Ted Takasaki is one of North America’s foremost authorities on walleyes and how to catch them.
A native of Chatsworth, Ill., a small farm town about 100 miles south of Chicago, Takasaki, 59, attended the University of Illinois in Champaign, where he graduated with a degree in engineering.
“A lot of good that did me,” he joked.
In 1998, Takasaki won the In-Fisherman Professional Walleye Trail Championship on the Missouri River in Bismarck and was the PWT’s Top Gun Angler in 1995. He still holds the all-time tournament record for a one-day limit of five walleyes that weighed in at an astounding 53.2 pounds.
Takasaki was president of Lindy Fishing Tackle from 1999 to 2008.
Now living in Sioux Falls, S.D., Takasaki will be among the showcase speakers at the Red River Valley Sportsmen’s Show, which opens Thursday, March 2, in the Fargodome and continues through Sunday, March 5. Saturday and Sunday, he will be offering the seminars, “Troll in Four Wheel Drive” and “Jig Like a Pro.”
Takasaki recently took a break from an ice fishing trip on Lake Winnipeg to chat with Brad Dokken of the Grand Forks Herald about his fishing career and upcoming Fargodome seminars.
Here’s an edited transcript of that conversation:
Dokken: Talk about the presentations you’ll be giving in Fargo, “Troll in Four-Wheel Drive” and “Jig Like a Pro.”
Takasaki: Four-wheel drive is just a form of boat control. People probably don’t realize at this point how important boat control is in catching walleyes, both trolling bottom bouncers, lead-core trolling or any kind of trolling. And even (live bait) rigging, it comes in handy. I’ll be talking about how to do it, when to do it and then two or three different presentations that are applicable for it.
The jigging, I’m going to talk about when to jig, what kind of situations you’re going to want to jig in, and then the type of rod that you want to use and everything and anything you want to know about jigging for walleyes.
Dokken: How did you get started in fishing?
Takasaki: My dad actually took me fishing when I was a kid, so it kind of got the background started, just the initial liking to do it because my dad introduced me at a pretty young age. But I got into high school and girls and football, and everything else kind of took over at that point.
When I got into college, I met a good friend, his name is John Campbell, and we started fishing team tournaments together once we graduated from college.
We decided to buy a boat together and take fishing classes. And that really accelerated the learning curve a lot; that made a big difference. We really soaked that up.
We took these fishing classes from another friend of mine, Spence Petros. He was the editor of Fishing Facts magazine for years when that magazine was in existence. He taught these fishing classes once a week every Wednesday night for seven weeks in a row, and we ended up taking that class for seven years in a row, the same class.
Maybe we were a little slow learners, and it took that many times to really kind of get it. I still use a lot of those techniques and a lot of the little tricks that he taught us back then even now.
Dokken: How did you get started in tournament fishing?
Takasaki: There was a tournament on the Illinois River, which is just about 80 miles south of Chicago, so we decided to do that tournament and we actually didn’t even catch a fish in the first two tournaments we entered. The Illinois River was high and muddy and refrigerators and cows were floating down the river, you know, so that was a tough one.
And then another one was Muskegon, and that’s a lake off of Lake Michigan. It’s crystal clear, it’s a traditional nighttime bite. We didn’t catch a fish the first year we fished, and then the next year we said, ‘Well let’s give it another shot.’ We fished them all, and we ended up like eighth place in our division and then we qualified for the championship and we got fourth in the championship.
That kind of set everything into motion. We kept going and kept learning, and 26 years later, I’m still fishing tournaments.
Dokken: Do you still enjoy fishing tournaments?
Takasaki: Oh yeah; I mean, they’re difficult when you’re not doing well, and they’re a blast when you win. Even when you get like second place, that’s First Loser, so that’s the difficult part of it.
Dokken: To what do you attribute your fishing success?
Takasaki: I think a lot of it is just paying attention to the detail. And at this point now, it’s learn through experience, so I’ve had a lot of experience on a lot of these different lakes that these tournaments are located on, and all that experience is pretty valuable.
I’ve worked real hard at the different techniques and tactics you use to catch walleyes, so if a particular body of water dictates that I troll, then I can troll. If the body of water dictates jigging or rigging, then I jig and rig. So I’m able to do all that without thinking about it or learning the technique.
Dokken: Does the mindset of fishing a tournament differ from just going out and fishing for fun?
Takasaki: Oh yes. Fishing for fun, you go out find fish and just keep fishing them. When you go out and fish a tournament or practice for a tournament, you find fish, and then you leave them. If you can’t find fish, you keep looking.
Dokken: How many tournaments do you fish annually?
