CELEBRATION, Fla. There is no better evidence of the evolution of bass fishing than the influx of international anglers. Two of the most successful are Japanese anglers Takahiro Omori and Morizo Shimizu, who both recently accepted their invitations to the 2006 CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series, an 11-event circuit debuting in 2006 that will award nearly $7.5 million to the most elite anglers in the world.
"I'm excited to see where BASS and ESPN are headed," Omori, 35, said. "I can't wait to see the future and I definitely want to be a part of it when it happens."
Omori was the first foreign national to win a CITGO Bassmaster Classic. He left his home Japan for America in 1992 and began work as a dishwasher to support his dream of fishing.
Although Omori's credentials in the sport now are undeniable he's had six BASS wins, is the 2004 CITGO Bassmaster Classic champion and recently won the Norfork Lake Bassmaster Central Open in October Shimizu is a relative unknown with only 27 BASS tournaments under his belt. He most recently qualified for the BUSCH Shootout in September with the heaviest sack of the season, 30 pounds, 5 ounces. The three-year pro and resident of Osaka, Japan, caught that sack and was fully embraced by fishing fans at Lake Guntersville in Alabama during a 2005 CITGO Bassmaster Tour tournament. Despite his small English vocabulary, Shimizu armed himself with a photogenic smile and a veteran stage presence, working the crowd before narrowly falling to second behind Zell Rowland. It is Shimizu's best BASS finish to date.
"I feel honored to be a part of the Bassmaster Elite Series," Shimizu, 35, said through a translator. "I always wanted to fish in the best tournament circuit in the world, and this is why I am flying overseas to join. I am starting to feel that BASS is taking us to where bass fishing should be as a major professional sport."
Shimizu and Omori will fish in a smaller field in 2006 and compete for nearly $11 million dollars in the tournament series, the CITGO Bassmaster Classic, the Bassmaster Majors, the CITGO Bassmaster Angler of the Year program and other contingencies. The Elite Series also will offer anglers an opportunity to promote themselves and provide more visibility to their sponsors through boat wraps.
Meanwhile, Shimizu has used his charm and Japanese roots to garner a number of impressive sponsorships, including non-endemic giant United Airlines, Mercury Marine, MotorGuide, Japanese companies Bait Breath, Gamakatsu International, Inc., Evergreen International Aviation Inc., Sunline Co. Ltd, Japanese marina V6 Marine, electronics provider Hondex and Champion Boats.
Omori's sponsors include Ranger Boats, Yamaha Motor Corp., Daiwa Corp., Lucky Craft USA, Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits, Gamakatsu International, Inc. and Sunline Co. Ltd.
Although both still have deep roots in Japan, each has created a home based in America; Omori has lived in Emory, Texas, for the last 13 years and Shimizu keeps his boat and truck in Springfield, Mo. and flys over to the States for extended periods.
"This is my life and my job," Omori said. "I am so happy with the schedule next year. It is the best I have ever seen. There is going to be lots of big fish caught next year with these fisheries."