(To celebrate the 10th anniversary of Shin Fukae's masterful contributions to the art of Midwest finesse fishing, we are publishing a draft of the story that was originally published in "In-Fisherman" magazine. This draft contains more words than the published one. We made a few spelling and grammatical corrections to our original draft. But other than those minor changes, this is our original description of how and where Fukae fished 10 years ago, and since then, his insights and methods have helped us become better finesse anglers.)
On April Fools' Day of 2006, as the first ghost light of early dawn waned, thermometers around Beaver Lake, Arkansas, hovered at 51 degrees. Then as the rising sun cut lavender and apricot ribbons from the thin layers of clouds that graced the eastern horizon, hints of redbud and serviceberry blossoms embroidered the reservoir's 497 miles of shorelines. The water temperature from the dam to Prairie Creek, which constitutes nearly two-thirds of Beaver's 28,200 acres, registered 53 degrees, and the water clarity at some locales near the dam measured 20 feet. The reservoir's water level was rising a tad every day, but its elevation measured only 1107.78 feet above sea level, making it about 14 feet below normal.
Since 2004, Shinichi Fukae, who hails from Osaka, Japan, has spent many March and April days afloat upon Beaver in pursuit of its largemouth, meanmouth, smallmouth and spotted bass and competing against hundreds of other anglers who ply the Wal-Mart FLW Tour.
April Fool's Day was Fukae's ninth day afloat at Beaver in 2006, and he would remain afloat for seven more days. By the end of his sixteenth day of fishing, his name would adorn the top of the Wal-Mart Open's leaderboard.
As an angler, Fukae's strongest suit is finesse fishing, and many observers call him a wizard at wielding a medium-action spinning outfit that sports a shaky-head jig and four-inch plastic worm.
Traditionally, April is a grand time to utilize that combination in Beaver's crystalline waters, and from 7:45 a.m. to 5:37 p.m. on April 1 Fukae allowed me to witness his expertise. And it was a splendid show, indeed, revealing from his first cast to his last that he is a magician with a spinning rod, light line and small lures.
Even though he is a piscatorial genius at manipulating spinning tackle, he is exceedingly adroit at employing a football-head jig and deep-diving crankbait on casting tackle, and that deftness is reflected by the compelling fact that a casting rod and football-head jig propelled him into a sixth-place finish at the 2004 Wal-Mart Open at Beaver.
Throughout his outing on April 1, Fukae had six casting and five spinning outfits situated across the front deck of his boat, but he primarily used two spinning outfits and two casting outfits.
St Croix manufactured his rods, and Shimano made his reels. The only modification that Fukae makes to his rods is to reduce the diameter of the cork handle so that they fit his small hands, and he accomplishes that chore with some sandpaper.
One casting outfit was a St. Croix Crankbait AD70MHM rod fitted with Shimano CTE200DC Conquest reel that was spooled with 14-pound-test Duel fluorocarbon line; it was festooned with a long-and-wide-bill HMKL crankbait. This lure has a transparent bill; its body is semi-transparent with a gold hue, and Fukae customized its color by adding some red pokadots to its back and black pokadots to its belly. To attach this lure to his line, Fukae fastened a No. 1 Cross-Lok- snap to the lure's split ring. The snap was tied to the line with a Trilene knot, and he utilized that knot on all of his outfits.
Another casting outfit consisted of a St. Croix EC68MXF rod, a Shimano Chronarch CH100MG reel that was spooled with 14-pound-test Duel fluorocarbon line; it sported a 3/8-ounce football-head jig. The jig's head was painted brown; it was thickly dressed with a brown-and-black silicone skirt and devoid of a weed guard. The skirt was cut so that it didn't extend past the bend of the hook. In addition, the jig was bedecked with a heavily customized green-pumpkin Power Hawg. This jig is similar to the one that Fukae used at the 2004 Beaver tourney.
One spinning outfit was an ES70MLF St.Croix rod and Shimano Stella STL3000FB reel that was spooled with eight-pound-test Duel monofilament. To the monofilament, he tied a 3/32-ounce shaky-head jig rigged with a four-inch green-pumpkin 68L Yamamoto Worm. The generic name of the worm is a shad-shaped worm, and Fukae rigs it Texas-style to the jig. (In 2006, the 68L Yamamoto Worm was made by Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits and sold only in Japan. Thanks to Fukae's many tournament successes with it, it is available all around the world, and it is called the Shad Shape Worm.)
