Any observer would be hard-pressed to find an angler anywhere in the world more dedicated to becoming a Bassmaster Elite Series pro than Kenta Kimura of Osaka, Japan. He is on the threshold of making his dream a reality.
With two tournaments remaining in the 2020 Bassmaster Opens season, Kimura is sixth in the Angler of the Year standings for the Central Opens and ninth in the Falcon Rods Bassmaster Opens AOY overall standings. If he finishes fourth or better in either one, he will be anointed as an Elite angler.
When Kimura was a boy, his father, Hidetoshi, would take him live bait fishing from shore at Lake Biwa. At age 10 he was introduced to bass fishing with artificial lures by Satoshi Ikemoto, an employee at his father’s hair salon.
While fishing a pond from the bank with Ikemoto, Kimura’s first bass engulfed a Texas-rigged worm. The 1-pound largemouth was a life-transforming event. Since that moment, all Kimura has wanted to do in life is fish for bass.
He didn’t have enough money to buy lures, so he resorted to pouring his own soft plastic baits and carving crankbaits from balsa.
In high school Kimura fished junior-level bass tournaments. The young anglers competed from 10- and 12-foot paddle boats because they were not old enough to have a boat driver’s license, which is required in Japan.
At age 18 Kimura acquired a 12-foot aluminum boat with a trolling motor on the bow, a tiny graph and a 10-hp outboard on the transom.
“That little boat was pretty fast,” Kimura said. “It would go 20 mph.”
Kimura used the small rig to fish professional tournaments in Japan. Within two years he had qualified to compete in Japan’s highest-level bass circuits. He turned down the opportunity because his heart was set on fishing tournaments in the U.S.
“I stopped fishing Japanese tournaments and worked at a transport company delivering orders to homes and businesses,” Kimura said. “It was very hard work.”
After working at the transport company for two years, Kimura had saved enough to travel to America in 2005. He didn’t have a boat or much money, but he signed on to fish an FLW tournament as a co-angler. He didn’t speak English but did learn how to ask, “Could you please take me fishing?”
Kimura would go to launch areas on practice days for tournaments and pose that question to anglers as they pulled in with their boats. Oklahoma’s Toby Hartsell was one of the boaters who said yes. Hartsell has competed in numerous Bassmaster Opens and FLW events and is currently fishing the 2020 Bassmaster Central Opens.
The two quickly became fast friends. For the next three years Kimura and Hartsell traveled to tournaments together. Kimura would fish as a co-angler while Hartsell competed as a pro. During this phase Kimura would spend six to eleven months in the states.
This partnership ended when Kimura had to return to Japan to rebuild his funds. He started guiding for bass on Lake Biwa. The skills he developed while making his own lures as a youngster landed him work designing lures for Deps and other Japanese lure companies.
He returned to America in 2012 and began fishing tournaments as a pro angler. Hartsell loaned him a boat the first year. The next year he bought a boat from Hartsell. The 2020 season has been his best fishing the Opens.
“The difference this year is that I finished 17th at the first Bassmaster Central Open on the Arkansas River,” Kimura said. “I usually do really bad the first tournament.”
Although finesse fishing is especially popular in Japan, Kimura prefers power fishing with crankbaits and topwater lures.
“I know how to fish things like the shaky head, but that’s not my way to do things,” Kimura said. “I’m more comfortable with reaction baits.”
Kimura’s goal is to fish at the highest level in American bass tournaments and to win some of the events. Qualifying for the Elites would elevate him to bass fishing’s highest level.
“I’ve got to make it as soon as possible,” Kimura said.
His sponsors include Lake Biwa, Deps, SDG Marine, Abu Garcia, Berkley, Ryugi, Xbraid, Glitch Oil, Bass Brigade, Prospect Anglers Club, Strut, Jigen and Floating Life.