Breaking the language barrier with a pen and notebook

I cringed when seeing the name of the Japanese angler on the Championship Saturday roster for the 2019 Bassmaster Central Open. It was February at Toledo Bend and there he was, second place with a shot at the win.

Causing the stress was the language barrier I would face when interviewing him for the top lures gallery produced by myself and photographer Andy Crawford. It is not just another photo gallery. It’s big. It has a following of many, many thousands of fans wanting a first look at the baits used by the finalists. Get one minor detail incorrect and we get called out on social media.

The angler’s name was Takumi Ito. On the dock I spied Seigo Saito, our Bassmaster magazine photographer, thinking he could be my translator. That’s not an ideal solution though. Japanese lures have very complicated names, and the spelling is difficult to decipher, even in translation.

I walked to Ito’s boat. He greeted me with a hearty laugh and huge smile. His English was iffy. I did my best to explain what I needed. Descriptions of his top lures, including brand names and terminal tackle. All the nitty gritty details.

In his usual jovial mood, Ito offered to write it all down on my trusty Rite in the Rain Reporter’s Notebook. I gave it up, feeling rushed to get the details and move on to the other anglers before they got called to line up and head out.

Ito smiled and handed back the notebook. The descriptions, including Imperial weights, were written in the same A+ precision and readability of my 8th grade English teacher. I expressed my appreciation, doing a poorly executed Japanese bow. He laughed. I underestimated what would come next, thinking it would be a one-off gig.

Two months later, he was back in Championship Saturday. Without saying a word, I just smiled and handed over my pen and notebook. Then, it happened a third time at the 2019 Central Open finale in Oklahoma. He qualified for the 2020 Bassmaster Elite Series after having fished only four events during the season.

Part of me thought I needed a separate notebook just for his rookie season. Maybe I need to rethink that idea. Ito has fished three of the five Championship Sundays thus far in the 2020 season. He is in striking distance of winning the Bassmaster Angler of the Year title and Bassmaster Rookie of the Year titles. That also makes six appearances (so far) in a championship competition day over his short career.

Maybe I’ll just leave a notebook in his meticulously organized boat. Maybe not. The growing English language skills of my new friend Taku Ito are on par with his success on the tour. I wouldn’t want to miss the chance to have an enjoyable conversation with him. Maybe soon, the notebook won’t even been needed at all.

Will he do it again this week at Lake Guntersville? This morning I found Taku and greeted him in his boat, as I try to do each tournament day. Like most everyone else, the port and starboard sides of his front deck were piled high with rods.

“It will take many outfits to do well this week,” he said. Translated, I believe that means junk fishing will be his game plan.