The other spinning rod was an ES66ML St. Croix rod, and its Shimano Stella reel contained six-pound-test Duel fluorocarbon line. It also sported the same jig-and-68L Yamamoto Worm combination as the other spinning outfit.
He utilized the 7-foot rod and eight-pound monofilament when he plied coverts that were cluttered with flooded timber. The 6 ½-foot rod and six-pound fluorocarbon was used in areas that were devoid of flooded timber.
His shaky-head jig was made by a friend in Japan, and it was crafted so that the collar is separated from the head, and it's connected to the shank of the hook about a quarter of an inch from the head; this collar configuration is designed to keep the head of a Texas-rigged 68L Yamamoto Worm in place.
When Fukae probes lairs in 15 feet of water and deeper or if the wind howls, he often relies on an 1/8-ounce shaky-head jig, but he employed that combination only briefly on April 1.
It also should be noted that he made a few casts during the day with a Japanese swimbait, a K-O 115 jerkbait, a white three-inch tube, and a Shimano Triple Impact topwater lure, but their usage was too brief and unfruitful to be delineated here.
From March 23 through March 31, Fukae plied deep-water coverts along the main-body of the reservoir in hopes of finding a cache of lunker-sized bass. During this spell, Fukae caught some hefty specimens, but no bona fide lunkers, and that's not an unusual experience for tournament anglers at Beaver.
Even though he never found a mother lode of lunkers, Fukae continues to think that the bulk of Beaver's big smallmouth and spotted bass inhabit its deep-water, main-lake flats year-around. And they spawn upon long, flat main-lake points that are contiguous to the flats. On April 1, he explored such a point for a few minutes near lake-location-marker No. 4. At this locale, his boat floated in 18 feet of water, and it was about 200 yards from the shoreline. He made a few unproductive casts and probed the point's rocky terrain with his football-head jig.
Fukae's thinking parallels that of such knowledgeable Ozark anglers as Guido Hibdon of Sunrise Beach, Missouri, and it's Hibdon's contention that the preponderance of Beaver's big spotted and smallmouth bass behave like those at nearby Table Rock Lake, gamboling year-round upon the main-lake flats in depths of 25 to 60 feet and feeding upon shad. Because these bass are often suspended and roaming, they are extremely elusive, making them virtually impossible for tournament anglers to readily and consistently pinpoint and catch. According to Hibdon, these elusive creatures are an ideal quarry for local anglers who are experts at employing a variety of electronic gadgets and have the time to pursue them for months on end.
As a tournament angler, Fukae says his daily goal is to catch 20 bass with the total weight of the five biggest weighing about 11 pounds. According to his calculations, if he can consistently achieve that goal at every tournament, he will always be in the running for the angler-of-the-year laurels.
On his April 1 sortie, which was the third day after the new moon, Fukae primarily wanted to explore some of Beaver's shallow-water venues, focusing on water shallower than 15 feet at locales where some of Beaver's black bass traditionally spawn. Many of these spots were secondary points inside creeks and hollows. He suspected that the powerful effects of the new moon might have provoked some of the bass to invade the shallows, as they prepared for their reproductive rituals.
Most of the secondary points that he fished were relatively flat and composed of gravel and chunky rocks. Flooded cedar and hardwood trees embellished many of these points, and their topography was often littered with some massive boulders.
While he fished the various shallow-water lairs, he used a pair of Swan polarized sunglasses with brownish-yellow lenses to periodically search the underwater terrain, hoping to pinpoint the whereabouts of some bass. He began looking for them at his first stop of the day, which was a shallow-water spot on the main-lake about six miles east of the Prairie Creek boat ramp; this gravelly area was bedecked with a boat dock and flooded timber, but there were no visible bass.
