Fukae’s keys to the win

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. — The distance from Shin Fukae’s native homeland to Lake Champlain is 6,530 miles. Not one mile of it stood between the Japanese pro and a dream he set out to reach 10 years ago.

“I am going to the 2015 Bassmaster Classic,” he said. The tone used to say that can’t be explained in words.

What can be explained, however, is how he punched his Classic ticket. Fukae won in impressive fashion the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Northern Open on the lake straddling the New York and Vermont border. His three-day total summed up to 56 pounds, 13 ounces, led by the strength of catching consistent limits each day.

Here are three standout keys to his win beyond the textbook tactics.

Key #1: Drop shot rig

Do the math and you’ll discover Fukae is a master of the drop shot rig. He’s fished the U.S. pro leagues since 2004. Before then he built a strong tournament resume in Japan using the rig. In all he’s fished as a pro in both countries for 22 years.

“The drop shot is what brought me here,” he said. “What a lot of anglers still don’t understand is that it can catch big bass.”

Fukae proved it by catching limits weighing 18-13, 19-3 and 18-13. No one else came close to matching his weight consistency at the near 20-pound mark.

Key #2: Smallmouth and largemouth

Largemouth and the Ticonderoga area of the lake are synonymous among tournament anglers. Getting there from Plattsburgh is a 70-mile boat one-way run that’s often made rough by the wind.

The downside of making the long run is the requirement of committing to a largemouth bite. Catching smallmouth is rare because the grassy, shallow habitat isn’t conducive to them.

Fukae stayed near Plattsburgh for that very reason. His area held largemouth and smallmouth. He played that two-sided card to his benefit.

He started each day along a shallow grass line where the fish were active in the early morning. A wacky worm rig did the trick, literally, each day. When the action slowed he switched over to smallmouth habitat.

Using the drop shot, he caught smallmouth from an isolated rock pile ranging in depth from 20-35 feet.

Key #3: Consistency

Above all else the dual pattern of largemouth and smallmouth fishing set the course for consistency.

Fukae never had to worry about waiting for the smallmouth to finally adapt to their summertime pattern after a delayed spring. He never had to go looking for roaming schools of baitfish in order to find them. And he never had to make the 140-mile roundtrip boat ride south and waste valuable fishing time.

“I don’t like to risk wasting a lot of time on a lake like this because it’s just so good,” he said. “I had confidence that I could catch largemouth and smallmouth near Plattsburgh.”

Spoken like a veteran pro. Even one who came here with a dream and a drop shot almost a decade ago.