'72, Data Processing
Gary Yamamoto ('72, data processing) may seem like a quiet-natured man nearing his 70s, but in the world of sport bass
fishing he's an undeniable rock star.
Yamamoto, one of the world's best bass fishermen for more than a quarter-century, has attracted a large
following of fans who line up to get his autograph and to take a photo with him. In Japan, where he was one of the
first Westerners to share his bass fishing skills and techniques, his celebrity status is on another level.
Yamamoto is more than a celebrity fisherman. The Hawaiian native has leveraged his popularity into creating
a lucrative business selling lures and other fishing tackle for his company, Gary Yamamoto Custom Baits Inc. When
he started his business in the 1980s, Yamamoto was an innovator in the fishing industry because his lures closely
resembled live bait such as worms, crawdads and lizards that fish want to bite.
"Fishing has always been in my blood," Yamamoto says. "I've been fishing since I was 3 or 4. This is what I was
meant to do."
His path to becoming a successful entrepreneur, however, was circuitous. First, Yamamoto had to decide what he
didn't want in life before he could find his niche.
As a business student, Yamamoto thought his future was in electronics, and soon after graduation he found a job
selling business equipment for Burroughs Corp.
Although Yamamoto excelled, he quickly realized that the office culture didn't suit him. In Oahu, his family owned
a taro farm, and his father freelanced as a mason. Yamamoto admired how his father created his work schedule
without answering to a boss, and he yearned for a similar lifestyle. After reading in the newspaper that a campground
was for sale in Page, Ariz., Yamamoto seized the opportunity. It was no coincidence that Page is home to Lake Powell
and its abundant bass fishing.
"My sisters thought I was nuts," Yamamoto recalls. "I had two kids and a wife and I was about to sell our home
and borrow money to run a business, when I had no experience with owning a business. I just upped and moved. I
knew it was the right thing to do."
When Yamamoto wasn't tending to his modest-sized campground, he was on his boat fishing. Soon, he was
entering competitions and developing an edge. With the curiosity of a scientist, Yamamoto handcrafted his own lures. He
experimented with several prototypes until he was satisfied that his lures resembled the movement and color of live bait. Yamamoto's reputation as a sport fisherman and his oversupply of lures inadvertently brought him into the fishing business.
Buoyed by his ingenuity and with a dauntless spirit of promotion, he set his sights on an untapped market — Japan.
Yamamoto bought a state-of-the-art bass boat, sent it overseas on a Boeing 747 and launched competitive bass
fishing. By awarding the boat as first prize in the Gary Yamamoto Open, he generated so much excitement in the sport
that he was virtually able to name his price with Japanese retailers interested in his line of products. "If you want
this, you will want to carry all the colors," he told them, which they did.
Now, Yamamoto's production facility creates 5,000 different products for customers as far away as Zimbabwe,
Australia and South Korea.
Even with his tremendous accomplishments, Yamamoto designs new products with the same zest and scientific
methodology that has brought him success. He tests prototypes for two years before introducing them to the marketplace,
and he snorkels at the
bottom of lakes to study the
natural movement of fish.
his keen business approach
in part to his education at
Cal Poly Pomona.
"I learned it's not
about how smart you are,
it's about how innovative
you can be."
Copyright © 2011 Cal Poly Pomona.
All rights reserved.