An inside look at how shallow power fishing has made Takahiro Omori one of the most consistent pros in the country

By Mark Hicks

Takahiro Omori isn’t the only Japanese angler to achieve success while fishing professional bass tournaments in the United States. But unlike many of his countrymen who excel with finesse tactics, Omori’s strong suit is power fishing with crankbaits in shallow water.

Shallow cranking has made Omori one of the most consistent pros in the country, and it helped him claim the sport’s most coveted prize in 2004 — the CITGO Bassmaster Classic trophy. Winning the Classic is a remarkable feat for someone who knew little English when he came to America in 1992. Then, finesse fishing wasn’t a staple for most professional anglers as it is today.

Omori emulated the techniques of power fishing masters like Rick Clunn and put his own twist on them. Now, he is a crankbait master. When Omori fishes crankbaits in the summertime, he calls 6 feet “deep water.” While other anglers wear themselves out dredging the depths with deep diving models, Omori fills his livewell by cranking shallow runners over wood cover typically 3 feet deep.

The following is an inside look at how he does it.

Fat crankers

The Bagley Balsa B is one of Omori’s main crankbaits when he targets shallow water in the summer. He also dotes on the Fat CB BDS (Big Daddy Strike) crankbait from Lucky Craft. This nonrattling lure comes in 2-, 2 1/2-, 3- and 3 1/2-inch sizes. It’s designed to have the buoyancy, wide wobble and snag-resistant characteristics of fat balsa crankbaits with the durability of hard plastic.

“I like crankbaits that have a wide wobble,” Omori says. “They are better in the summertime when the water is hot and the bass are more aggressive.”

When he’s home between tournaments, Omori spends more time casting into his pool than he does swimming in it. He studies the actions of different crankbaits, tunes each one to run perfectly and rigs them with red Gamakatsu treble hooks.

At a tournament, nobody obsesses more over sharp hooks than Omori. If he even thinks a hook point has been dulled on a crankbait, he stops fishing and replaces the treble with a new one. He claims he changes the trebles on a crankbait at least five times a day during a tournament. Omori has become so adept at changing hooks that he can do this chore as quickly as most anglers can retie a knot.

Stained water

Because clear water pushes summertime bass into deep water, Omori looks for stained water where bass feel comfortable hiding in the shadows of shallow cover. In river systems, he often finds stained water in the backs of feeder creeks. In reservoirs, he may need to run upriver to find suitable water color.

The cover may be anything in the shallows bass can relate to, including boat docks, laydowns, flooded trees and planted brush. Omori prefers shallow cover on banks near creek or river channels that provide bass with quick access to deep water.

If some type of moving water is thrown into the mix, so much the better. Omori believes that water current forces bass tight to cover, where he can pick them off with his crankbaits. Omori also looks for shad and other baitfish in shallow water, another key to his success.

“Baitfish are very important,” he says. “No shad or minnows, no reason for bass to be there.”

If Omori finds bass in an area but not on any particular pattern, he runs the banks and casts to any cover capable of holding bass. Then again, he’s happy to fish a pattern if one develops, such as points or isolated cover, say, lone snags or windfalls.

Once Omori determines his best areas, he returns to them day after day during a tournament and often refishes his best spots several times a day. It’s not unusual for him to pick off two or three bass from the same piece of cover a few hours apart.

Casting accuracy is crucial, he says, because bass in shallow cover often refuse to move far to attack a bait. Omori is up to the task. He works close and makes short roll casts that sling his crankbaits under overhanging limbs and into tight spots.

He routinely hits targets that most anglers reserve for spinnerbaits or pitching presentations. Though many anglers prefer short rods for close-quarters casting, Omori opts for a Team Daiwa 7-foot medium-heavy fiberglass rod matched with a Daiwa 6.2:1 gear ratio reel filled with 14- to 20-pound-test Sunline fluorocarbon.

“Fluorocarbon line has less stretch,” Omori says. “I can feel the bait better.”

As for retrieve actions, Omori runs his fat crankbaits at a medium speed which allows them to generate an exaggerated wobble. He likes to bump cover with his crankbaits and throws in an occasional stop-and-go. Of course, cranking isn’t the only technique Omori uses to catch shallow bass in the summer, but he claims it comes through for him 50 percent of the time.

Takahiro’s mod rod

Casting a crankbait with needle-sharp hooks tight to wood demands pinpoint accuracy. The 7-foot Team Daiwa fiberglass rod Omori relies on has enough flexibility in the tip for underhand wrist-roll casts, plus plenty of backbone for horsing bass from cover.

What Omori doesn’t like about this rod — and every other baitcasting rod on the market — is the trigger and the fat grip, which he finds uncomfortable and tiring. Since no company currently makes triggerless baitcasting rods with thin handles, Omori modifies the handles of his baitcasting rods before fishing with them. His main tool is a standard grinder with one coarse and one fine grinding wheel.

The first step is to grind off the trigger. Then Omori carefully grinds the cork behind the reel seat to about half its original thickness, tapering the cork out as it leads to the butt of the handle.

The final step is to smooth the reel seat and cork handle with sandpaper. The whole process takes Omori about an hour. The resulting grip looks odd and too thin for comfort, but it’s a perfect fit for Omori.

Summer rules

Look under the lid of Takahiro Omori’s rod locker and you’ll see a list of reminders written in Japanese script to keep him from going astray while fishing a tournament. The “T.O. List” is often updated from one tournament to the next, but three of the rules never change. They are commandments that may as well be scribed in stone. Here they are, translated in English:

1. Always Fish Shallow: Omori believes he’s better off fishing shallow, even when some type of deep water bite is stronger. He feels more confident casting to fewer bass in the shallows than fishing deep with any technique.

2. Keep It Simple: Omori says he casts crankbaits 50 percent of the time, spinnerbaits 20 percent of the time, and he flips and pitches 30 percent of the time. That doesn’t leave much room for anything else. He believes that having too many options leads to confusion and a lack of mastery with any technique.

3. No Dock Talk: As Omori’s skill with English improved, he quickly learned that listening to other fishermen made him second guess what he was doing. Now he turns a deaf ear to dock talk and lives or dies by what he finds on his own.