That’s Omori - Major League Fishing

That’s Omori

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Takahiro Omori of Emory, Tex., at the launch of the Wal-Mart FLW Tour event on Lake Martin, Alexander City, Ala. Photo by Yasutaka Ogasawara. Angler: Takahiro Omori.
June 30, 2001 • Rob Newell • Archives

From waiter to Wal-Mart FLW Tour champion, Takahiro Omori has been serving up surprises for years

It is just breaking dawn on a gray, stormy morning at Prairie Creek Campground on Beaver Lake in Arkansas. Takahiro Omori sits inside his conversion camper van listening to the weather radio and eating a bowl of rice. It is a humble breakfast, but efficient, and perhaps nostalgic, considering Omori is 13,000 miles away from his homeland in Japan.

One’s first inclination might be to feel a bit sorry for Omori. After all, he is in a foreign land, camping by himself, and trying to make a living at a sport that is as American as apple pie. But any pity felt for the slight Japanese angler is quickly dispelled when he comes to the door of his small camper with a beaming smile.

Despite the gloomy weather, Omori is as excited as a child on Christmas Eve. “It is going to be a good day,” gleams the 30-year-old angler in surprisingly fluent English. “Any day you can go bass fishing is a good day.”

Make no mistake about it: for Takahiro Omori, happiness is bass fishing.

In 1986, as a teenager in the busy city of Tokyo, Omori dreamed of becoming a professional bass angler. Late at night, after his school studies were finished, Omori would stare at pictures in American bass fishing magazines idolizing professional bass anglers.

“I can remember seeing pictures of Larry Nixon and Rick Clunn and thinking that is what I wanted to do with my life,” Omori says. “I wanted to be a professional bass angler in America.”

Obviously, there were a few major problems with young Omori’s dream. How would he overcome language and cultural barriers? How would he sustain himself financially? Where would he live? Who would he associate with?

Even if he was persistent enough to overcome the obvious obstacles, a professional bass fishing career alone is an enormous challenge, even for seasoned American bass anglers. How was a young man from Japan going to move to a foreign country and succeed in a career where his competition already had a tremendous inherent advantage?

In most people’s opinions, including his parents, what Omori entertained in his mind was not a dream at all; it was a fantasy. “My parents did not think it was a good idea at the time,” he laughs. “They did not have much to say about it, or maybe I just did not hear much of what they had to say about it.”

After graduating from high school, Omori waited tables in Japan and saved money for his first trip to America. By diligently studying American fishing magazines at night, he was able to glean the English language in bits and pieces while learning about American bass fishing locations and techniques. Eventually, he saved up the money and the courage to send in his tournament deposits for the B.A.S.S. Invitational circuit.

Takahiro Omori, winner of the 2001 Wal-Mart FLW Tour event on Lake Martin, Alexander City, Ala. Photography by Yasutaka Ogasawara.In 1992, Omori was accepted into his first American professional bass fishing tournament. In March of 1992, he traveled to America for a month and fished two B.A.S.S. Invitationals as a non-boater. For the first time, Omori’s fantasized version of professional bass fishing in America became a reality. And it was everything he thought it would be.

Omori returned to Japan and began talking with Popeye, the Ranger dealer in Japan, about the possibility of fishing an entire season in the United States. The Popeye dealership was already sponsoring Masaki Shimono, a legendary Japanese angler, to fish in the States during the 1993 – 1994 season.

Popeye had bought Shimono a 1985 Chevy Suburban and supplied him with a Ranger Boat to fish in America. Shimono had planned on flying to America for each Invitational during the season and flying home between the tournaments.

Omori went to Popeye and volunteered to go to the U.S. and stay for nine months during the B.A.S.S. season as a scout for Shimono. The plan was for Omori to pick up and drop off his fellow countryman at the airport for each tournament. Between tournaments he would use the truck and boat to prefish lakes for Shimono. Omori would also fish the B.A.S.S Invitationals as a non-boater to learn as much as he could about American bass fishing.

In the fall of 1993, Omori put the plan into action. He arrived in America with a few clothes, some rods and reels, and very little money in his pocket. For nine months he lived in the Suburban in campgrounds across America. He shuttled Shimono back and forth to the airport when necessary. In between tournaments, he fished as much as possible.

This activity turned into a way of life for Omori between 1993 and 1995. He lived in the Suburban and traveled back to Japan during the off-season to work and save money. The only American contacts he had were Jim and Tana McKean. At the time, the McKean’s were the owners of the Ranger dealership in Mabank, Texas, which shipped Rangers to Popeye in Japan. The McKeans let Omori stay at their home when the angler was passing through Texas on his travels.

An ESPN videographer captures Takahiro Omori landing a bass at the Wal-Mart FLW Tour event on Lake Martin, Alexander City, Ala. Photography by Yasutaka Ogasawara. “I have never seen a kid more dedicated to anything than Takahiro is to his bass fishing,” says Tana McKean, “When he came over here, he had nothing, and I mean nothing. Everything he has he has worked like the dickens to get.”

The only personal money Omori made came from occasional tournament checks and a writing job he had as the American correspondent for Basser magazine in Japan. “I was the first person to give the Wal-Mart FLW Tour exposure in Japan,” boasts Omori. Even up until two years ago, Omori drove a camera boat for the Wal-Mart FLW Tour to get photos and articles for Basser.

