND WHEN TAKU ITO CAUGHT HIS FIVE BIGGEST BASS
1 pound, 10 ounces; pearl white/chartreuse Nories Lady Balance soft swimbait on 1/8-ounce jighead; open water off point; 10:34 a.m.
4 pounds, 6 ounces; 1.34-ounce Wakasagi (color) Nories Dairakka spoon; open water near beach; 11:59 a.m.
2 pounds; same lure and place as No. 2; 12:24 p.m.
3 pounds, 6 ounces; same lure as No. 2; open water off point; 12:57 p.m.
1 pound, 7 ounces; same lure as No. 2; same place as No. 4; 1:17 p.m.
TOTAL: 12 POUNDS, 13 OUNCES