By Pete Robbins
August 3, 2012
This week Gary Yamamoto will turn 69 years old, an age at which many men are content to sit in an easy chair, watching time pass by, settling for the the occasional round of golf. On first impression, the laconic Yamamoto, still athletically trim at this advanced age, might give off the impression that he’s headed that way, but that perception couldn’t be further from the truth. At just a hair shy of 70, he’s experienced a career renaissance, qualifying for his fourth Forrest Wood Cup, and his first tour championship event since 2007.
He’ll head to Georgia’s Lake Lanier, site of the Cup, with a full head of steam.
“I may look like I’m a senior citizen about ready to drop over, but I’m still going pretty strong,” he said. “I can still compete and it would mean a lot to me to win the Cup.”
He’s fished two Bassmaster Classics (2001 and 2002) and three FLW Cups (2005, 2006 and 2007), but his best performance came ten years ago. In his second Classic, held on Alabama’s Lay Lake, he finished 7th in a tournament ultimately won by Jay Yelas. Since then, his results have been all over the map, ranging from 15th at the 2006 Forrest Wood Cup all the way down to 54th the following year.
Similarly, while he has had occasional flashes of brilliance, he’s yet to win a tour-level event. On the B.A.S.S. side of things, he finished 2nd in 1999 at Eufaula (Okla.) and 3rd in 2001 at Sam Rayburn. He’s matched those results in his FLW career, finishing 3rd at Kentucky Lake in 2006 and 2nd at Champlain last year. He also notched a 2nd place finish in the PAA event on Old Hickory earlier this year.
The reason for the sudden surge in his career after a few tougher than usual campaigns is no mystery to the man himself: “I’m finally letting other people take care of business,” he said, referring not only to his lure company but his other commercial interests. “I’m concentrating on fishing. I guess that’s an excuse, but it’s time for me to earn a win in the next year or so, and to win a championship would be huge.”
“It would be big for business, too,” he added, apparently forgetting his earlier admonition to himself that his sole focus needs to be on the water.
While many of Yamamoto’s best results in recent years have come in skinny water tournaments, often fishing dirt-shallow with products of his own design, he said that anyone who discounts his deep water process should be prepared to be surprised.
“My start was fishing in 40 feet of water on Lake Mead and Lake Powell,” he explained. “It’s not that I can’t do it, but I do prefer shallow water power fishing.” That preference will likely be thrown out the window next week at Lanier, where winning catches are expected to come from 15 or 20 feet of water, if not more. In 2010, GYCB pro Kevin Hawk won the Cup on Lanier primarily with a dropshotted finesse worm and a Fish Head Spin. Yamamoto has fished tournaments on Lanier twice before and goes in knowing that he could fish some familiar docks and shoreline cover, but that in order to win he’ll likely have to go offshore.
“It’s not the right time of year (for the places I’ve fished before),” he said. “The bigger fish have moved out and they’re suspending on outside structure.”
He noted that the tools that are available to him today are light years ahead of the electronics that helped him learn the western reservoirs in the infancy of his career. “It’s totally different today,” he explained. “With the Navionics chips, you can get on something to within one foot of accuracy. I don’t use side-scanning, and I’m probably not as proficient with my electronics as some others, but I can figure out what I need to do.”
In addition to his past experiences on Lanier, Yamamoto will get a boost from close friend Tom Mann Jr., who was a pre-tournament favorite at the 2010 Cup – as he is in any tournament on Lanier, for that matter – but who did not qualify this time. “He’s spent 40 years of his life fishing the lake and he’s shared some of his knowledge with me,” Yamamoto said. “I feel like I learned some of his secrets.
“The friendships and associations that I’ve made out on tour are very important to me,” he continued. “And if I do well it may have something to do with Tom’s help, and I want to give him a lot of credit.”
Mann may deserve some of the kudos, but ultimately Yamamoto will be the one who has to put the fish in the boat, and his strategy is to swing hard and not worry about limits.
“My objective will be to get five bites,” he said. “I feel very confident that if I spend my time doing the right things, I will be able to catch some of those four-pound fish that you’ll need to win there.”
A win at Lanier would cap off a tremendous career both on and off the water, but even if he hoists the trophy next week, don’t look for the 69 year old Yamamoto to retire to the recliner any time soon.
“Look at Roland Martin,” he said. “He’s 72 or 73 and he’s still running around. Guy Eaker is about the same. Human life is stretched out a bit more these days. We have more longevity. I will continue doing this as long as I can.”