Fishing & Boating News

Omori Prepared To Unify Bass-Fishing Titles At $1.5 Million Wal-Mart FLW Tour Championship Presented By Castrol

Bassmaster Classic champ to cast for $500,000 - bass fishing's biggest prize - Aug. 11-14

by: Dave Washburn, vp comm, FLW Outdoors

(Aug. 03, 2004 - BIRMINGHAM, AL.) For Japanese native and Emory, Texas, resident Takahiro Omori, it's one down and one to go in his quest to become the undisputed heavyweight champion of bass fishing. On the heels of winning the Bassmaster Classic title and $200,000 in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Omori is already preparing for another title shot. This time, the Yamaha pro will be casting for the $1.5 million Wal-Mart FLW Tour Championship title and a $500,000 payday in Birmingham Aug. 11-14. He will also be aiming for a place in the record books as the first angler to unify the prestigious world-champion titles. To secure his place in history, Omori, the No. 11 seed, will have to get by No. 38 seed Mark Rose of Marion, Ark., in the two-day opening round. If he beats Rose, he will face the No. 14 seed, Kellogg's pro Dave Lefebre of Erie, Pa., or the No. 35 seed, Pedigree pro Greg Pugh of Cullman, Ala., on day three. Should he defeat the winner of that matchup, he will advance to the final round of 12 anglers for a shot at the sport's most lucrative title. This is Omori's fifth FLW Tour Championship appearance since joining the tour in 1997. It's also his highest ranking in year-end points standings. His previous-best ranking was 12th in 2001, when the FLW Tour Championship in Plattsburgh, N.Y., was cancelled due to the Sept. 11 attacks. In 2002, he qualified for the FLW Tour Championship as the No. 46 seed and finished ninth in Shreveport, La. His best finish on the FLW Tour was a 2001 victory on Lake Martin in Alexander City, Ala. He has cracked the top 10 three other times in FLW Outdoors competition and amassed $289,293 in winnings. So how does an angler 13,000 miles away from his homeland earn a living in a sport that is as American as apple pie? In simple terms, it takes unwavering dedication. Omori's journey to the top of the professional bass-fishing world began in 1986 when, as a teenager in Tokyo, he began studying American bass-fishing magazines and the competitive ways of his fishing idols. "I remember seeing pictures of Larry Nixon and Rick Clunn in magazines and thinking, 'That is what I want to do with my life,'" Omori says. "I wanted to be a professional bass angler in America." After graduating from high school, Omori waited tables in Japan and saved for his first trip to America. Then, in 1992, armed with bits and pieces of the English language gleaned from his fishing magazines, Omori entered his first bass tournament in the United States. The experience was everything he had hoped for, so upon returning to Japan, he approached the country's Ranger Boats dealer, Popeye Hartman Co. owned by Yoichiro Oguri, about a sponsorship. The company was already backing Japanese angler Masaki Shimono in the States, but Oguri agreed to hire Omori as an assistant for Shimono. From the fall of 1993 through 1995, Omori lived in a 1985 Chevy Suburban, shuttled Shimono back and forth to tournament sites and fished as much as possible when time allowed. In the offseasons, he returned to Japan and worked to save money in hopes of launching his own professional fishing career someday. His only American contacts at the time were Jim and Tana McKean, the owners of a Ranger dealership in Mabank, Texas. The McKeans let Omori stay in their home when passing through Texas. "I have never seen a guy more dedicated to anything than Takahiro is to his bass fishing," said 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." By 1997, Omori had applied for a permanent visa to live in the United States and committed himself to the Wal-Mart FLW Tour. He bought his own conversion camper van, picked up an American boat deal from Ranger and was here to stay. Concerning his move to the States, Omori says that in addition to the McKeans, he owes a lot to Joe and Toshiko Axton of Axton's Bass City, a marina on Lake Fork in Texas. "They helped me move here and helped me buy a place to stay between tournaments," he says. Joe Axton acknowledges that Omori eats, sleeps and breathes bass fishing. "He is totally committed to tournament fishing," Axton said. "We are tickled to death to see him do so well. He has worked extremely hard to overcome some enormous obstacles." If he is able to overcome a few more, he'll become the first angler to win the Bassmaster Classic and FLW Tour Championship in the same year, an accomplishment in sports that is akin to unifying the WBA and IBF heavyweight titles or winning the Triple Crown. Some pundits may say that the odds are stacked against him, but then again, they always have been. Additional FLW Tour Championship qualifiers who also competed in the Bassmaster Classic are Aaron Martens of Castaic, Calif.; Dean Rojas of Grand Saline, Texas; Brent Chapman of Shawnee, Kan.; Randy Blaukat of Lamar, Mo.; David Walker of Sevierville, Tenn.; Greg Hackney of Gonzales, La.; Lee Bailey Jr. of Amston, Conn.; and Alton Jones of Waco, Texas. In another historic accomplishment for Japanese anglers, the FLW Tour Championship's No. 1 seed is reigning Japan Bass Angler of the Year Shinichi Fukae of Osaka, Japan. Fukae, who like Omori depends on the reliability of a Ranger boat powered by Yamaha, made professional bass-fishing history this season by winning the coveted FLW Tour Land O'Lakes Angler of the Year title. Fukae‚s win marks the first time in professional bass fishing's 36-year history that someone earned angler of the year titles in two countries. In honor of his accomplishment, Fukae will appear on special-edition boxes of Kellogg's Corn Flakes beginning in September. FLW Tour Championship anglers will take off each morning at 7 a.m. from Pell City Lakeside Park, located at 2801 Stemley Bridge Road in Pell City, Ala., with daily weigh-ins beginning at 5 p.m. CDT at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex. In conjunction with the FLW Tour Championship is a world-class boat and outdoor show featuring more than 140 exhibits and free daily giveaways, including hats and T-shirts, tackle kits, tackle boxes, and rods and reels, at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex. The outdoor show runs 2 to 8 p.m. Aug. 11 and 12, noon to 9 p.m. Aug. 13, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Aug. 14. One lucky person attending Friday's semifinal-round weigh-in will win the newly unveiled Ranger Z-Series Comanche powered by Yamaha, and one lucky fan attending Saturday's final weigh-in will win a NASCAR Limited Series Ranger 521VX Comanche powered by Evinrude courtesy of The Birmingham News and Birmingham Post-Herald. A preview of the FLW Tour Championship will air Aug. 15 at noon CDT and Aug. 19 at 4 p.m. CDT on the Outdoor Life Network as part of the „FLW Outdoors‰ television program. Highlights from the championship will be broadcast Aug. 22 and 26 followed by a recap of the event Aug. 29 and Sept. 2. Fishing fans can also log on to FLW Outdoors website and click to view live streaming video and statistics during each day's 5 p.m. weigh-in.