By most American standards, Omori would be considered a vagabond, a wandering wayfarer with no home or job. But the nomadic angler has little concern for American standards of wealth and success. He has no interest in other people’s preconceived notions or judgments. “I was grateful just to be in America fishing tournaments,” he says. “I don’t really care what people think of me sleeping in a truck. That does not matter to me as long as I can fish.”

When he looks back on those early days in America, Omori remembers a lot of hard times. “The Suburban had over 200,000 miles on it and it would break down,” he says. “I did not know what was wrong with it, how to fix it, or how to pay to have it fixed. Sometimes I was stranded five or six days in a place because the Suburban would not work.”

Omori could fill a notebook with stories of his bad experiences during those first years. Between the breakdowns, the inability to communicate, being lost and, at times, having barely enough money to eat, one would think Omori would eventually throw in the towel.

But in order to understand his seemingly immortal resilience, one would have to understand Omori’s personal philosophy. For Omori, there are no bad experiences-only good ones. “Every experience you have you learn something that is good,” says the ever-optimistic angler. “I have no regrets. All the mistakes I made were good because they taught me something I needed to know. Bad times make good times.” It is a philosophy that Omori lives by.

In 1995, Shimono bought a new van for the two anglers to share and camp in. Omori used the check from one tournament to register for English classes at Texas Wesleyan University. As a non-boater, he had become especially frustrated with the language barrier and was ready to improve his English. “Do you think any fisherman was going to listen to a Japanese non-boater in a draw tournament?” Omori jokes.

In the 1995 – 1996 B.A.S.S. season, Omori’s bad times really gave way to good times. With the Invitational circuit split into two divisions, Shimono decided he would only fish the eastern division while allowing Omori to borrow his boat for the central division tournaments.

With better English speaking skills and the full use of a boat during central division tournaments, Omori’s performance improved drastically. Omori won the B.A.S.S. Missouri Invitational in 1996 and then went on to qualify for the B.A.S.S. Top 150 circuit via the eastern division, which he had fished as a non-boater.

With a birth in the B.A.S.S. Top 150 circuit, and a national title under his belt, Omori decided he would need to move to the United States to commit to his fishing career on a fulltime basis. In 1997, Omori applied for a permanent visa to live in America. He committed himself to the B.A.S.S. Top 150 circuit, the Wal-Mart FLW Tour and the Invitationals. He bought his own camper van, received his first American boat deal with Ranger Boats, and headed to America for good.

About moving to the United States, Omori says he owes a lot to Joe and Toshiko Axton of Axton’s Bass City, a marina on Lake Fork. “They helped me move here to the U.S. and let me buy a place to stay at Lake Fork in between tournaments,” he says.

Joe Axton acknowledges that Omori eats, sleeps and breathes bass fishing. “He is totally committed to tournament bass fishing,” reports Axton, who says that he and his wife have been like American godparents to Omori for the last several years. “We are tickled to death to see him do well this year. He has worked extremely hard to overcome some enormous obstacles.”

Omori contends that he could make a good living in Japan as a professional bass angler, but says that being a professional angler in Japan involves more promoting and less tournaments. “I want to fish as many tournaments as I can,” Omori says. “In America there is more opportunity to make a living just fishing tournaments. There are more tournaments and the pay outs are much better.”

Takahiro Omori of Emory, Tex., lands a bass at the Wal-Mart FLW Tour event on Lake Martin, Alexander City, Ala. Photography by Yasutaka Ogasawara.This past year, Omori won the B.A.S.S. Invitational on Sam Rayburn and the Wal-Mart FLW Tournament at Lake Martin. He says the win at Martin has been the biggest moment of his life, but not so much for the money. “When I won Martin, I competed against Rick Clunn and Guido Hibdon in the top five. Those are the guys I would see in the magazines 15 years ago. I still can’t believe it.”

But Omori gives rare insight into the pressures of professional angling by admitting that he has had little time to enjoy his wins and successes. “Tournament fishing is a competitive business,” he says. “I am always worried about the next tournament. Just because I win one does not mean I can stop. I have to get ready for the next one.”

Omori says he is especially grateful for the impact that the Wal-Mart FLW Tour has had on the tournament fishing industry. “In my opinion, the Wal-Mart FLW Tour has made fishing for a living possible without having to worry about getting lots of sponsors. When the FLW increased the prize money it forced other trails to increase their prizes. Now there is much more money being paid out in tournament fishing than when I first came here 10 years ago.”

Omori’s fishing future looks bright. He recently bought his first house and in 2002 he will be deemed a permanent resident of the United States. After acquiring complete citizenship, he looks forward to focusing even more on his fishing. “Every year I am able to focus more on my fishing and less on the other things that I have had to overcome.”

Omori has even started his own lure business, T.O. Lures. He makes lures in America and sells them in Japan. “I am not trying to make a big lure business. I like making my own lures and what I do not use, I sell in Japan.”

When Omori thinks about the last 10 years and reflects on the tribulations that he has endured to make his dream a reality, he offers this advice, “Everybody has a different path to becoming a professional angler. Everyone’s situation is different. I cannot see a pro and say, `I am going to do it just like him.’ Everybody has their own obstacles they must overcome to do it.”

Omori has made a successful career from bass fishing in America and he does not look like he is going to let up anytime soon. “I love bass fishing. There is no place in the world I would rather be than on the water. As long as I can pay my bills by bass fishing, that is what I will do.