Getting to know the new(ish) kid on the block: the Yamamoto Yamatanuki - Major League Fishing

Getting to know the new(ish) kid on the block: the Yamamoto Yamatanuki

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Part Senko. Part jig. A little bit finesse and a little bit power. The Yamamoto Yamatanuki might just be the best of a whole bunch of worlds. Photo by Rob Matsuura. Angler: Fletcher Shryock.
November 29, 2023 • Justin Onslow • Bass Pro Tour

Wildly popular and productive in Japan for several years, the Yamamoto Yamatanuki is a heavy soft plastic bait that was finally made available to the bass fishing public in the U.S. earlier this year. It’s still a bit of a hidden gem stateside, but don’t expect that to last much longer – according to Mercury pro Fletcher Shryock, anyway.

“I think the Yamatanuki eventually is going to be something the majority of anglers either have in their tackle box or know they could get beat by it,” he says. “I think there’s going to be some situations where it works extremely well and shines through in a national event at some point, and everyone’s going to sample it.”

“Scat” baits?

They may not look like much, but “heavy” baits like the Yamatanuki excel in a multitude of applications. Photo by Justin Onslow

“Heavy baits,” “gravity baits,” even “poop baits” (as many anglers call them) – there are plenty of names for the category of soft plastic baits that aren’t quite stickbaits and aren’t quite creatures or craws; think an extra-fat Senko with a taper. However you want to describe the shape, just know it’s close enough to a baitfish profile for any bass in the country to take a look.

“For me, it’s a cross between a Senko and a jig,” Shryock says. “It’s got the profile of a small bluegill, but the way you fish the bait and the way the bait acts is like a Senko. It’s a power-finesse approach, and that’s what makes it different.”

The difference is tied to the category name itself. The Yamatanuki and other similar offerings are heavy, at least compared to other soft plastics of a similar size. At 3 1/2 inches (the standard Yamatanuki size; it’s also offered in a 2 1/2-inch version) but a whopping 5/8 ounces, it’s got considerable girth and density, meaning you don’t need to fish it with a weight.

Why use a Yamatanuki?

Shryock loves pitching and skipping Yamatanukis around docks thanks to its easy-to-skip design, heavy weight and unique fall. Photo by Justin Onslow

Simply put, the Yamatanuki can do what other baits can’t. Full stop.

“I think the biggest thing for me with the ‘Nuki is that I can put it in certain places and it’s not disruptive,” Shryock explains. “It’s very much like a Senko in that you can slide it to a fish in 6 inches of water and skip it up to them and you’re able to come away with that fish. There’s a lot of lures like a jig that’s not weightless and doesn’t have that profile and you don’t get a lot of those bites.”

But unlike a Senko and many other weightless soft plastics, the Yamatanuki has a fast fall rate, which means it excels in nearly any depth of water. With a signature side-to-side flutter as it drops through the water column, the Yamatanuki presents itself as a tasty treat for bass in 1 foot of water or suspended 20 feet deep over 75 feet of water.

There’s versatility in the design, too. Just because it’s weighted to the point where it doesn’t need additional weight doesn’t mean you have to fish it weightless.

“You can definitely put it on a ball head or a wobble head and you can get it down to the bottom,” Shryock adds. “I really see that being a big deal for the smallmouth with the 2 1/2-inch version. That 2 1/2 looks a lot like a tube. When you put that jighead on it, it’s going to fall and spiral down like a tube does – and we know smallmouth like tubes.”

How to put a Yamatanuki to work

Shryock calls the Yamatanuki a “four-by-four truck” for its ability to get where a lot of other baits can’t reach. Photo by Rob Matsuura

Shryock loves skipping the Yamatanuki more than anything else. For one, it’s a heavy bait with a slender profile, which means it’s exceptionally easy to slide across the water over huge distances. Additionally, the 5/8-ounce bait is heavy enough to target those hard-to-reach fish that might be suspended deep below a dock or marina slip.

“It’s definitely a cool bait, especially with Lowrance ActiveTarget,” he says. “Suspended fish around marinas – that’s a big deal, getting the bait back to fish that don’t see baits. You see a fish suspended over 50 feet in a slip back in some gnarly marina, there’s not many options. That’s where that bait really shines. It’s a four-by-four truck. It goes anywhere.”

Aside from skipping docks, the Yamatanuki is still eminently useable in tons of applications. It’s a great flipping bait (especially on windy days when a lightly weighted Senko might be too cumbersome), can be used as a trailer and can even replace jigs and other exposed-hook baits around grass and heavy cover.

“The biggest thing I like about the ‘Nuki is that I’m able to put it places where I don’t have confidence to put any other lure,” Shryock adds. “The way the bait’s designed and the way it holds a hook, when you put it back into places and heavy cover and stuff, you’re not going to be snagging and dealing with all that. It’s extremely weedless.”

Shryock’s setup

Unlike most soft plastics on a weightless setup, the Yamatanuki can be fished on a casting rod like Shryock’s preferred 7-foot, 3-inch Favorite Pro Series rod. Photo by Justin Onslow

If you’re still not sold on an overstuffed Senko that fishes like a jig and skips a quarter mile, consider that the Yamatanuki is heavy enough to be fished on casting gear, which is how Shryock puts his to work.

“Even though I call it ‘power finesse,’ the ‘power’ part comes in your tackle,” he explains. “You don’t have to downsize your tackle if you don’t want to. You can throw it on a spinning rod, but I honestly think it’s almost borderline heavy for a soft spinning rod. I like using a baitcaster.”

His casting rod of choice for the Yamatanuki is a Favorite Pro Series 7-foot, 3-inch medium heavy. It’s got some backbone for driving home a weightless EWG hook, but the tip is soft enough to allow Shryock to put the bait where he wants it at all times. It’s the same rod he uses for skipping jigs.

Shryock cautions that, when fished weightless on an EWG hook, you need to emphasize your hookset a little more than with a jig, but that’s why he opts for a 19-pound-test Vicious fluorocarbon leader tied to 40-pound-test braid. That combo – paired with the right rod – eliminates line stretch and allows the rod to do the work in sticking fish and keeping them pinned.

A secret no more?

Very few bass fishing “secrets” are secrets at all. They may not be talked about in the same way anglers discuss tried-and-true staple techniques, but tournament pros aren’t unaware of the Yamatanuki and other baits in its category. And it likely won’t be long before the Yamatanuki wins a major tournament or two and puts the rest of the bass fishing world on notice.

While already popular in Japan, the U.S. market is catching up. Shryock, in particular, thinks the Yamatanuki has the versatility and novelty to create some serious staying power on the tournament stage.

“Someone is going to win with it at some point,” he says. “People are going to know if you’re not throwing it, you could get beat by it.”