Behind his Day 1 standing in the YETI Bassmaster Elite on Lake St. Clair, Takumi Ito of Chiba, Japan, has taken the lead in the Bassmaster Elite Series Angler of the Year point standings. It is believed he is the first angler from Japan to lead this deep in a season.
Ito, competing in his 10th B.A.S.S. tournament, has 421 points to lead Paul Mueller by 5 points. He vaulted from seventh to first Thursday after catching 21 pounds, 11 ounces to stand fifth on Lake St. Clair.
Photographer Seigo Saito, who covers Japanese anglers in America for B.A.S.S. as well as publications for his home country, translated Ito’s thoughts.
“I am so excited to be where I am,” Ito told Saito. “I am enjoying my time fishing the Elite Series. I am nervous, but I am enjoying every day. I am hoping to keep adding the points, and whatever I get, I will be happy.”
Japan national Takahiro Omori, who won seven B.A.S.S. events including the 2004 Classic to earn the Daily Limit's moniker of "Great Japanese Fisherman," led the 2018 AOY after winning the season-opener at Lake Martin, but he fell from the top spot after the second tournament on Grand Lake that year.
Ito, who qualified for the Elite Series from last year’s Central Opens, was among the big movers in the AOY that saw a big shakeup Thursday. There were five anglers who vaulted into the top 10 with their Day 1 finishes. The points from the event are not finalized until the tournament’s completion, so more movement is possible.
Mueller, who was 11th after Day 1, jumped from fifth to second while Clark Wendlandt, who led the AOY after the St. Lawrence, moved from sixth to third. David Mullins made one of the biggest jumps by standing second in the event with 24-2, catapulting from 16th to fourth.
Seth Feider climbed from 10th to fifth, while Micah Frazier (13th to sixth), Drew Benton (14th to seventh), Brock Mosley (17th to eighth) and Patrick Walters (11th to ninth) also made moves.
Those who fell considerably include former AOY leader Jamie Hartman, (first to 11th) after standing 79th on Day 1. Scott Canterbury, who won last year’s AOY, fell from third to 13th, Matt Arey slipped from fourth to 12th, Buddy Gross from second to 10th and Chad Pipkens from eighth to 21st. (See complete AOY standings)
Ito was torn on what to do when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. He had the choice to stay in Japan and work on some fishing shows and magazines, but he opted to return to America to fish the Elites.
“I had to make so many decisions this year because of the COVID,” he told Saito. “Those were not the easiest decisions to make. I was thinking about not coming back here, but the Elite Series was my lifelong dream and there was no way I could give it up. The Elite Series is the most important thing for me. Now, I am going to stay here for the rest of the season.”
Saito said Ito plans to stay at hotels or whatever he can find through the season, which ends at Lake Fork in early November. He has plans to pre-practice for events until the off limits to make a run at the title. He leads Gross for the Rookie of the Year title by 45 points.
Bass fishing has become more international of late, with Ito’s lead as evidence. Norio Tanabe of Japan became the first international angler to win in B.A.S.S., taking the 1993 Kentucky Invitational on Kentucky Lake. A number of pros from Japan have victories in B.A.S.S. Last year, Carl Jocumsen of Australia won an Elite event on Lake Tenkiller to add a third nation to the winner’s list, and Canada’s Chris Johnston won last month on the St. Lawrence River, increasing the countries to four.