Twice during the day, Fukae complained it wasn't sunny enough for him to do a thorough job of spotting the bass. Nevertheless, by the end of the day, he had managed to see two dozen of them. Most of those were seen during the afternoon hours as the water temperature gradually rose, and some of them looked to be three-pounders. It was the first day that he had seen any shallow-water bass. Of the two dozen that he saw, he enticed two of them to engulf his jig and 68L Yamamoto Worm.
As he searched and fished, Fukae explained that he adores fishing clear-water lakes and relishes sight fishing, but wind, clouds and low-light conditions can make it a star-crossed endeavor. Moreover, it can eat up too much of an angler's day, causing him to spend too much time looking rather than fishing. And during tournament situations, when scores of other anglers are sight fishing, some areas can become too congested with anglers, which can make the clear-water bass very wary.
Besides focusing on the flat secondary points, he explored some secondary bluff shorelines and steep points inside a large feeder creek; the terrain of these spots consisted primarily of boulders, rocky ledges and gravel. During his exploration of the bluffs and steep points in that creek, he also ventured about three-quarters of the way inside two of that creek's large hollows, probing their shorelines with his 68L Yamamoto Worm rig and deep-diving crankbait. The shorelines in these coves had a grade of 45 degrees or more, and their topography consisted of gravel on one side of the cove and massive boulders situated upon rocky ledges on the other side.
On April 1, Fukae traveled more than 70 miles and explored more than 40 locales. From Prairie Creek boat ramp, he ventured down lake to Penitentiary Hollow in the back of Big Clifty Creek and still farther down lake to Moulder Hollow, where he spent more than two hours. Along the way, he probed a point inside Fords Creek and two points inside Cedar Creek, as well as seven main-lake sites.
At 1:30 p.m. a violent lightning and rainstorm, which was accompanied by a 20-mph wind, sent Fukae to seek shelter at Rocky Branch Marina for about 30 minutes, and a similar storm erupted during the tournament. Other than that brief storm, the wind was mild mannered and the weather balmy. Consequently, by 5:00 p.m. the surface temperature at some locales had climbed to 58 degrees, and the air temperature registered 71 degrees.
Throughout the day, he elicited 24 strikes from Beaver's largemouth, meanmouth, smallmouth and spotted bass. He hooked 17 of them, and two of them became unhooked before he could lift them across the gunnels of his boat. He estimated that one of the largemouth bass that he failed to land weighed about four pounds. His catch consisted of one largemouth, two meanmouth, two smallmouth and 10 spotted bass. A 3 ½-pound smallmouth was the biggest bass that he landed, which he adroitly extracted from a maze of cedar trees in four feet of water on a secondary point in Moulder Hollow. The total weight of his five largest bass was 11 ½ pounds.
The most fruitful spots were flat secondary points in Moulder Hollow, where he fished from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. These points were landscaped with gravel, chunk rocks, occasional outcroppings of massive boulders and a potpourri of hardwood and cedar trees.
While Fukae was gracefully snaking his way through one of Moulder Hollow's many labyrinths of flooded timber, catching bass and spotting some cruisers, he said that he wouldn't fish flooded timber if he had his druthers. Instead, he would rather be wielding his medium-light-action spinning outfit with six-pound-test Duel fluorocarbon line on a treeless terrain. Yet, despite his dislike of plying flooded timber, he put on a clinic on how to entice, hook and land a bass on eight-pound-test line and spinning tackle amongst a quagmire of limbs, trunks and root wads.
In the flooded timber, Fukae elicited all of his strikes by using a 3/32-ounce jig and 68L Yamamoto Worm. And he has a unique approach to retrieving this combination.
The essence of his retrieve is to keep the jig and worm from touching the bottom, and if it touches the bottom, Fukae says it is a mistake. Throughout the retrieve, he attempts to slowly swim it a foot or two above the bottom. At times, he prefers it to be as much as three feet off the bottom, depending on the depth of water that he is probing and the location of the bass. As the jig and 68L Yamamoto Worm swims, he occasionally lifts and drops the rod about a foot, causing it to rise and fall. On some lifts, he pauses half way through the lift for a second or two. During the entire retrieve, he shakes it about 70 percent of the time by subtly twitching his wrist. Sometimes he shakes it when he is lifting the rod, sometimes he shakes it when the rod is dropping, and sometimes he shakes it while he is slowly rotating the reel handle to take up slack line. Fukae finds that the bulk of the bass are beguiled when the jig and worm are falling, and the initial fall is regularly most productive.
