First-year adjustments on the Elite Series

My rookie season on the Bassmaster Elite Series had some definite highs, including a third-place finish and plenty of Bassmaster LIVE time at the St. Johns River, but as a competitor, I always want to do better. Also, after fishing the Classic in 2021, I am beyond anxious to get back there. Sitting out of the Classic again in 2023 is going to hurt – but then again it makes the drive to get better even stronger.

The biggest change on the Elite Series from the Bassmaster Opens was that we only had three days to practice immediately before each event. When I fished the Opens, I was able to go from one to the next and really pick each body of water apart. Often that meant two or three weeks practicing. It really helped me to learn the fisheries and to adjust to a more “American” style of fishing.

That’s the other big difference. At the Open level, just catching five a day got you in the hunt, but on the Elite Series, that’s nowhere near good enough. You have to catch five big ones, or five giants, every day to be competitive. My finesse tactics were enough to do well in the Opens, but next year I’m going to incorporate more big baits and power fishing into my efforts. I’ll never get completely away from finesse, but I need to be open to fishing outside of my comfort zone.

The smallmouth fisheries are definitely in my comfort zone. Just like Taku, I feel that I figured them out pretty quickly, and my 12th-place finish at Lake Oahe was a big boost to my confidence.

On the other hand, despite my good showing in Palatka, Fla., generally I find the expansive Florida fisheries to be tough. Harris Chain was a real struggle. It didn’t help that I lost my next-to-new camper on the way there. I wasn’t able to put that out of my mind. At this level, you can’t focus on anything but fishing, and it showed in my performance.

I also let my feelings get in the way at Pickwick Lake. I missed my family terribly by that point, and I’m not ashamed to say that I was homesick for Japan. Immediately after the tournament I drove to New York, parked my truck and flew home to Japan for a couple of weeks. It got me back on track mentally.

I am also very thankful for good friends like Taku Ito, Kenta Kimura and my friend Calvin in Texas who help me with life on the road and life in America more generally. They keep me grounded and optimistic.

Now I’m headed back to Japan for the offseason. My number one goal is to spend time with my family, but I will also visit with my sponsors and perhaps do a little bit of fishing. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t looking forward to eating my wife’s food, as well as Japanese noodles and sushi. They certainly exist in the United States, but there’s nothing like eating it at home.

I hope to return to the U.S. in 2023 reinvigorated and ready for an overall better performance. There were certainly some highlights in 2022, but getting back to the Classic is my number one goal. I’ve already penciled in two trips back to Japan during the season, which I hope will enable me to stay happy and focused.

Someday my family will make the trip over here with me, but for now, it’s better that they stay in Japan. Everything that I do is for them. I want to make them proud, and I want to be a household name at the highest level of this great sport.