Kato bags huge stringer in comeback victory

Seiji Kato jumped from 33rd to first on the final day on Lake Amistad. Steve Bowman

DEL RIO, Texas — As far as Del Rio, Texas, is concerned, Seiji Kato has been smiling his whole life.

He was smiling coming off the boat, he was smiling in line, and he was still smiling when everybody left.

The bait company owner from Japan, fishing in his first BASS tournament, made up a 16-pound, 11-ounce deficit on Saturday to win the co-angler Battle on the Border championship on Lake Amistad. With Saturday's 27-6 bag, his three-day, 13-fish total was 48-8.

"It was an amazing day," he said as he waited backstage before weighing his fish. "I think I have about 24 pounds."

Grant Goldbeck, his professional fishing partner for the day, looked rightfully skeptical of Kato's prediction.

"He had a little something going on," Goldbeck said.

Goldbeck started the day in 12th in the professional competition, but he only had three fish that weighed 13-4 on Saturday and fell out of the cut. He weighed in before Kato, and stayed on stage to support his partner.

"He commenced what we would call a whoopin' at home," Goldbeck said. "I'd like to stay on stage and see what he's got."

When Kato saw his weight, the largest of the tournament on the co-angler side, his smile grew even a little bigger and he threw his arms into the air. Goldbeck said Kato wasn't fishing a technique that he had considered using.

"I never would have caught those fish," Goldbeck said. "I just like watching those big fish come into the boat. I'm just glad somebody caught them. It made the day worth it to be able to watch that."

Goldbeck said Kato lost a 10-pounder in the last 15 minutes and that he had it at the boat three times but couldn't get it in. That fish could have given Kato the biggest stringer of the entire tournament, boater and non-boater, but what he brought in turned out to be enough.

Kato, who speaks limited English, let his smile and waving fish do the talking on stage. But his day was not done after he weighed his fish.

Kato was one of the first co-anglers to weigh-in, and spent the next hour and a half watching anglers come and go from the hot seat to the left of the scale.

Tommy Swindle was the last co-angler to the scales, and when Swindle's weight fell well short, Kato went crazy. Along with the title and the trophy, Kato won a Triton/Mercury Lowrance Motor Guide package valued at $50,000.

He caught all of his fish on bait produced by the bait company he owns in Japan, Jackall. He used a Flick Shake (a small worm) and a Squad Minnow to catch his fish on Saturday. He was also using a rod that his company produces, called Poison.

"[Kato] would watch to see where his partner would throw so he could stay out of the way, but still catch good fish," Kato said through a translator.

He plans to fish three or four more co-angler tournaments on the Elite Series this year, but who knows if he'll ever have another day on the water like he did on Saturday.

"No, never had a day like this," he said. "I am very happy."