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“What do you have to lose?” Naoaki “Uminchu” Ikemiyagi must have thought when he signed up for the Shasta Bass Kayak Classic. By his own admission, the NorCal Kayak Anglers stalwart is a bait fisherman, not a bass angler.

“I’m used to friendly and fun competitions. I’d never professionally fished. I wanted to experience it,” he says, explaining why he signed up for the event. A spot in the next Hobie Fishing World Championship was on the line, but the new Hobie Fishing Team member (he fishes for Adventure Sports Kayak City in Sacramento) thought he had little to no chance. At least the cause was worthy. The Shasta Bass Kayak Classic was a fundraiser for Heroes on the Water.

“It was very interesting. There were a lot of Hobie Pro Anglers with huge fish finders. Everybody had five or six rods. Some guys had eight. I was completely out of place,” he says.

Naoaki armed himself with a trout rod and a jerkbait, figuring he might as well give it a shot and have a good time. “I’m just going to fish and experience this different world,” he says.

Twenty minutes in on a day with tough weather he hooked his first fish. It measured 17.5 inches. Five to ten minutes later he had another. Since he was catching fish, he figured it had to be wide open. It wasn’t.

“All of a sudden I’m at the top of the leaderboard, number one. It was a complete surprise,” he says. With every fish his confidence grew. He finished the day with 48 inches, just an inch and a quarter behind eventual leader Sao Vue.

Day two was tougher, yet Naoaki ground out another three-fish limit. He ended the tournament with 94 inches. It wasn’t enough to gain ground on Sao (96.5 inches), but it was just enough to hold off Justin Martin Del Campo (93.75 inches), who finished third just one-quarter of an inch in arrears.

So why are we talking about Naoaki as the Hobie Fishing World Championship qualifier? Sao opted to take home a Hobie Mirage Outback rather than choose the qualifying spot. That left it to Naoaki, who couldn’t believe his good luck.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I have to represent NorCal. It is unreal to me. I never win like this,” says the first North American qualifier for Hobie Fishing Worlds VII.

Shasta Bass Kayak Classic leaderboard.