Omori was the first non-American to win the 2004 Bassmaster Classic.
By ERIC SHARP
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
DETROIT -- Gerry Gostenik doesn't speak Japanese. Rieko Kigami and Kunihiko Matsumoto don't know much English.
But everyone aboard Gostenik's 21-foot Triton bass boat speaks the international language of Bass, and like anyone else who has watched Saturday morning fishing shows, the two Japanese can look at another angler's bent rod and say, "Nice feesh."
Kigami and Matsumoto were the latest foreign anglers who have come to Detroit to fish with Gostenik on Lake St. Clair -- generally acknowledged as the top smallmouth water and among the top five bass waters in the United States.
"I've had people from Japan, Italy, other parts of Europe and from all over this country come here just to fish for bass," Gostenik said. "And what does Detroit promote for tourism? Casinos. They are really missing a good market here."
"Just look at the number of foreigners who come to Detroit for the auto industry alone. A lot of those people are fishermen. They might fish for carp in Europe or fish in the ocean in Japan, but if you told them about the great fishing for walleyes and bass and muskellunge in our area, a lot of them would go fishing while they're here."
On this day, Gostenik and his Japanese clients are casting pink Super Flukes, a five-inch rubber lure that looks a bit like an eel with a fish tail. God alone knows what the fish think it is, but the smallmouths along the Ontario shoreline near the head of the Detroit River are gobbling it up like cotton candy.
Getting the message
Matsumoto, who owns a sports marketing company, requires hand signals, a few words of Japanese and English and some body language, but he gets across the point that he has been bitten hard by the bass fishing bug. He owns three bass boats, which he uses mostly on Lake Biwa, one of his country's top bass waters.
"Lake Biwa -- good bass," Matsumoto says.
When asked by hand signal how big they run, he grins and says, "Two pounds-three. Good bass."
The 1990s movie "A River Runs Through It" was about as popular in Japan as in the United States. Americans flocked to the trout fishing depicted in the film, but Japanese by the tens of thousands turned to a more available and even more American species -- the largemouth bass.
Largemouths apparently were smuggled into Japan in the 1920s by a Tokyo businessman who dumped 400 California fish in a lake near that city. They thrived there, and through natural wandering or replanting by other would-be bass anglers, soon spread over much of the country.
Exotic American bass live in the moats around the old Imperial Palace in Tokyo, and places like Lake Biwa are magnets for anglers.
Japanese bass anglers were delighted when Takahiro Omori won the 2004 Bassmaster Classic, the Super Bowl of bass angling. He was the first non-American to win the title.
But not all Japanese look on Omori's success with pride or look benignly at bass fishing. Though it's popular enough to be the subject of numerous magazines in Japan, bass fishing has drawn the ire of traditionalists, who view it as something un-Japanese.
The day ends with the Japanese anglers catching and releasing 25 bass that run 21/2 to 31/2 pounds, "and I bet we missed another 40 strikes because they aren't used to hooking fish on a Fluke," Gostenik said.