Japan's Ito spot-on in Alabama for win in TNT Fireworks Bassmaster Elite at Smith Lake (2024)

CULLMAN, Ala., June 30, 2024 /PRNewswire/ -- The Bassmaster Elite Series Media Guide notes that Smith Lake is Taku Ito's favorite U.S. fishery.

On Sunday, at the TNT Fireworks Bassmaster Elite Series stop at Smith Lake, he showed the world why.

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Ito, a 38-year-old pro from Chiba, Japan, led a field of 98 Elites with a four-day total of 20 bass totaling 58 pounds. That was 4-1 more than Robert Gee, who finished second with 53-15, and 4-2 more than Jay Przekurat, who placed third with 53-14.

Ito claimed $100,000 for finishing first in the derby, which was the second Bassmaster Elite Series win of his career. He snagged $2,000 more for having theRapala CrushCity Monster Bag (he caught 16-9 on Championship Sunday) and separate $1,000 prizes for the 5-12 spotted bass that anchored the bag. That fish was both the Phoenix Boats Big Bass of the day and of the tournament.

It was a wild finish to what had been a difficult tournament for many of the Elites. The Alabama heat made Smith's fabled spotted bass bite go slack at times, and most bass caught ranged from 1 to 2 pounds. The heat index, which climbed into triple digits during the final three days of the tournament, made the sluggish bite that much more grueling.

But Ito had the right mix on Smith. He caught his best bass using a 14-millimeter OSP Saikoro Dice Rubber Magnum bait. The magnum-sized lure, which is not yet in distribution, was the difference maker, he said, with the bigger size sparking Smith's spots into biting in the broiling heat. Ito said he was drop-shotting the lure rigged with a 3/16-ounce weight.

He also credited a thunderstorm that threatened north-central Alabama Sunday afternoon for changing his fortunes on Day 4.

"The storm coming brought many big fish to me, in 25 feet, 30 feet (of water)," he said. "They were on brush piles. I had some smaller fish in the morning, but it all changed when the storm (threatened). I lost a 3-pounder, but that 5-12 was so awesome."

Ito had bags of 13-10, 13-11 and 14-2 leading up to his tournament-best bag on Day 4. His three-day total of 41-7 trailed only Gee, who had 41-9 and the pole position to start Sunday.

Ito, Gee and Przekurat battled throughout the morning, with each grabbing the lead at one point. A single ounce separated the trio at one point mid-morning, but Ito bagged a 2-5 bass before noon that gave him a slim five-ounce cushion on his top two rivals at Smith.

He blew the derby open an hour later with his 5-12, easily the biggest bass of the tournament.

"Smith Lake always is 100 percent my favorite lake," he said. "It's beautiful for sightseeing and it has beautiful bass. And the spotted bass, I like them. I don't like so much the largemouth bass and there aren't that many here. So, Smith Lake is perfect for me."

Ito said he also threw a 3.6-inch Nories Flip Gill (Neko-rigged) and a Nories Wrapping Minnow Spy Bait for key bites earlier in the tournament.

Gee, of Knoxville, Tenn., was looking for his first B.A.S.S. win. Though he fell short of that goal, he was pleased with his finish. He caught 12-6 on Championship Sunday.

"I was LivesScoping the whole week for bait balls and fish roaming around the lake," he said. "I was fishing in the middle of the lake for both single fish and wolfpacks. The main baits for me this week were a 4-inch Yamamoto Shad Shape in smoke color - a natural shad color. And what really saved my butt today was a homemade hair jig that a buddy of mine from Oklahoma ties. It's like a crappie jig that's sized for bass. It was big for me today."

Przekurat, of Plover, Wis., caught 12-8 on Sunday.

"I was fishing timber in the middle of the lake that had a lot of bait around it, in anywhere from 40 to 120 feet," he said. "The Strike King Baby Z-Too, in both Gray Glide and Smokey Shad, was my main bait … It was a big week for me. Taking a Top 3 in an Elite event is huge."

Rounding out the Top 10 at Smith Lake are fourth, Cory Johnston, 53-1; fifth, Tyler Williams, 52-8; sixth, Cooper Gallant, 51-15; seventh, Kyle Patrick, 51-9; eighth, JT Thompkins, 50-7; ninth, Cody Huff, 49-13; and 10th, Justin Hamner, 49-10.

Alabama's Hamner, winner of the 2024 Classic, leads the Progressive Bassmaster Angler of the Year standings with 595 points. Illinois' Trey McKinney is second with 571 points, followed by Missouri's Huff in third with 569, Canada's Chris Johnstonin fourth with 556 and Tennessee's Jacob Foutz in fifth with 556.

McKinney leads the Dakota Lithium Bassmaster Rookie of the Year standings with 571 points, followed by Tennessee's John Garrett in second with 553 points and South Carolina's Thompkins in third with 547.

Ito also took home an additional $3,000 for being the highest-placing entrant in the Toyota Bonus Bucks program, while Huffearned $2,000 for being the second-highest placing entrant.

As part of the Yamaha Power Pay program, Ito earned an additional $4,000 while Gee claimed an additional $1,500 for being the second-highest placing entrant.

Visit Cullmanhosted the tournament.

Chad Gay


Japan's Ito spot-on in Alabama for win in TNT Fireworks Bassmaster Elite at Smith Lake (2)

Japan's Ito spot-on in Alabama for win in TNT Fireworks Bassmaster Elite at Smith Lake (2024)
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