Clever stuff, but Ito recently allowed a tour of his wheelhouse and, believe what you want, but it sounds like there’s definitely some level of Dolittle-ing going on in there. As Ito explained, cutting his teeth on stingy Japanese waters gave him a jump on the smallmouth education.
“Sometimes, I did boat fishing with my father at the Tone River, but I couldn’t fish there often, so I mainly did bank fishing at small ponds or lakes,” Ito said. “There are many bank fishermen in Japan, therefore very high pressure.
“It’s tough, and it’s so hard to catch a fish, but this experience is useful for me to catch many bass in the U.S.”
Pointing to wakasagi and ayu as common baitfish in his home waters, Ito made an interesting observation that bespeaks a confidence in his persuasive skills: “U.S smallmouth eat bait when they are not hungry; it’s very similar to Japanese largemouth.”
Ito has done an admirable job of familiarizing himself with American-style baits and tactics, but he traces a huge piece of his U.S. success to his ability to integrate Japanese baits and strategies. Suffice it to say, his arsenal — now well-documented in tournament reports and photo galleries on Bassmaster.com — has created quite a buzz.
On the St. Lawrence, Ito did most of his work with a drop shot with a 4-inch Ecogear Aqua Swim Shrimp rigged on a 1/0 Ryugi Talisman hook with a 1/4-ounce Ryugi TG Delta sinker. (This rig also delivered on Champlain and St. Clair). He also Neko-rigged a 5 1/4-inch Nories Latterie straight worm with a 3/16-ounce Neko weight and a 1/0 Ryugi Talisman hook.
“Ecogear Aqua is very good for smallmouth. It’s very special material and it’s top secret, so I can’t tell you, but it’s [also] very good for saltwater fish,” Ito said. “The special material is very tasty; it’s just like a Japanese sushi. Smallmouth are gourmet, so they like the taste and smells of Japanese baits.
“Nobody used my worm! Ecogear Aqua is a very smelly and tasty worm, so truly, if you will use this worm, you can catch smallmouth easily.”
During his St. Lawrence win, Ito did catch a few fish on a Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Hit Worm — and 2020 saw him effectively employing other mainstream smallmouth charmers. However, since the smallmouth couldn’t visit Japan, he figured he’d deliver a taste of home.
“Smallmouth are the same as humans — people in the U.S. like steak or very oily fries, but sometimes you guys want to eat Japanese foods like sushi,” Ito said. “So it’s the same for smallmouth. One day, they want to eat U.S. baits, but another day, they want to eat Japanese baits.”
Day 3 at the St. Lawrence was one of those days. Minimal wind and calm water made for a tough bite. That’s when Ito’s Japanese baits truly began to shine — largely because he listened to what the fish were telling him.
“This was so tough to catch a fish,” Ito said. “I threw U.S. baits [oily baits] for many smallmouth groups but they didn’t eat it. The smallmouth said that they want to eat no oily food — LOL!”
Now, with any cuisine, you can’t forget the condiments, and Ito chose to soak his plastics in Nories BiteBass Liquid. The Nories website offers fish and shrimp formulas, with the latter’s label including an image of the tenaga-ebi (“long-armed shrimp,” aka giant freshwater prawn), native to rivers and streams on Honshu and northern Kyushu.
Ito said this crustacean ketchup was a game-changer.
“BiteBass Liquid is [a freshwater formula] that smells like Japanese shrimp, and I think U.S. smallmouth like this smell,” he said. “I don’t know why smallmouth like this smell, because the [giant river prawns] are not in the U.S.”