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A Chat with B.A.S.S. Pro Kotaro Kiriyama
By Ron Niswonger, U.S. Anglers Choice contributor

 

Kotaro Kiriyama, better known as Kota, grew up in Chiba Japan. He enjoyed bass fishing as a hobby while growing up, and has since become a force to be reckoned with in the ranks of professional bass fishing.  I happened to bump into him in Alabama this spring and asked if he would be willing to do an interview for the Anglersí Choice website. He graciously agreed, and the proceeding question and answer session is the result of that interview.

AC: Tell me about Kotaro Kiriyama. When did you come to the United States?
K.K: I moved to the United States when I was just eighteen years old. I was all by myself, and I spoke no English.

AC: That had to be scary, to move to a foreign country alone and unable to communicate.
K.K.: I was eighteen years old and didnít worry about how I was going to make it. When I first came to New York City, everything was so new and different, and the country was so big, I was really more excited to be in the United States than I was afraid. I stayed with a family in New York City, with whom I had prearranged to take me in.  I joined a local bass club in New Jersey and went to school. In 1995, I graduated from the University of New York with a B.S. degree in Social Science and History.  While I was in school, I just happened to meet the Vice President of Lucky Craft Lures, Seiji Kato. He also founded Jackall Lure Company, and after I graduated from school, I moved to L.A. and started working for Jackall Lures.

AC: How did you get started fishing tournaments?
K.K: Seiji loaned me his boat and truck, and I started fishing the U.S. Opens in 1999. I lived in the back of his pickup truck while I fished the Opens. In Sept. of 1999, I won $10,000, and I began to realize that I could make money doing this. Then in Oct. of í99, I fished a Western Bassmaster tournament on Lake Orville. I finished in the top fifteen and earned another check. I also had a fifth place finish on Lake Powell in the Western Invitational around the same time and cashed another check.  I qualified for the Bassmaster Classic that year on Lake Michigan in Chicago and finished in fourth place. At that time I was the only angler from Japan who had qualified for the Bassmaster Classic, which helped get my foot in the door with several sponsors.  Even though I was having some success fishing, and was beginning to pick up sponsors, I really wasnít convinced that I could make a living fishing tournaments. I think I might have been just getting burned out, so in 2016, I took a break from fishing competitively for a little while. When I was eighteen, I didnít care about next month or next week. All I wanted to do was finish high in the next tournament. Now Iím back, and I have that same passion that I did then.

AC: So what is next for Kota Kiriyama? Win the Bassmaster Classic?
K.K.: That would be great! But Iím just concentrating on fishing the Opens and excited about the future. I also sponsor a tournament every year called Kotaís American Dream. It basically brings the winning anglers of a Japanese tournament to America to compete in a Bass Cat Owners tournament. It gives them an opportunity to experience America and the bass fishing industry in this country.

AC: Who had the biggest influence on you as a fisherman?
KK: When I was living in New York, there was a guy that used to take me fishing all the time. His name is Ed Cowan. He was like a mentor for me and one of the best fishermen I have ever fished with. He qualified for the Bassmaster Classic twice through the Federation.

AC: One last question, and this is just for fun. Who is hands down the nicest pro on tour today?
K.K.: Most of the pros are nice guys and always very professional, but hands down in my opinion, the nicest guy on tour is Steve Kennedy.

AC: Why him?
K.K.: He is just a genuinely nice guy. He is honest. Oh, and I would also include Scott Canterbury for many of the same reasons. They just know how to treat people.

Speaking of nice guys, I have interviewed several of the most well-known names in professional fishing, and Kota Kiriyama is at the top of the list of nicest guys I have had the privilege of speaking with. And just for your reading pleasure, here are a few of his accomplishments:

         6X Bassmaster Classic Qualifier

         186 Tournaments fished

         Finished in the money 97 times

         Finished 1st: 1X

         Finished 2nd: 5X

         21 top 10 finishes

         52 top 30 finishes

After my interview with Kota, and as I was putting my thoughts together on how best to write this piece, I kept thinking that it was somehow more than just another interview with a big name pro. It felt more like I had made a new friend, like we had somehow connected on a more personal level. Then I realized thatís the impression Kota Kiriyama leaves on everyone he meets. Either way, Iím telling everybody that he and I are friends. I donít think he will mind.

Good fishing and God bless.