Looking at the lead picture, one might think they were looking at a picture from an early 1960s bass tournament or maybe even a recent Tiny Boat event where the photographer used their artistic license to filter the image. Instead, what you’re looking at is a picture taken in 1986 at one of the biggest bass events held in the world – even today – the Japan Cup. Although bass fishing and the boats have changed much since 1986 in Japan, this picture still reflects what most Japanese and other international bass anglers fish from.
I mention the recent Tiny Boat Revolution that has been sweeping the United States for a specific reason. Tiny boats are not a new concept. They have been around since the dawn of bass fishing.
Back in the 60s and even in the early 70s, bass boats were small, generally 14- to 16-feet in length, and for every actual bass boat you saw on the water, you probably saw one or two small Jon boats or v-hull skiffs that had been outfitted to fish bass. Back then was no different than today – economics played a big role in bass fishing, but passion has a way of overruling one’s ability to get on the water.
As time progressed from the 80s into the 90s, it almost became a showstopper if you couldn’t afford a bass boat in the U.S. I don’t know how many anglers I talked with during that time who gave the excuse, “I can’t bass fish effectively because I can’t afford a $30,000 boat.”
That wasn’t the case in other countries that had bass and bass fishermen, though.
I don’t know how many of you have been to a foreign country that has bass, but I’ve personally been to three countries (not counting our northern cousin Canada) that host the U.S.’s most popular gamefish. During those trips I was not only able to check out their tackle shops and drop some well-earned USDs on “Not Made in the USA” baits, but in a couple of them I was actually able to fish and experience bass fishing in their environment. In both cases the experience took me back to my early days of bass fishing with respect to the passion and the boats used.
Here I’ll talk about my experiences in Japan.
Numerous things impress me about Japan’s bass fishing industry. Of course they design and manufacture some of the best tackle ever produced. What many people outside of Japan don’t know is their production of small, fully-outfitted bass boats. At Popeye’s, Japan’s largest shop that caters to bass anglers, in 2006 I was greeted with a showroom floor full of small bass rigs. When I say small, I am talking boats from 8-feet (245cm) up to 12-feet (370cm). These boats all had the details and accoutrements of a large bass boat with respect to storage and electronics. Motors were all tiller steering and, depending upon the size and checking account balance, were between 4- and 20-horsepower.
These small boats are impressive and something I would have no problem fishing out of. In fact, since that first trip, I have wanted to build a boat in the Japanese way for small waters around my house.
Over the years I’ve had many discussions with US anglers regarding my travels to fish places like Italy and Japan and they always ask the same question pertaining to their boats. “Why do they use such small boats?” The answer to that question is really threefold. One, most all full-size bass boats – except for maybe in Africa – are made in the United States. Tariffs to ship full-sized rigs over oceans can double the cost of a boat, making it near impossible to own unless you have mucho Euro, Yen or whatever currency we’re talking about.
The second “problem” with the big boats is the fact that roads in a lot of these countries simply cannot handle big trailers and if they can, road tariffs make it extremely costly again. For example, most roads (not the Autostrade, or highway system) in Italy were made during the horse-and-carriage days and are too narrow to handle a full-size US SUV let alone a 20-foot bass boat. The same can be said regarding Japan.
In Japan, those anglers that have bigger US-style bass boats actually have to store them at a marina or moor them at the lake they fish most often. Then they have to obtain the proper permitting to trailer their boat to a lake. It all boils down to economics and the ability to get your boat from point A to point B efficiently.
The third problem anglers in these countries have is the price of petrol – or as we call it, gasoline. In Europe, gas costs on average around $8/gallon. In Japan it’s almost that high. Most cars in these countries are small in order to decrease the cost of fuel. Plus, to own a larger car, you have to pay the luxury taxes that come with owning a gas guzzler.
These “problems” mean most people who want to own a boat end up buying something small.
What anglers in these countries lack with respect to full-sized bass boats is made up with their passion and desire to fish. Anglers in other countries, much like the early U.S. anglers and the Tiny Boat crowd of today, have found out they don’t need the 20-footer with a 300-horsepower motor to catch bass. In fact, most bass boats you see on the water in these countries are anywhere from 8- to 14-feet long. In Japan, where I’ve spent a lot of time in tackle and boat shops, the favored boat is a 12-foot aluminum v-hull that resembles a full-sized American bass boat cut off at the console. It’s essentially all front deck except for a small area in back where the angler sits to steer his tiller-controlled gas motor.
The point I’m trying to make here is if one wants to catch bass, don’t let the money get in the way. If you can’t afford a big rig, get yourself a tiny boat or even a kayak. Just like the early U.S. bass anglers who made a 14-foot boat work, thousands world-wide are getting by with the same. The sport isn’t about who has the biggest Johnson, it’s about who weighs the most fish at the end of the day.