Every angler who qualified for the 2019 Bassmaster Elite Series is grateful for the chance to compete. But none of them likely are as thankful as Yusuke Miyazaki.
Miyazaki, the 48-year-old, Japanese-born pro who lives in the Dallas suburb of Forney, Texas, competed on the Elite Series when it began in 2006. He finished right on the money line in the first Elite tournament, placing 50th in the Battle on the Border at Texas’ Lake Amistad.
Miyazaki made the cut four more times that season (at the Southern Challenge on Lake Guntersville in Alabama, the Pride of Augusta on Clarks Hill Reservoir in Georgia, the Memorial on Eagle Mountain Lake in Texas, and the Empire Chase on Lake Oneida in New York, where he finished in a season-best ninth place).
It was an impressive run, and Miyazaki became a mainstay on the Series. He was on top of his game in 2012 and 2013 and he qualified twice for the Bassmaster Classic.
A cruel twist of fate, however, awaited him a year later.
Miyazaki became ill with viral-like symptoms around the start of the 2015 season, and after missing the cut in five straight events, he traveled to his native Japan where doctors diagnosed him with mycoplasma pneumonia. He was hospitalized for 10 days and had to remain overseas for observation and extensive testing. Much to his disappointment, he had to abandon the 2015 season.
Doctors in both Dallas and Japan feared Miyazaki may have cancer, he said. But luckily, that was not the case.
Still, he felt weak, and his tournament performance waned when he returned to the Elite Series in 2016.
Miyazaki fished all eight Elite events in 2016, and he doubled down by fishing in all three Bassmaster Central Open tournaments, as well as BASSfest on Lake Texoma in Oklahoma. Still, he only cashed a check in two of 12 Bassmaster events (he placed 28th at BASSfest and 33rd at an Open on the Red River in northern Louisiana).
“I could not get well,” he said. “Every time I was around someone who got sick, I got sick. It was like that for two years.”
For the first time in a decade, Miyazaki was on the outside looking in at the Elite Series in 2017. He competed in four Bassmaster Open events that year, but couldn’t fare any better than 59th on the Harris Chain of Lakes in Florida.
Disappointed again — but not discouraged — he entered the 2018 Central Opens and found some of his old form. He placed 13th, 24th, 70th and 21st in four Central Open tournaments and qualified for the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Opens Championship on Table Rock Lake in Missouri. Miyazaki didn’t have a great tournament (26th of 28 men in the field), but his showing earlier in the year was enough to requalify for the 2019 Elite Series.
“I’m really excited to be fishing in the Elite Series again,” he said. “It feels like a long time.”
Miyazaki was an angler on the rise during the 2012 and 2013 Elite Series seasons. In 2012, he averaged a 38th-place finish and survived the cut in six of eight events, including a 10th-place finish in the Toledo Bend Battle in Louisiana. That outstanding year resulted in his first Bassmaster Classic berth, and he finished a respectable 40th on Oklahoma’s Grand Lake.
Miyazaki started off slowly in the 2013 Elite Series, but finished with the best run of his professional career – placing 19th, 42nd, 17th, 19th and 15th in consecutive Elite events and earning $50,000 in the process.
That hot streak propelled Miyazaki into the second Bassmaster Classic of his career, where he placed 42nd in the 2014 event on Lake Guntersville.
Miyazaki cooled a bit in 2014, making only three Elite Series cuts and failing to qualify for the Classic.
The 2015 season, however, was a much greater struggle.
He had intermittent fever in early 2015 and he couldn’t shake what ailed him. Miyazaki said his doctors still aren’t exactly what was wrong, but it took a heavy toll.
“I thought I might not fish (again),” he said.
And for Miyazaki, fishing and family were his life. He moved from Japan to Seattle when he began fishing Bassmaster Western Invitational tournaments in the late 1990s. His schedule expanded a few years later when he began entering Bassmaster Open tournaments, and he eventually joined the old Bassmaster Tour in 2003. When the Elite Series began in 2006, Miyazaki was right there competing (and excelling) in the most competitive bass fishing series in the world.
He moved to Texas at the urging of friend Gary Yamamoto, which put him in a centered location to fish tournaments around the U.S.
Miyazaki has done well for himself too, totaling 27 top-50 showings in Elite Series tournaments and earning $450,000 in prize money in 172 events since he first registered for a Bassmaster tournament in 1997.
Miyazaki’s drive to succeed remains strong, even after more than two decades of competitive fishing. And now, with his health returned, he said 2019 could be one of the most important years of his career.
He knows his fans in both the U.S. and Japan are pulling for him.
“I don’t feel nervous,” he said. “Maybe at tournament time, there is a little more stress. We’ll see. But I’m going to enjoy this tour. All I can do is what I can do. Like I say, just every single moment, I want to do my best.
“But I do know I will enjoy my second chance on the Elite Series.”