Ito leaves 'em laughing, crying

Japanese angler Taku Ito’s infectious personality left a big crowd both laughing and crying Sunday on the final day of the Farmers Insurance Bassmaster Elite at the St. Lawrence River.

Ito did so in weighing the biggest five-bass limit of the four-day tournament and winning the $100,000 check and the big blue trophy, which the diminutive Ito struggled to lift over his head.

“You have such a big smile on your face because he exudes so much positivity,” said Brandon Palaniuk, who first met Ito in Japan in 2018. “You have to laugh because you’ve already smiled to the max.”

And when the 34-year-old Ito broke into tears upon being declared the winner, tears flowed among the spectators as well. Taku Ito burst upon the bass fishing scene last July when he finished 6th in the Elite Series tournament at the St. Lawrence River. But that tournament was held under Covid-19 restrictions, when no spectators were allowed. After Sunday’s tournament, dozens and dozens of spectators stayed to have their picture made with the hottest star in the bass fishing world.

“He’s such a positive influence on the sport,” said Palaniuk, who finished 6th Sunday. “He’s the type of people we need. He’s super respectful, on and off the water. He’s got an amazing personality, warm, fun to be around, and he carries himself with a lot of honor. He’s very competitive, but he remains a good person at the same time. That’s hard to find these days.”

And he’s one heckuva fisherman. Ito finished in 38th place on Day 1 with 17 pounds, 15 ounces. Then he moved up the standings with a bigger limit each day – 11th on Day 2 with 22-14, 7th on Day 3 with 23-3 and 1st on Day 4 with 26-0 for a total of 90-0.

Ito finished 23rd in Angler of the Year points a year ago. He finished 16th this season. And Taku Ito’s rise to stardom on the Elite Series has just begun.