DANDRIDGE, Tenn. — Daisuke Aoki has claimed numerous accolades in his homeland, but the Japanese standout secured his grandest objective Saturday by topping a stout field at the Basspro.com Bassmaster Southern Open on Douglas Lake with a three-day total of 43 pounds, 13 ounces.
Hailing from Minamitsuru-gun, Yamanashi, Japan, Aoki kept himself in contention all week. He placed fourth on Day 1 with 15-13 and held that position a day later with a second-round limit of 13-5. On Championship Saturday, Aoki added 14-11 and edged Bassmaster Elite Drew Benton by an ounce.
With an impressive resume including the 2015 Japan Bass Top 50 Angler of the Year and the Basser Allstar Classic title, also 2015, Aoki has had his sights set on the sport’s most prestigious event.
“The Bassmaster Classic is my dream,” Aoki said as he removed his sunglasses and wiped his eyes. “This is a dream come true.”
Along with his $51,833 first-place prize, Aoki earned a spot in the 2022 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Huk on Lake Hartwell. He achieved his long-awaited dream by applying techniques he commonly uses back home.
“Every day, I study American bass fishing,” Aoki said. “Fishing on Douglas Lake is very similar to Japanese finesse fishing.”
Aoki spent all of his time in about 5 feet of water, where he targeted prespawn and spawning fish with wacky rigs. He fished a pink DStyle finesse worm unweighted on a Hayabusa hook and a green pumpkin/blue flake Yamamoto Senko on a 1/16-ounce wacky jig.
“I used the Senko for bed fish,” Aoki said. “I used (rapid rod twitches) to swim the bait across the bottom.
“I used the 4-inch Senko when I could not see a bed. When I could see a bed, I used the 3-inch Senko.”
Aoki said he used the unweighted wacky rig to cover water between likely bedding areas. He fished this bait higher in the water column.
“It was cast, cast, cast — many spots,” Aoki said of his thorough coverage strategy.
Aoki said he fished the upper end of Douglas on Day 1, switched to the lower lake on Day 2 and split Day 3 between both sections. The upper end produced his best Championship Saturday bites.
After raising the first-place trophy, Aoki captured his obvious emotion by shouting the Bassmaster slogan: “Big Bass. Big Stage. Big Dreams.”
Benton, who makes his home in Blakely, Ga., tallied a second-place total of 43-12, which included a 4-ounce dead-fish penalty. He placed fifth on Day 1 with 15-12, slipped a spot to sixth by adding 13-1 on Friday and finished his run with 14-15.
“I came here right after (last week’s Elite event on the Sabine River) and I only had a day and a half of practice, so I really didn’t figure anything out until the first day of the tournament,” Benton said. “I just rolled with it and figured a little more out each day and put it together.”
Benton caught most of his fish on swimbaits. Around laydowns, he threw a 7-inch Big Bite Baits Suicide Shad on a belly-weighted Owner Beast Hook. On rockier banks, a 6-inch Scottsboro line-through swimbait got the call.
“They were completely choking those swimbaits,” Benton said. “When I’d come to a laydown I wanted to pitch, I’d throw a Texas-rigged Big Bite Baits Fighting Frog.
“I fished clean, never lost anything. I just didn’t get (enough) big bites.”
Josh Douglas of Isle, Minn., finished third with 42-3. Spending most of his time offshore, Douglas placed second on Day 1 with 16-9, but dipped to 10th after a slower Day 2 yielded only 11-4. Adding 14-6 in the final round boosted his performance.
“When I first got here over the weekend, it seemed like there were a lot of fish up shallow, but I just couldn’t get a lot of big ones that way,” Douglas said. “I figured I could wing it in the tournament, so I idled for two and a half days and found 10 or 12 schools in 15 to 20 feet.”
Douglas caught his fish on a Strike King 6XD, a Rapala DT-20 and an Outkast Tackle hair jig.
Day 1 leader Jackson Swisher of Lake City, Fla., won the $750 Phoenix Boats Big Bass award with his 5-10.
Aoki won the $500 Garmin Tournament Rewards.
Jacob Foutz of Charleston, Tenn., leads the Falcon Rods Bassmaster Open Angler of the Year standings with 387 points. David Williams of Newton, N.C., is second with 380, followed by Blake Smith of Lakeland, Fla., with 369, Keith Poche of Pike Road, Ala., with 365 and Scott Ashmore of Broken Arrow, Okla., with 360.
Visit Jefferson County and the Town of Dandridge hosted the event.