Somehow the annual CITGO Bassmaster Classic presented by Busch Beer just keeps getting bigger and better.
Just when you think the event and the story of its winner can't get any better, ESPN and Takahiro Omori completely ruin that theory.
From the perspective of having covered 22 Classics as a journalist, I can state with some authority that ESPN's fourth Classic production (both the event and television efforts) reached new heights. This Classic, from the ESPN Outdoor Expo to the daily weigh-in shows at the Charlotte Coliseum, is one for the ages.
And the television coverage completely blew away anything that has ever been done on the sport of fishing. Between the special programming, on-the-water coverage, live and timely updates and the weigh-in shows, a fishing fan in Alaska could feel like he or she was sitting on the banks of Lake Wylie watching the final two rounds.
It was major-league treatment for a big-league sporting event.
And what a great story Takahiro Omori is!
It is easy to remember when the shy Japanese young man first came to the United States in 1992 and fished both the Bassmaster Invitationals (now Opens), as well as the amateur side of then-Top 100 tournaments knowing few people, even fewer words of English and sleeping in the back of a rental car to save what few dollars he had. But he was doing what he loved and immersing himself in the world of tournament fishing to learn everything possible about it.
Meanwhile, Omori spent every moment possible using Texas' Lake Fork as his own classroom, mastering the skills necessary to compete with the big boys. His only other focus was in an actual classroom learning the language of his new homeland.
His fellow pros, who witnessed his relentless determination, recognize the courage and commitment it has taken to make his dream come true. He has long been one of the most well-liked pros on the CITGO Bassmaster Tour.
Back in December, I spent considerable time with Tak at his home in Emory and on his home lake. He proudly talked about buying his first home, getting braces for his constant smile and his first Texas girlfriend. It was clear that after all of the years of struggling he was at a good point in his life.
I thought about that as he fell to his knees, pounded the Classic stage with his hands and cried openly while the weigh-in audience roared.
Although he recognizes that his English skills still need some improvement, Omori is poised to become both a unique and effective ambassador for the sport of bass fishing. In this country, he is the walking embodiment of the American Dream who will undoubtedly inspire countless others. In fishing-crazy Japan, he will be the bass equivalent of Elvis.
In his native land where American bass stars are so highly revered, Omori will have no peer. At the same time, he will likely help revive Japan's bass fishing world, which has come under attack in recent years from some who see the bass as a predator species, not a sport fish. In that way, his impact could dwarf that of the Classic champions who have come before him.
When Omori was so overcome with emotion on the Classic stage, his thoughts flashed back to his late father, whose death three days after Takahiro's first Classic appearance sent him into a personal and professional tailspin.
His parents "thought I was crazy" trying to fashion a career as a professional angler in America, he said, but changed their minds upon coming to New Orleans and watching their son compete in the 2001 Classic. His father died three days after the Classic.
"I really wish my dad could have been here with me," he said. "He never paid anything (to support) my fishing, but he was still my dad."
On the other hand
On the opposite end of the satisfaction spectrum we find Chris Baumgardner, one of the two local favorites, who finished 44th with just three bass weighing 6 pounds, 11 ounces.
"It's going to take a while to get over this Classic," the North Carolina pro said. "It took a while to get over High Rock in '98 and it's going to take longer this time."
Did you know?
ESPN had more than 300 people involved in staging and televising the 34th annual Classic in Charlotte.
Texas pro and lure designer Gary Yamamoto becomes 60 on Aug. 5. Kentucky pro Mike Auten celebrates his 34 birthday on Aug. 6. Sam Swett (40) of Louisiana and Arkansas' Mike Wurm (51) share the 15th. Massachusetts' Danny Correia will be 41 on the 19th, while Joe Thomas turns 42 on the same day.
If I hadn't become a BASS pro
Texas pro Ben Matsubu says he would most likely being working his family's onion farm in Idaho.
They said it
ESPN is really putting its arms around bass fishing. The message is 'We're putting our entire company behind growing this sport.' We bought BASS to grow it. It just takes time. It's on the right track. We're putting our money where our mouth is.
ESPN and ABC Sports President George Bodenheimer on ESPN's Classic and television efforts.
Tim Tucker's Pro Angling Insider is a new bi-monthly newsletter with an annual subscription rate of $39.95. It can be ordered by calling toll-free 800-252-FISH. A sample issue can by seen on his Bass Sessions 2004 web site, www.timtuckeroutdoors.com.