Opens profile: Matsushita chasing a second dream

Japanese angler Masayuki Matsushita realized his dream of qualifying for a Bassmaster Classic when he won the 2020 Bassmaster Central Open at Sam Rayburn Reservoir. In June of 2021, he headed out to compete at Lake Ray Roberts, Texas, for bass fishing’s most coveted title, Bassmaster Classic champion. He ended up finishing 42nd in the event.

Matsushita is currently fishing all three divisions of the 2021 Bassmaster Opens to fulfill his second dream, which is to become an Elite Series pro. After competing in the first five Opens, he holds second place in the overall Falcon Rods Opens Angler of the Year standings. The top three anglers after all nine Opens will qualify for the Elites.

That Matsushita and other Japanese anglers do well in American bass tournaments is a tribute to their competitive nature and love for the sport. Many speak little English, which makes their day-to-day lives in the U.S. challenging. They also must leave their homeland and families for months at time.

Matsushita’s home is in the city of Tokoname-Aichi where he lives with his wife, Chika, and two children, Aina, 10, and Emi, 8. When he is in Japan, the 38-year-old guides for bass on Lake Biwa. He typically runs about 150 trips a year and is booked six months in advance.

Matsushita was introduced to fishing by fellow students in junior high school who were hooked on bass.

“I didn’t know what a bass was until then,” Matsushita said.

The youngsters would cast for bass from the banks of small lakes and canals. There were no adults to teach them. They learned through trial and error and by reading Bassmaster Magazine and other fishing publications.

Matsushita well remembers his first and second bass, which he caught while casting a small crankbait. The first bass was a 10-inch largemouth. His second bass weighed more than 5 pounds and broke his rod.

At age 15 he fished his first junior tournament in Japan from a rowboat. It was on a small, electric motor only lake. For several years thereafter he fished mainly local tournaments and did well, winning a number of them.

He bought his first bass boat in 2004, an 18-foot Cobra powered by a 150 hp outboard, and started his guiding business. He continued to fish tournaments and to keep tabs on Japanese tournament anglers who were having success in the U.S. via magazines, newspapers and videos. Since qualifying for the 2021 Classic, Matsushita has also become a hot news item in Japan.

“I wanted to be a [professional] tournament angler since I was 19 years old,” Matsushita said. “The only place to do it was in the United States.”

In 2008 he ventured to America for the first time to fish six FLW tournaments as a co-angler to “get my feet wet.” These events took him to Okeechobee, Wheeler, Clarks Hill, Champlain, Falcon and Three Rivers in Pittsburgh. The variety of bass fisheries taught him a great deal.

He returned to America in 2016 to compete as pro angler in the Bassmaster Central Opens. At the first of these events, which was on the Arkansas River, he had the good fortune to draw Texas co-angler Calvin Balch.

“At the time Masa knew almost no English,” Balch said. “We had a great time fishing together and stayed in touch after the tournament on Instagram by using a translator app.”

At the next Central Open on the Red River, Balch happened to run into Matsushita at the boat ramp. Balch, along with four of his fishing buddies, had rented a house for the tournament. He invited Matsushita to stop by and have a Margarita.

“A friend of mine rented Margarita machines,” Balch said. “He would send me off to tournaments with 15 to 20 gallons of Margaritas. We would all enjoy one after coming off the water.”

Matsushita stopped by that evening to taste his first Margarita and enjoy some camaraderie with Balch and his crew. He apparently liked the beverage and the company as he returned every evening for more of the same.

From that point on, Balch and Matsushita became fast friends. Three years ago, Balch invited Matsushita to leave his truck and boat with him while he was in Japan. Between tournaments Matsushita stays with Balch, his wife, Stephanie, and their two boys Cole, 13, and Tripp, 9.

“Once Masa met my wife and kids he became part of the family,” Balch said. “I think they like him more than me.”

Lake Biwa receives such incessant bass fishing pressure that finesse tactics and inventive techniques are necessary to catch them. One of Matsushita’s favorite baits is the one that caught most of his winning bass during the 2020 Sam Rayburn Central Open, the Deps Sakamata Shad Heavy Weight Soft Jerkbait. The bait is loaded with salt and sinks faster than similar lures to reach deeper bass.

Balch fished that Rayburn tournament as a co-angler. On Saturday morning, while Matsushita was batting it out with the other anglers who had made the final cut, Balch drove 2 hours home, picked up his family and drove back for the weigh-in.

“Whether Masa won or finished 12th he’d have us as a cheering section,” Balch said. “Fortunately he won. He held it together for all the congratulations and handshakes, but when we were alone backstage the floodgates opened and we were all in tears.”

Matsushita didn’t limit himself to finesse tactics in 2020. His goal that year was to go for five big bites, even if that meant bombing. This year he is relying more on finesse because his focus is to weigh in a limit every day and accumulate enough points to qualify for the Elite Series.

“This year is every day five fish,” Matsushita said. “Last year it was bigger baits trying to win. This year is almost all finesse to be consistent. I can’t have a bad tournament.”

Matsushita’s sponsors include: Deps, Ross Motorsports, Bass Cat, Owner, Sunline, Shimano, Jigen, Hama, SushiTanaka and Strut.