By Pete Robbins
Yamamoto co-angler Gary Haraguchi didn’t miss the money in any of the seven FLW Tour events of 2017. In fact, the last time he missed the check line was in April of 2016 at Beaver Lake, and even then it was only by a few places. Had he made the money that week in Arkansas, he might’ve been the Tour’s top co-angler, instead of finishing second. This year he left nothing to chance and has the Angler of the Year hardware to show for it.
“I just fished really clean this year,” he said, explaining the year to year difference. “I was getting most of them to the boat.”
Indeed, even when he struggled, he managed to bounce back. At Cumberland, which boasts an 18-inch minimum size on smallmouth, he caught two that fell just short the first day, and came to the scales with a goose egg. On the second day he bounced back with a limit that weighed 12 pounds 6 ounces and vaulted into 18th place. It proved to be his third best finish in a year where he otherwise never flirted with a clunker.
Haraguchi attributes some of his ability to adjust to his practice partner, Yamamoto pro and fellow Californian Jimmy Reese. In addition to sharing long rides across the country together, the pair practices collaboratively out of Reese’s boat before every Tour event. It’s an arrangement that benefits both of them. Reese can focus on locating fish and determining what phase they’re in, all the while trusting Haraguchi’s ability to fish a different bait and dial in the best possible presentation. Meanwhile, Haraguchi, who doesn’t know what his pro partners will be doing during the tournament, can figure out how to fool the few fish that they’ll inevitably leave behind.
“Whatever they’re doing, I just do my own thing,” he explained. “That is what I go with. I don’t try to copy what they’re doing for the most part.”
Reese explained that Haraguchi’s strengths include a variety of finesse presentations, such as shakey heads, dropshots and wacky Senkos, but “the best part of what Gary does is that he doesn’t even see the guy in front of him. It’s like he has blinders on. He’s not worried at all about what they’re doing and he’s very, very patient.”
They’ve practiced enough together that each seems to anticipate the other’s moves. “He’s very detail oriented and very organized,” Reese explained. “And we work together really well. A lot of times I’ll have an idea for something he should try, I’ll turn around and he’s already throwing it. That’s definitely helpful.”
Just because they work well together and take the tournaments extremely seriously doesn’t mean they’re above having fun both on and off the water. At the Mississippi River (out of La Crosse, Wisconsin), they suffered through a really tough practice, but when they stumbled onto a concentration of freshwater drum, rather than abandoning the area they sat there and caught them for the better part of two and a half hours, until their arms were sore. “We get sidetracked a lot,” Haraguchi deadpanned. He must’ve figured something out, because he finished 22nd in the tournament, and then closed out the season with a 23rd place finish at the Potomac River to cement the title.
Indeed, the Mississippi River was full of surprises for the two Californians. On the first day of practice, before they caught much of anything, they got stuck on a sandbar and had to be towed off by Oklahoma pro Darrell Robertson. Once they were free, Reese had a good line of his own: “I wonder if I should eat that banana now.”
Haraguchi fished the Forrest Wood Cup in 2010, 2011 and 2015, but due to a change in the FLW rules that eliminated co-anglers from the Cup he might not ever get the chance to do so again. As with his practice and his tournament pairings, he takes that in stride, saying that “it would be nice” but also that “I don’t worry about the things that I can’t change.” Instead, he’ll focus on titles that are attainable, specifically another AOY title from the co-angler side of the leaderboard. He’ll compete vigorously, and if things don’t work out, he’ll leave the water satisfied. “Where I fall is where I fall and I’m OK with it. I just try to stay consistent.”
While he doesn’t want to give away too many of the secrets that have consistently put him at the top of the co-angler standings, he recognizes that an attention to detail and readiness are his strongest assets.
“Fishing out of the back, sometimes the boat will be right on the bank and the motor will be bumping over rocks and all you’ll have to throw at is out deep,” he said. “You may only get a 10 minute widow of opportunity where you have a little room, but you have to take advantage of those small windows. It happens to everybody. [The pros] aren’t doing it on purpose, so it’s something you have to deal with.”
That’s where his readiness and versatility come into play. While he does much of his damage with a Senko, the lure that he referred to as a “fish catching machine,” he’ll never hesitate to switch up. At Cumberland, he caught his Day Two season-saving limit with a crankbait, even though he hadn’t cranked at all during practice. “I keep my mind open, especially when practices are tough. Something can always change.”
One thing that will change next year is that he won’t have to make the long haul by truck from Redding, California to the distant FLW Tour tournament locations. He’s moving closer to the heart of the national fishing scene as a result of a work opportunity that opened up for his wife in Tennessee. Reese will be left to make the lengthy drives without him, but they’ll be back in the boat together when practice starts – and neither of them would have it any other way.
“I think everybody enjoys Gary being in the back of their boat,” Reese said. “Sometimes I look back and say ‘There’s Mr. Hoover behind me.’”
In addition to Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits, Haraguchi is sponsored by Powell Rods, Frenzy Baits and Top This truck accessories.