At some spots in Moulder Hollow, Fukae used his 68L Yamamoto Worm rig in water as shallow as four feet. At other spots, his boat rested in 18 feet of water, he plied depths of six to 14 feet, making some casts towards the shoreline, some parallel to it and others 180 degrees away from it. While he was fishing the deep points and bluffy banks in Big Clifty Creek, his boat floated at times in water as deep as 27 feet, where he would cast the 3/32-ounce jig on six-pound fluorocarbon line to the water's edge, and retrieve it into about 14 feet of water.
When Fukae worked his skirted 3/8-ounce football-head jig, he basically employed the same style of retrieve that he used with his 3/32-ounce shaky-head jig and 68L Yamamoto Worm. At times, however, he would commence shaking his rod as soon as the jig hit the surface of the water. On April 1, he wielded the football-head jig only six percent of the time, utilizing it on deep main-lake spots, where his boat sat in 17 to 23 feet of water.
Fukae says that his retrieve of his 68L Yamamoto Worm and skirted football-head jig is an attempt to replicate the rapid and panicky swimming motif of a crayfish. As he retrieves those two lures, he is consistently envisioning what his lure is doing; he called it the image factor, and he maintains that his concentration is heightened on every cast and retrieve by constantly imagining the movements of his lures.
Normally, a harsh wind plays havoc with all anglers' abilities to properly control their boats and present lures to their quarry, and its effect on most finesse anglers is extremely adverse. Fukae, however, usually finds a way to work with the wind. In fact, rather than hindering him, Fukae said that the wind sometimes aids his presentation methods.
Fukae is a master at boat control, which is one reason why he is such a maestro at finesse tactics. On April 1, the wind wasn't a problem and his boat was always in the proper position so that he could make an accurate cast and retrieve a lure at the correct angle, speed, and rhythm.
From April 5 through April 8, Fukae plied coverts that were similar to the flooded-timbered ones that he fished on April l, and he employed the identical presentation tactics with the shaky-head jig and worm that he did on April l. The wind, however, became a significant factor on several of those days — especially on April 7 when it howled at 20 mph at times.
During those spells when the wind turned exceedingly pesky, Fukae found that one of the best ways to control the boat and correctly present the 3/32-ounce shaky-head jig and worm was to quietly wedge his boat against one or two partially flooded trees. This scheme kept the boat in place and allowed Fukae to properly execute his unique and seductive retrieve, working his 68L Yamamoto Worm rig at a variety of angles and depths of water.
Therefore, even in the wind, Fukae found a way to successfully employ his finesse tactics, and across the four days of competitive fishing, Fukae's 20 biggest bass weighed 43 pounds, 12 ounces, which made him $200,000 richer.
(1) After the tournament, Pam Wood, co-owner of Mizmo Bait Company and FLW co-angler from Bono, Arkansas, reflected about her tournament days afloat with Fukae on April 5 and 7.
She wrote in an email: "With the wind howling throughout the tournament, he amazed me every time he made a cast into the wind. He would weave the boat in and out of the flooded timber very methodically, strategically planning our every move. His flawless execution was nothing short of spectacular! What a learning experience for me!"
Wood said that throughout both days she was as enthralled and bewitched with the effectiveness of Fukae's 68L Yamamoto worm as Beaver's bass were, exclaiming that "I can't wait to get my hands on some."
Moreover, Wood applauded Shin for taking time to successfully revive two of her ailing bass. And she concluded her reflections by noting that Fukae is the finest gentleman she has ever fished with, as well as the hardest working.
(2) Since April Fools' Day of 2006, a red-headed jig has played a significant role in the way a goodly number of Midwest finesse anglers present their soft-plastic baits, such as a Z-Man Fishing Products' Finesse ShadZ, which is similar to the 68L Yamamoto Worm rig that Fukae used.
(3) For more insights about Fukae and red jig heads, see this Midwest Finesse column at https://www.in-fisherman.com/bass/painted-jig-heads-versus-unpainted-ones/.