March 25, 2001 by Gary Mortenson
Crowd favorite Takahiro Omori captures first-ever FLW crown, nets $100,000 top prize
ALEXANDER CITY, Ala. - For Takahiro Omori, it was a dream come true. Fishing in his first FLW finals since joining the tour five years ago, Omori, a native of Japan, outdueled his legendary American counterparts to capture the top prize at Lake Martin by a mere 10 ounces. With bass fishing icons and fellow finalists Rick Clunn and Guido Hibdon looking on, Omori produced a 10-pound, 14-ounce stringer to claim the crown.
It was an afternoon of fishing that Omori will never forget.
"It's absolutely the happiest day of my fishing career. It's unbelievable," said Omori, who currently resides in Emory, Texas. "We have so many good fishermen here. I can't say enough about them. And yes, I've very surprised I won."
Omori, who led after the third day of competition, continued his magical run with a gutsy performance that apparently surprised even him.
"I did not think I would even make it to the finals," said Omori, who caught the majority of his fish using crankbaits, some of which were homemade. "It took me a while to get here, but I finally did it. I still can't believe it. I'm so happy."
Bolstered by the attendance of four Japanese exchange fishermen who formed a makeshift cheering section for the Japanese expatriate throughout the tournament, Omori never looked back after grabbing the lead in the semifinal round.
"This was a very difficult tournament," said Omori. "But I can't wait to come back here again."
The final five
Despite turning in a gutsy performance of his own, veteran angler Guido Hibdon of Gravois Mills, Mo., fell 10 ounces short in his quest for the top prize. Although Hibdon settled for second place, he said that his trip to Lake Martin was memorable nonetheless.
"It's been a fun tournament. It really has," said Hibdon, who turned in a 10-pound, 4-ounce catch. "I love this site. The people here are some of the greatest in the world."
Hibdon, who won $35,000 for his efforts, also took some time to commend Omori on his performance.
"I've done all I could do. I really hustled out there today," said Hibdon, who used a trick worm and a finesse worm to land the majority of today's catch. "I would like to offer my congratulations to Takahiro. He's a great kid and he worked really hard."
Aaron Martens took home third place and a check for $20,000 as a result of his 10-pound, 1-ounce catch. Martens said that he fished hard but just came up a little short.
"I missed a bunch of fish today and the fish I did catch were smaller than what I had been catching the first couple of days," said Martens, a drop-shotting specialist from Castaic, Calif., fishing in his first-ever FLW finals. "I only had about 20 hours to practice on the lake, so, overall, I'm very happy."
Martens said his day started off strong; however, by late afternoon, the bite began to deteriorate.
"During the first hour-and-a-half, I caught three fish and was feeling pretty good about my chances," said Martens. "But the rest of afternoon, the fish just kept getting smaller and smaller. The first two days I was catching anywhere from 20 to 25 keepers, but the conditions really changed over the final two days. What can you do?"
Ricky Shumpert of Lexington, S.C., finished in fourth place with a catch of 7 pounds, 10 ounces. And like Omori, Shumpert said he had no idea coming into the tournament that he would make the finals.
"It's been a great week," said Shumpert, who took home $16,000 for his efforts. "I fished on Lake Martin last year and I really struggled. My goal coming in here was just to get a few points (toward the overall season standings). I really didn't think I had a shot at the finals."
But then his luck began to change.
"When I landed that 16-pound, 8-ounce stringer on the first day, I started thinking that I had to win this thing if the bites kept up," said Shumpert. "I got some bites today, just not a lot of big ones. But overall, I had a really good time."
Rick Clunn, the favorite heading into the finals in the minds of many bass fishing fans, recorded a somewhat disappointing final-day catch of 5 pounds, 14 ounces.
"I've been catching fish all week," said Clunn, who won $14,000 for his fifth-place finish. "But it's a little easier to make it to the top 10 than to win the big one."
However, Clunn said the most exciting thing about fishing was that there was always room for improvement, both personally and as a sport as a whole.
"One of my goals is to continue to elevate my game," he said. "That's the neat thing about fishing. On a scale of one to 10, I think we've only achieved about a six or seven as a sport. So we have a long way to go."
The fourth stop on the seven-event, $4.45 million Wal-Mart FLW Tour is May 12-19 on the Red River near Shreveport-Bossier, La. The tournament is presented by ALPO Pet Foods will feature another $500,000 purse.
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