STORY BY: Pete Robbins, Bassmaster Contributing Writer

LOCATION: Kasumi Lake, Japan

Being a phenom doesn’t typically win you the favor of your fellow competitors, unless you’re Taku. Over the past four years, Japan’s Takumi Ito has become one of the world’s greatest smallmouth bass anglers on the American circuit. Bassmaster’ Pete Robbins credits Taku’s lasting spotlight to his fishing prowess, yes, but for bringing a rarely seen element back to the highly competitive sport: the joy of fishing.

When the fishing world's pundits refer to "Taku Time," it most often means a specific moment of greatness, but when Taku himself employs it, often in a Rickey Henderson-style third person, it evokes more of an attitude than a precise achievement. It’s a form of being in the zone, when he’s sure he’s going to catch a fish on every cast.

Over the course of the 2023 Bassmaster Elite Series season, Taku Ito drove 30,000 miles all over America on what for him was the wrong side of the road. Once he reached his destinations, at clips of 200, 500 or 1,000 miles at a time, for days on end he bounced through waves taller than him in his 20’ bass boat in search of little green and brown fish. It was a backbreaking, non-stop Iditarod of competitive angling.

When he returned to his native Japan after qualifying for his fourth straight Bassmaster Classic, he did what he does best: he got back on the water and competed. And that competition back home wasn't some local derby, dudes throwing money in a fruit jar and competing for bragging rights. Instead, it was the Basser Allstar Classic, Japan’s top test.

It’s a prestigious honor just to be invited, but invitations don’t feed Ito’s obsession. Kasumi Lake provided the venue for a painful, grind-out-the-bites affair. After suffering through a fishless effort on Day Two of the event, he battled back in the final round of competition to prevail.  It was an exceptionally profitable busman's holiday – adding to his haul and enhancing his bona fides on the pitch.

Proud winner of the 2023 Basser Allstar Classic, Japan’s top bass competition. Takumi poses with his son and daughter before making the press rounds.


If it seems that the Allstar Classic took time away from his family and from his efforts to recuperate for next season's slog, you should know that time has an amorphous elasticity for Ito. In another expression of “Taku Time,” he's seemingly able to bend it to his will, to operate fluently in two places simultaneously, and to make the clock and tides work in his favor.

During competition Ito wore a black t-shirt from his TechStard clothing company under his tournament jersey. It’s the “Slow Life Tee,” which seems odd, because lately he’s been in intercontinental beast mode. Taku explains that it’s not necessarily just about slowing down, but rather maximizing the rare opportunities to take a break. “It’s about doing your best even when you’re resting,” he said. Indeed, the shirt is meant to be worn often, because like fine wine – or, as you’ll see later, soft plastic lures – “the more you use it, the more it will get better.”

Taku explains, “the more you use it, the more it will get better,” of his customized lures.

Taku shows one of his own special brews, bait that’s been marinating in ebi (shrimp) scented Nories Bitebass Liquid until the time is just right, and not a moment too soon.

The professional fishing business is notoriously cutthroat and yet no one seems to dislike Ito. From the commentators and writers who are used to monosyllabic answers, to the other competitors who are not used to getting their butts kicked on the water, particularly by some 130-pounds-when-soaking-wet foreigner, he lights up every room he’s in and every fishery he conquers. He jokes about how he struggles to lift the heavy trophy that comes with the $100,000 winner’s check and they laugh (with him, not at him) and forget that he just beat the ever-loving crap out of them with tackle they wouldn’t use for farm pond bluegills.

On tour, there are times when the pressure gets so great that trust shrivels to a minimum, and yet when Taku wins, they cheer. When Taku speaks, they listen. When Taku is on TV, they watch to see how he's come so far, so fast.

“I’ve covered thousands of anglers,” said Bassmaster commentator Mark Zona.

“There’s sort of a cliché that you’re supposed to be an alpha badass. But Taku’s approach is to do the exact opposite. He wakes up happy and goes to bed happier.”

Taku, a humble victor, respectfully greets a fellow competitor, grateful for the challenge.

He’s killing them with kindness – fishing’s version of "Thank you sir, may I have another?" It's incredibly jarring because as professional bass fishing has grown in worldwide prestige and earning potential, it has sometimes morphed into a smile-free zone. At one end sit pros constantly vying for Happy Gilmore checks and TV time, and at the other end sit a larger cadre of individuals who won’t be able to pay their mortgage if they struggle at the next tournament.

Don't misunderstand — casting for cash is how Taku feeds his family, which includes his wife Chie, a 9 year-old son and 2 year-old daughter, but he takes immense and contagious joy in the process. That blunts the sting of his killer nature. No one wants him to beat them, but no one is mad when he wins.

