DEL RIO, Texas — Kotaro Kiriyama found a productive pattern on the second practice day of the Battle on the Border presented by Mahindra Tractors. His five best fish weighed about 35 pounds, the kind of weight that would surely put him near the top of the standings once the tournament started.
But Kiriyama had a problem: He had exhausted his supply of Jackall's new Swimming Ninja swimbait that produced the big catch.
Because it's a new offering from Jackall, the baits haven't made it into tackle stores.
"It's brand new," Kiriyama said. "Nobody has them."
So Kiriyama picked up the phone and called Seiji Kato, owner of Japan-based Jackall Bros., and asked for a fresh supply.
I wasn't even thinking, but it was 2 a.m. in Japan when I called him," Kiriyama said. "I told him I was out of baits and needed him to FedEx more baits to me."
Kato was happy to help, but he explained to Kiriyama that even an express international delivery would take three days, and it would be Friday afternoon before Kiriyama could get his hands on the Swimming Ninjas. The tournament would be halfway finished by then.
Kato asked Kiriyama to wait 10 minutes and he'd call him back.
"He called me in 10 minutes and said the baits were on the way," Kiriyama said.
Kato had arranged for a Jackall employee, Takuji Naruo, to fly from Japan to Texas and hand-deliver the swimbaits.
When Kiriyama awoke early Thursday before the tournament's scheduled first day, Naruo was standing in front of Kiriyama's camper with a box of Swimming Ninjas.
"I can't believe it," Kiriyama said. "He didn't even ask me a question. Japan is on the other side of the world, and they still got me the baits. There's nothing like this."
Naruo, who was talking with Kiriyama on the dock prior to Sunday's takeoff, said the trip took about 26 hours.
The baits weren't cheap. Kiriyama said the travel expenses were $7,000, which he had to pay. The baits normally sell for about $30. Naruo brought eight Swimming Ninjas to Lake Amistad, jacking up the unit price to $875.
Besides rare antique fishing lures, Kiriyama's hand-delivered swimbaits are quite possibly the most expensive baits in the history of bass fishing.
"They are the most expensive baits in the world," Naruo said with a smile Sunday morning.
But for Kiriyama, it's a solid investment. The Swimming Ninjas helped him land in the final round, where he's guaranteed to take home at least $12,300. And with $100,000 up for grabs by the tournament winner, Kiriyama didn't blink at the cost.
"It's worth it," Kiriyama said.
This week's co-angler competition featured one angler who has already qualified to fish a BASS world championship — the Junior Bassmaster World Championship.
Austin Terry, 16, finished 26th with 21 pounds, 1 ounce, this week. He had previous experience on Amistad, the fishery where he won the Texas state title to qualify for next fall's Junior Bassmaster World Championship that will be held in conjunction with the BASS Federation Nation Championship. The Junior Bassmaster program mirrors the BASS Federation Nation qualifying criteria.
It was Terry's first experience as an Elite Series co-angler, and what an experience it was. He fished the first day with Alabama pro and former Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year Gerald Swindle and the second day with three-time TTBAOY and two-time Bassmaster Classic champion Kevin VanDam.
"It was awesome," Terry said. "Those are the two people I've always wanted to fish with, so to get to fish with both of them here was awesome."
Terry, a junior at Central High School in San Angelo, Texas, said VanDam is his favorite angler, with Swindle running a close second.
"I learned a lot," Terry said. "The competition is a lot better, and it's a lot more serious. The most important thing I learned is that you can't slow down. You've got to keep going. You can't stop at any time. Your bait has to be in the water for you to catch fish."
In other words, "Keep it wet."
That's sage advice from a couple of Elite pros who know the score.
Weldon does it all
Elite Series tournament director Trip Weldon is a busy man. He wears many hats during an event, coordinating all sorts of logistics and overseeing every aspect of the tournament.
But it was still an odd sight to see Weldon driving the truck that pulls the BASS live-release pontoon boat during Saturday afternoon's weigh-in.
During a lull on Day Two, Weldon briefly left the stage between flights of anglers. Members of the media spotted him backing up the live-release boat next to the weigh-in area a few minutes later.
We do a little bit of all of it," Weldon explained Sunday morning. "I couldn't do anything on stage because we were in between flights, so I just jumped in there and took the boat down to the ramp to release the fish. It just helps move things along a little faster."
Consistency conundrum revisited
Earlier this week, it was noted here that only 19 Elite Series pros had finished in the top 50 in all three tournaments this season. After Saturday's weigh-in, that number dropped by 10.
Now there are only nine pros who have finished in the top 50, and therefore earned a check. They are as follows: Mark Davis, Dean Rojas, Scott Rook, Mike McClelland, Bryan Hudgins, Skeet Reese, Todd Faircloth, Derek Remitz and Alton Jones.
To understand why that's so important, you need only look at Reese's performances this season. The reigning Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year hasn't made a top 12 cut through now four tournaments. But he has finished 17th, 20th, 22nd and 20th.
Reese entered this event in a three-way tie for eighth place in TTBAOY points. Ahead of him, in descending order, from first to seventh, with their Lake Amistad finish in parentheses, were: Mark Davis (27th at Amistad), Dean Rojas (33rd), Scott Rook (34th), Rick Morris (76th), Kenyon Hill (64th), Mike McClelland (top 12) and Casey Ashley (107th).
Obviously, Reese will continue to quietly sneak up the TTBAOY leaderboard again this week, when the final points are tallied after Sunday.
This is what Reese said before adding 22-5 to his total Saturday to give him that 20th place finish with 41-10: "If I can go out today and catch 20-plus pounds and finish in the top 20, I'll be tickled. I want to win, but I also look at top 20 finishes over 11 tournaments. If I can do that, I'll be right where I want to be."
Consider Reese right where he wants to be. And tickled to be there.
Reehm's rookie year
Most Elite Series pros don't enjoy having media boats, or any other boats for that matter, around them when they're competing. But Russellville, Ark., rookie Clark Reehm doesn't mind.
In fact, he has performed quite well on camera this week, catching an 8-pounder while ESPNOutdoors.com photographer James Overstreet was snapping his picture Saturday.
Reehm is looking at the big picture in welcoming the media attention.
As a rookie, I need all the exposure I can get," he said. "You've got to set yourself off as a personality. Until you get that media (exposure), you're kind of lost in the crowd. You need a definitive moment early in your career to set you apart."
Clark noticed how Derek Remitz and Casey Ashley separated themselves from the crowd last year by winning Elite Series tournaments during their rookie season.
Can you name any other rookies from last year?" Reehm said. "Most people can't."
Reehm qualified for the Bassmaster Classic, where he finished eighth in February, and the Elite Series tour through the Bassmaster Central Open events. The former graphics designer will turn 29 years old on May 11.
"I'm financing most of this out of my own pocket, which is killing me," he said. "Finishing eighth at the Classic helped. Just making the top 12 here will open some doors for me, even if I don't win.
"But winning would be immense."
"It's just like I said after the first day. I could go out today and catch only 10 or 12 pounds." —
Mike McClelland, on how important the big early bites are to his success.
"I kind of missed the pattern (this week). I kind of figured something out (Saturday). I just didn't have enough time to capitalize on it." —
Kevin VanDam, on his 56th-place finish.
"This is my third tournament in a row without a check. I've got to tighten up." —
Chris Lane, who finished 88th.
"It's going to be a long drive home, trying to see through two black eyes." —
Gerald Swindle, on getting "beat up" this week at Lake Amistad and finishing 95th.
"I've always been close on this lake. This lake really suits my style."—
Gary Klein, on qualifying for Sunday's top 12 final.