By T.J. Maglio
For many American anglers, the growth of their fishing passion is an organic process. Whether introduced to the sport by fathers, grandfathers, summer camps, boy scouts, or any of the other innumerable ways - Americans are lucky in that we have almost as many paths into the sport as we have acres of fish-filled water.
For Japanese anglers, the path to freshwater fishing is much more difficult. There are far fewer lakes, a much denser population, stringent rules on public access, and a federal government that recently declared the largemouth bass an invasive species that needs to be eradicated.
Those factors didn’t stop Yamamoto staffer Wataru Iwahori from developing that passion just as strongly as any stateside angler - and a single bass he caught when he was 15 years old ignited a passion that has taken him on a journey that recently landed him the Co-angler Angler of the Year on the FLW’s Northern Costa series.
For Iwahori, the AOY crown was the culmination of a lot of hard work, miles and miles of travel, and verification that he’s on the right path to fulfilling his career goals. “At the Costa level, all the best local sticks compete along with tour pros,” Iwahori said. “So in some ways, the competition is actually tougher than at tour level events (Wataru also fished the 2018 season as an FLW Tour Co-Angler). To win AOY was huge, because it means that I was able to compete with the best on their home waters and come out on top.”
Drop Shot was the key
With tournaments on Lake Erie, Lake Champlain, and 1,000 islands, the 2018 Northern Costa series set up as a smallmouth dominating circuit, so it’s no surprise that the drop-shot was key to his 4th place finish at 1,000 Islands – which iced his AOY crown.
Although he caught fish on a chatterbait and a spybait in the tournament – it was a drop shot that sealed the deal on day 3, bringing in a day best 17-1. It was the third heaviest weight overall on the final day, and it was enough to move him from 10th to 4th – solidifying the AOY win.
“On day three Lake Ontario was off-limits, which is what made the fishing tougher for everyone,” Iwahori said. “Fortunately, the drop shot catches bass anywhere, and I was able to get enough big fish to jump a bunch of other good anglers.”
Iwahori’s drop shot setup was fairly simple. He used a 7 foot JDM version Gamakatsu rod, an Abu Garcia Revo MGX spinning reel spooled with 14 pound Berkley Vanish Revolution, and a ½ ounce drop shot weight.
On the business end, he used either a Yamamoto Shad Shaped Worm, or the Yamamoto Sanshuo, which does an excellent job imitating the invasive round goby – something he’d figured out in practice with his traveling partner, Gary Yamamoto.
“Gary caught a couple gobies in practice,” Iwahori said. “I was looking at them and laid one next to a green pumpkin Sanshuo, and it really looked good. It also gives the fish a different profile, and it’s something that a lot of other anglers wouldn’t think to throw.”
It’s been a long road
For Iwahori, the AOY crown has been a long time coming. Living in Japan, it’s not easy for young anglers to get to the states and compete. Prior to this year, he fished the FLW tour as a co-angler in 2013 and 2017 and had some successes, but being able to actually win AOY, as well as finish inside the top-10 in all three events is something he hopes will be able to allow him to keep fishing in the states, as well as jump over to the pro side.
“I fished tournaments on the pro side in Japan,” Iwahori said. “But those are getting harder and harder to compete in with the government’s crackdown on bass as an invasive. Because of that, the whole industry has been affected, and there are way less opportunities to succeed. I’ve been successful on the co-angler side, so now I want to show I can compete on the pro side.”