By Pete Robbins
August 15, 2013
Wataru Iwahori is living the American dream – the American angler’s dream, to be precise.
If all goes well this week on the Red River, his crash course in U.S.-style bass fishing will lead him to
victory at the Forrest Wood Cup.
That would make him the first of his countrymen to win one of the major U.S. titles since Yamamoto
pro Shin Fukae won the FLW Angler of the Year trophy in 2004. That same year another Yamamoto pro,
Takahiro Omori, won the Bassmaster Classic. Unlike Fukae and Omori, Iwahori will be fishing the coangler side of the tournament, but that doesn’t make his passion any weaker, nor does it make his quick
rise to prominence any less impressive.
The 31 year old Iwahori came to the U.S. with a strong set of angling skills, developed while fishing some
of Japan’s major circuits, and his ability to speak, read and write English is excellent. Those abilities gave
him a leg up on starting his career, but the additional factor in his rapid ascent is his traveling partner:
none other than Gary Yamamoto himself.
In some respects, Iwahori’s rise to one of the top tournaments in the world was accidental. He’s been
tournament fishing in Japan for 14 years, but he started off in pursuit of carp. “I bought the wrong
rod for carp,” he recalled. “That rod was for bass so after that I started bass fishing.” Since that time,
though, just about everything he’s been done has been purposeful. Meeting Yamamoto was a matter
of happenstance, but once presented with the opportunity to meet the Japanese-American icon, the
Japanese angler made it his business to get to know him better.
“Gary was invited to the Basser Allstar Classic that a Japanese bass magazine held last year,” Iwahori
recalled. I helped him out there, and then he invited me to travel together this year. I’d wanted to fish in
the U.S. since I started fishing, and he gave me the chance.”
They’ve traveled together to each of the FLW Tour events, and while Yamamoto has largely been the
mentor – both on and off the water – the elder angler has also benefitted. “I’ve enjoyed having Wataru
as a traveling companion on tour with me this year,” he explained. “He is a very skilled and patient
angler. That’s why he’s done so well as a co-angler this year.”
The younger angler deferred to his elder, saying that he hoped he’d helped his companion’s efforts, but
mostly he remains in awe of Yamamoto’s stamina. “Most fans don’t know that he’s 70 years old. He is
still so powerful and aggressive that most people think he is much younger.”
While he’s had a stellar first year on tour, Iwahori admitted that the tournament preparation process
stateside differs from that in Japan. Of course in both countries the bass share the same basic DNA,
and tackle prep is key, but after that the processes diverge: “Japanese lakes are smaller than American
lakes,” he said. “So it’s easier to find where they are, but a lot of people are fishing the same lake and
pressure is very high. On the contrary, the most important thing in the U.S. is to locate where they are.”
Despite Japan’s reputation as being a breeding ground for finesse tactics and finesse specialists, Iwahori
considers shallow-water power fishing to be one of his main strengths. He backed up that belief at the
FLW Tour season opener on Florida’s Lake Okeechobee, notching a 12
“I like Lake Okeechobee a lot,” he said. “It has a lot of huge fish and my favorite style of fishing, shallow
water, is good there.”
After that, things got a little tougher as he got acclimated to American waters, and despite some good
finishes he struggled near the end of the year, finishing poorly at Eufaula and Chickamauga. “I was
worried that I wouldn’t make the Forrest Wood Cup,” he stated. In the end, though, he snuck into the
field, and now everyone inside the cut is back at zero.
What would a victory in one of the sport’s major championships mean to someone who’s been in the
country less than a year?
“It would give me a chance to repay the kindness of Gary and Beverly Yamamoto,” he said. “After that,
my short term goal is to move to the pro side and win a tournament. My long term goal is to remain in
the U.S. and make a career as a bass pro.”
This season, Iwahori has become a friend and confidante of Yamamoto, an icon on the water and in the
fishing industry. This week, he’s spending practice for the Cup fishing with another sure Hall of Famer,
Jay Yelas. A week from now, all of those good connections, and a lot of hard work, could make him the
third Japanese angler to win a major U.S. title. If all goes right, he’ll still be competing against his idols
next year, but this time from the front of the boat with a trophy on his mantle.
In addition to being sponsored by Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits, Iwahori has professional partnerships
with Gamakatsu, Berkley, L-First, Konami Boats, Dash and Okabashi.
place finish from the back of theWataru Iwahori is living the American dream – the American angler’s dream, to be precise.
If all goes well this week on the Red River, his crash course in U.S.-style bass fishing will lead him to victory at the Forrest Wood Cup.
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