His full name is Shinichi Fukae, but in America this Japanese angler is known simply as “Shin.” He came to the U.S. in 2004 with his wife Miyu to compete on the FLW Tour. With no previous experience fishing in America and little grasp of the English language, Fukae stunned the bass world by winning the FLW Tour AOY title in his inaugural season. He is the only angler to ever win AOY titles in both the U.S. and Japan.
Fukae has been an exceptional bass pro in the U.S. ever since his arrival, amassing winnings of well over $1.5 million. He qualified to compete on the 2018 Bassmaster Elite Series via his performance during the 2017 Bassmaster Southern Opens. Fukae competed in the 2015 Bassmaster Classic at Lake Hartwell thanks to his 2014 Bassmaster Northern Open victory on Lake Champlain.
Fukae’s older brothers, Hiro (pronounced he-lo) and Hide (pronounced he-deh), were once bass anglers and they introduced Fukae to fishing. He started fishing for bass when he was 8 years old. In junior high school, Fukae began to read bass fishing magazines and watch videos of the top U.S. bass pros in action. He also joined a junior bass fishing program and dreamed of becoming a bass pro in America.
Many bass tournaments take place in Japan, including bank fishing events, Fukae explained. The larger tournaments with boats may have 300 anglers or more. Pro-level tournaments in Japan include those put on by JB Masters Pro Series, JB Top 50 and Basser Allstar Classic.
At age 19 Fukae began fishing professional Japanese bass tournaments. For the first two years he had to work to support his bass addiction. He started as an auto mechanic and later took an emergency roadside service job at night so he could fish during the day.
It didn’t take Fukae long to establish himself as one of Japan’s top professional bass anglers. Between tournaments, he guided for bass at Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest lake.
When Fukae and Miyu embarked to America in 2004 Fukae was 31. Miyu was a year younger. Although Miyu has become fluent in English, she was not proficient in it when they arrived.
“My English was terrible,” Miyu said. “I was like a baby that just started to learn how to talk.”
Miyu explained that English is a required subject in junior high and high school in Japan.
“But they kind of only teach us how to read and write, not how to listen and speak,” Miyu said. “We were stopped by a cop on the way to our first tournament, and it was so hard to understand what he said.”
Perhaps the most amazing aspect of Fukae’s instant success in America is that he and Miyu were able to find their way to tournaments across the country and stay focused on their goals despite the language barrier. This has never been an issue for Fukae when he’s on the water.
“You don’t have to talk when fishing since bass won’t speak any languages,” Fukae said.
Fukae and Miyu make a strong team. Fukae stays focused on fishing, while Miyu is in charge of logistics, business and meals.
“Plus, she knows about fishing, too,” Fukae said.
Because professional bass fishing requires so much time on the road, Fukae and Miyu decided to live in a camper while in the U.S. They camped in a conversion van the first year. The next year Gary Yamamoto of Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits let them use his 22-foot camper.
These days the couple travels in style. Fukae drives their 40-foot Tiffin Phaeton motor home while Miyu pulls their Ranger bass rig with a Toyota Tundra pickup. Adam and Leo, two Chihuahuas, are their entourage. Fukae and Miyu are modern Gypsies. Home is wherever they set up camp.
“We call Texas home but we don’t own anything there,” Fukae said.
When not traveling to a tournament, they park their camper in Texas or Georgia on property owned by friends.
In the offseason, Fukae and Miyu spend four to six weeks in Japan during the months of November and December. Their friends and family often ask them if they’ve ever been in any danger in the U.S., how much they drive, what they eat and what fishing techniques are popular.
“They tell us that not many people can do what we do,” Fukae said. “Thankfully, they support us in various ways.”
Fukae plans to compete in top-level U.S. bass tournaments as long as he is able to make a living doing so. His current sponsors include Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits, YGK (fishing line), Gamakatsu USA, Shimano, Fish Arrow, Eight Ichiban Group, G7, Ranger Boats, Mercury Marine, MotorGuide, Power-Pole, Lowrance, T-H Marine, Flip Clip, SWANS (sunglasses) and Greenfish Tackle.