Since 2018, Ito has become increasingly Americanized, professing a love for Wendy’s burgers and four-times-a-week ham and cheese sandwiches from Subway. He’s gotten used to driving on the “wrong” side of the road, and his English — formal and idiomatic — has improved exponentially. He still has trouble with some American accents, with the Alabamians’ speech patterns confounding him the most. Notably, two of his best friends on tour, Wes Logan and Jordan Lee, are from Alabama. His other confidante is Matty Wong, the only current Elite Series pro originally from Hawaii.


Historically there was an uneasy balance between the American and Japanese anglers. When the first Japanese pros came in the early 1980s, the locals told jokes at their expense. Bubba-fied Americans rejected the finesse techniques developed on highly-pressured Japanese waters until they got their butts kicked one too many times and realized it might make sense to listen more and prejudge less.

When Takahiro Omori became the first non-American angler to win the Bassmaster Classic in 2004, some bristled at the idea that he took his victory lap with a Japanese flag.

A decade before Omori’s coronation, Ito’s future mentor Norio Tanabe became the first foreign Bassmaster winner when he won the 1993 Kentucky Invitational. At the time, it was a shock, because there were just two very similar models of prototypical professional angers: “both kinds, country and western.”

Norio Tonabe was the first foreign Bassmaster winner when he won the 1993 Kentucky Invitational and is a mentor to Taku today.

Norio is credited with establishing pattern fishing in the Japanese bass fishing scene. He went on to start his own brand of fishing goods called Nories, which now sponsors Taku.

Part of Tanabe’s quietly revolutionary act was to reveal that there need not be a single mold for pro bassers. You can have any skin color, be built or slight, or even any gender. You can be a Type A hard-driver or someone who lets the game come to you. You can even be a Yankee, God forbid, or someone who hails from a country without bass. Success is partly the result of natural gifts, but what matters most is motivation.

 Years after he inadvertently provided Taku with a path forward, Tanabe — through his lure company — would become Ito’s sponsor and mentor. He says that while he was good with fish, Ito is good with fish and people.

Omori was Tanabe 2.0, laser-focused to the point that he built a swimming pool in his Texas backyard, but never swam in it, instead using it exclusively to test lures.

Ito is Tanabe 3.0, or perhaps has skipped a generation and gone straight to 4.0. He’s constantly turning the knob to 11.

Taku has built his brand on a distinct form of code switching: finesse tactics from Japan and ‘Americanized’ techniques.

Omori has hoisted seven Bassmaster trophies over his head. Perhaps he was foreshadowing Ito’s need to do the same. There’s a difference between them, though. Omori built his angling chops stateside in the 1990s, with a lesser support system. He’s respected across the globe, but he fishes not just in an American style, but like a Texan — big baits, big wins, occasional big whiffs. Conversely, Taku has built his brand on a distinct form of code switching — he used finesse tactics from Japan for his 2021 Bassmaster win on the St. Lawrence River, and when he won the All Star Classic he used “Americanized” techniques.

Tanabe, who Taku reverentially calls his “master,” won three Basser All Star Classics, so Taku has work to do to catch up. The morning after winning, when other champions might’ve been sleeping off a bender, he was back at the dock with a photographer. He would’ve rather been working toward the next victory, but he understood that success has a long tail, and he’s not one to rush anything.


 While Taku seems to be everywhere at once, aware of when to speed things up, Ito also knows how to stretch time, to exercise discretion among the push and pull of internal and external demands. Remember that t-shirt extolling the value of rest? If he’s getting any, it’s hard to see when, because he’s so mission-driven that there seemingly isn’t time for anything else.

Over four years he’s become one of the world’s greatest smallmouth bass anglers even though he’d never fished for bass other than largemouths previously. It’s as if your 5’8” cousin Larry from Albuquerque picked up a basketball for the first time and dunked it, or you exposed him to a chessboard and months later he became a grandmaster. There’s a special gift that can’t fully be explained. He’s fishing’s Amadeus, allegro when necessary, adagio a second later. He’s at his best performing slow motion acts sandwiched by 70 mph boat rides.

“Part of the reason that he’s become so good with smallmouth is because of the amount of patience he has,” said Brandon Palaniuk, a two-time winner of the Bassmaster Angler of the Year trophy, the sport's toughest title. Palaniuk is 21 months younger than Ito, but after 13 years on tour he's been through the wringer and no longer embodies his earlier "Prodigy" nickname. “Even compared to me, it’s something special. He’ll tell me, ‘Let it sit one minute, two minutes, three minutes. NO SHAKE!’ Even if I know that’s how he’s having success, I don’t think I could go that slow.”