Taku talks to smallmouth

Did Dr. Dolittle actually talk to the animals, as in speak their specific language? Or, did he simply understand how to interpret signs, gestures and responses? Debatable, but the same line of thinking seems relevant to Takumi Ito’s impressively rapid mastery of smallmouth bass fishing — and his intriguing claims of communicative ability.

Quick refresher: Qualifying for the Bassmaster Elite Series through the 2019 Basspro.com Bassmaster Central Opens, where he notched three Top 10s, including a second at Toledo Bend, Ito entered his rookie season with zero smallmouth bass experience. At 2020’s conclusion, the standout from Chiba, Japan, owned a trio of Elite Top 10s — all on smallmouth fisheries: St. Clair (10th), Lake Champlain (10th) and the St. Lawrence River (sixth).

Flash forward to July 2021, and Ito closed his sophomore year by winning the final Elite event on the St. Lawrence. Understandably, some pondered, “How did this happen?”

No slight to Ito — he won fair and square. But, facing a final field stacked with accomplished smallmouth sticks like the ever-lethal Johnstons (Cory and his brother Chris, who won the 2020 St. Lawrence event), 2020 Angler of the Year/Lake Ontario master Clark Wendlandt and Alabama smallmouth stud Justin Atkins, Ito entered Championship Sunday in seventh place with a tall order ahead of him.

Sacking up 26 pounds of final-round glory, this relative smallmouth neophyte absolutely laid the smackdown on a bunch of guys with astronomically greater smallmouth experience. The best part: Ito’s explanation had the Waddington, N.Y., crowd fawning over the irresistible charm radiating through his admittedly broken English.

“Smallmouth can speak the Japanese language; I can speak the Japanese language, so I can speak smallmouth.”

Take that with as many grains of salt as you see fit, but the guy threw some serious weight on the scale. Leading up to his big, final-round effort, Ito caught limits of 17-15, 22-14 and 23-3. Winning with a four-day total of 90 pounds, he earned Big Bass honors for Days 3 and 4 with twin 6-pounders.

Bolstering his premise with an instantly relatable dose of pure Americana, Ito referred to his Lake Ontario honey hole as “Taku Disneyland” (another crowd-pleaser). Located outside Chaumont Bay, south of Cape Vincent, where river meets lake, Ito’s winning spot comprised standard smallmouth-friendly rock structure in 26 to 27 feet.

After a solid Day 3, Ito arrived on Day 4 to find a massive school of jumbo smallmouth had invaded his spot. With the fish suspending so tightly that they resembled a false bottom, Ito found himself in a Lake Ontario turkey shoot — one that, according to him, allowed for a rather exclusive tone.

“I could catch only 5-pounders,” Ito claimed. “I talked to 3-pound smallmouth and I said, ‘You shouldn’t eat my bait.’ And then I talked to 5-pounders and I said, ‘Let’s eat my bait!’

“I said 3-pounders cannot eat. ‘You cannot eat, you cannot eat. Five-pounder can eat! Five-pounder, bite! Five-pounder, bite! That’s all.’”

(Imagine a weigh-in crowd absolutely giddy with laughter and then dial it up about five notches. Put it this way: “Taku Time” is the new Beatlemania.)