Bass' lure in international waters

OUTDOORS

August 08, 2004|By CANDUS THOMSON

Finally, the world championship of bass fishing truly is global.

Takahiro Omori won the Bassmaster Classic last Sunday on North Carolina's Lake Wylie in a last-minute burst of made-for-TV bravado. The Tokyo native caught his two fattest fish in the final five minutes of the three-day tournament. He beat Aaron Martens, the bridesmaid for the second time in three years, by 2 3/4 pounds.

His joy was genuine, his relief palpable. A TV camera caught his reactions as he piloted his boat back to the dock: a fist-shaking, hat-waving emotional explosion.

Even watching TV, you could tell how much it meant to Omori, 33, who decided as a teenager that he wanted to be a professional angler and win the Classic.

Like last year's winner, the break-dancing Mike Iaconelli, and Ishama Monroe, the first black pro angler to fish the Classic, Omori is a breath of fresh air. Now, if only Lucy Mize can qualify for the event, we'll have a tremendous recruiting poster for a new generation of anglers.

But, of course, there are some folks out there who would like to rain on the international parade.

They want to know why Omori is still a Japanese citizen after living in Texas for 12 years and why he didn't wave the American flag after he won the Citgo Bassmaster Classic last Sunday. They want to know why a foreigner is allowed to participate.

And, of course, they ask all this anonymously on Web site boards, just as they questioned the credentials of Iaconelli, the brash New Jersey native.

What's not to like about Omori?

When he came to America in 1992, Omori knew a smattering of English and just one person.

But he persevered, just as any good angler does.

And because he's so grateful and such a gentle soul, he will be a great ambassador for the sport.

Jay Kumar, owner of the Web site, BassFan.com, says that the stereotype of "Bubba from 'Bama" is fading. Three of the past four Classic winners were not sons of the South.

"When Takahiro entered the Charlotte Coliseum for the weigh-in the final day, the crowd roared. He's come up through the school of hard knocks and people admire him," says Kumar. "There was a pure bond between Tak and the crowd."

ESPN, the sports network that owns BASS, couldn't be happier.

"It's a terrific story line," says Dean Kessel, the head guy at BASS. "Here's a guy who chased his dream and 12 years later, he realized it."

Apparently viewers like it as well.

Kessel says preliminary ratings show "significant gains" in the demographic most important to the sports network: men 18-34. Coverage of the Classic on ESPN and ESPN2 increased 59 percent over last year.

"Needless to say, we're pretty pleased," he said.

But will crowd reaction and TV ratings translate into endorsements? Will Omori be invited to bass shows and get the speaking engagements that the traditional "good old boys" received?

Kumar believes that the only thing that could hold Omori back might be his command of English.

"He's a great guy, a sweet guy. He's well-respected by his peers. He's good for the sport and anybody with half a brain will realize it," he says.

Already, my good friend Steve Waters, outdoors writer for our sister paper, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, has penned an ode to the winner that is sung to the tune of that Dean Martin hit, "That's Amore."

"If he catches five bass/And he needs just six casts/That's Omori!

He can flip!/He can crank!/He can fish/On the bank!/That's Omori!"

A Classic? Maybe not. Leave that to Omori.

Licenses on line: soon

Although it probably won't be ready for deer hunters this year, the Department of Natural Resources promises that an on-line system will be up and running in time for anglers to buy their 2005 licenses.

And DNR isn't stopping with just the Web-based system. Phone orders will be taken as well.

It seems DNR secretary Ron Franks grew tired of reporters' questions about progress on e-licenses and was even more weary of the foot dragging by those charged with building the system.

Last week, Franks ordered the information systems people to have the system running before the end of the year. That will bring Maryland in line with nearly 40 states already on-line.

Eastern Neck deer hunt

They've been holding deer hunts at Eastern Neck National Wildlife Refuge just south of Rock Hall since 1962, so they must be doing something right.

The sizable deer population, coupled with the cap placed on the number of hunters each day, makes the 2,286-acre refuge a pretty desirable place to set up shop.

This year, refuge manager Martin Kaehny has set the seasons this way: non-ambulatory hunt, Sept. 20; youth hunt, Sept. 25; archery, Oct. 1; muzzleloader, Oct. 8 and Oct. 15; and shotgun, Oct. 29 and Nov. 5.

Call the refuge, 410-639-7056, for an application. A non-refundable $10 fee will be charged to help pay for administrative costs. Holders of federal Golden Age or Golden Access passes will be charged $5.

The youth hunt is restricted to participants between the ages of 10 and 15 accompanied by an unarmed parent or guardian.

Rules about a group application can be obtained by calling the refuge office.

Applications will be accepted until the close of business on Aug. 18. The drawing will be Aug. 20.

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