Takasaki: I would say between seven and eight tournaments a year. Pretty steady for the last 20 years. I usually fish four big tournaments, which is the NWT (National Walleye Trail) and then a few that are close by and that aren’t too hard to get to and are team tournaments.
Most of the big tournaments I fish are a pro and co-angler or pro-am tournaments.
Dokken: Looking back on the tournaments, what are your highlights?
Takasaki: The 1998 PWT championship was, certainly. That started my entire fishing career. It ignited a following in North Dakota and throughout the television land, and that in conjunction with my television appearances on “Midwest Outdoors” TV and the writing that I’ve done and the writers like you guys has really accelerated the name recognition and the brand.
That’s really what sponsors are looking for because a professional angler can’t make it just fishing tournaments. You’ve got to have support and sponsors that assist you.
Dokken: How has fishing and the industry changed since you’ve been in the business?
Takasaki: I would say the thing that probably changed the fishing industry the most has been the consolidation of retailers and the consolidation of manufacturers. There’s fewer lure companies, there’s fewer dealers. I think the challenge for a professional angler is finding sponsors, and there’s fewer of them.
I think another thing that’s changed the landscape is social media.
Dokken: What do you see as the biggest potential threats to fisheries and fishing?
Takasaki: Even though aquatic nuisance species is an issue, I believe the biggest issue is probably netting — commercial fishing our fisheries. I think that’s probably the biggest challenge.
I’m fishing on Lake Winnipeg, and it’s not nearly like it was years ago, and I think a big reason is because it’s commercially netted. It’s tougher and tougher to get the big fish.
Dokken: If you were to pick five favorite fishing destinations, what would they be?
Takasaki: It’s pretty tough to beat Lake Erie. It’s a fishery where a person has a legitimate chance of catching a 10-pound-plus walleye.
Then I’d say Lake of the Woods, Fort Peck (Montana), the Missouri River System and the Mississippi River System.
Dokken: As I recall, you’re kind of a river rat anyway as far as fishing preference.
Takasaki: Yeah, I started fishing rivers, but if I was going to grade myself on the Great Lakes, rivers, natural lakes and reservoirs, I’m probably an 8½ on all of them out of 10. Maybe I’m not a specialist on any one of them, where you’re a 10 on rivers and 4 on the reservoirs, but I’ve worked hard to try to master all of them instead of one technique or one type of water.
Dokken: How many sports shows and seminar appearances do you do in a year?
Takasaki: I am booked almost from the first of January all the way through the end of March every weekend.
Dokken: Any thoughts on why ice fishing has become so popular?
Takasaki: I think the biggest thing that has changed ice fishing is the equipment. You’ve got shelters, you’ve got heaters, you’ve got electronics, you’ve got rods and reels and tackle that are all specific to ice fishing.
Now we’ve got power augers instead of hand augers. Ice fishing is more convenient, more comfortable and in general safer.
I’m not a competitive ice fisherman, but I like to ice fish. But I only like to ice fish when I’m comfortable. So I guess I’m one of those fishermen that has taken up the sport of ice fishing because you can be more comfortable in adverse weather conditions.
Dokken: Anything real big on the horizon in terms of open water fishing? How much better can it get?
Takasaki: Look at the boats, the evolution of boats; 1989 was my first tournament in the MWC (Masters Walleye Circuit), and when we bought a boat, we bought an 18-foot, 50-horse tiller and at that time, we were probably one of the top end boats. Now, I run a 21-foot-9 boat with a 350-horse outboard so that evolution continues.
I mean, 300-horse outboards became commercially available two years ago, and now I know 400s are available, and the boats are going to continue to get bigger and more comfortable and the tactics continue to evolve and change.
Open water still dwarfs ice fishing in general.
Dokken: What’s on the horizon? Do you plan to fish a few more years?
Takasaki: Some people ask me what I’d do when I retire and I guess go fishing. But you know, I have other hobbies — golf and poker — and so I’ll continue to develop my poker hobby. I was fortunate enough this last fall, I won a pretty big poker tournament for $52,000 so I love that game, and that’s a game you can play until you’re 90 years old if you want.
I know I’ll at least be fishing for another five years before I retire. Right now, I travel so much, not that I mind traveling, but I’m away from my family and home, and maybe at some point in time, I might get tired of it.
But it’s good right now. I’m living the American Dream, and I get to do what I love to do for a living. I appreciate every day.
If you go
What: 52nd annual Red River Valley Sportsmen’s Boat, Camping and Vacation Show.
When: Thursday, March 2 to Sunday, March 5. Hours 5 to 9 .m. Thursday, noon to 9 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 5.
Admission: Adults $8, children 6 to 12 $2.50 and children 5 and younger free.