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Exclusive Interview with Hiroshi Takahashi

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StormStorm Lures has long been seen as a whacky, unorthodox, all-American lure brand with funky and eye-catching taglines in their ads. Of late, anglers in our region may have noticed some subtle Japanese influences in Storm’s newer lure and metal jig designs. In this exclusive interview, FiSH On! Magazine speaks with Mr Hiroshi Takahashi – the man behind Storm’s offerings such as the Basho Frog, Flutterstick Minnow 4cm, Thunder Barra, Gomoku, Gomame and Thunder Jigs.

What exactly is the job scope of a Lure Designer?
Actually I don’t consider myself a lure designer. I suppose I’m more of a ‘Producer’ for lures as my job is not only limited to purely designing lures. Most lure designers come up with their designs based on their own fishing needs and conditions. My approach is a little bit different. I obtain feedback from regional product development teams on their end-user needs and then analyze their market conditions and fishing situations. With this information, I work with my team to design lure prototypes and propose them to the regional teams. Sometimes I do design, test and promote these lure prototypes myself. That’s the reason why I say I’m not solely a lure designer but more of a Producer that overlooks the entire process independent of a specific product.

How long have you been in the fishing tackle industry?
I’d say about 10 years.

Have you always been working in the tackle industry?
I actually started out in show business working on television and commercial films as an assistant producer in France for 4 years and about 1 year running my own company producing Japanese manga and animation for the French market.

What made you decide to enter the fishing tackle industry?
I was born in Tokyo and like many boys my age back then, I was influenced by the Japanese manga “Tsurikichi Sanpei” which tells of the adventures of a boy and his love for fishing. Unlike those living in the countryside, it was extremely difficult to go fishing when you’re living in the heart of Tokyo. So being able to go fishing was like a dream come true for me.

Later on, I moved to France where I pursued a career in show business. We’d normally get 2 weeks off in between preparations for commercial film shoots so that’s when I got more time to go fishing. Deep inside, I had a desire to get involved in the fishing tackle industry. I established relationships with folks from Daiwa and occasionally did some field-testing for some of their products. At that time, lure fishing was still not very popular in France and therefore, I saw an opportunity to venture into this market. I began making contact with many Japanese lure manufacturers. After countless letters, faxes and phone calls, only one person responded – it was Seiji Kato-san of Lucky Craft. It was an opportunity to distribute Lucky Craft lures in France. It wasn’t easy selling premium Japanese lures in the beginning. The price of a Lucky Craft lure was about twice the price of a Rapala lure in France. It was almost impossible to sell such expensive lures! One famous tackle shop owner in Paris mentioned that no one had ever succeeded in selling a hardbait at a higher price than Rapala at that time. Meanwhile, I still did a bit of work with Japanese manga publishers to translate their work into French.

My first breakthrough was the introduction of Lucky Craft Sammy. Back then in 1994, nobody knew what a ‘dog-walk’ lure was. It quickly became a big hit. I subsequently brought in a lot of high-end Japanese products into the French market after gaining experience in promoting Japanese lures.

How did you end up in the design and development of lures?
I joined Lucky Craft three years later as President of Lucky Craft Europe. It was then that I had the opportunity to get involved with product development at Lucky Craft. The LC Wander was one of the several projects I was involved with. I subsequently left Lucky Craft a few years later to join Sensas, a company renowned for their groundbait. By then, Seiji Kato had already left Lucky Craft and founded Jackall Bros. Sensas saw the potential in the artificial lure market for Europe and so I was asked to help them create a new lure brand. Thus, with the collaboration of Seiji Kato at Jackall Bros, Illex Lures was born and I became the designer for Illex’s Scream Series range.

What motivated you to work with Storm Lures?
Although being a very large company, Sensas / Illex was still very much focused on the European market. I am a person who loves challenges and I wanted to be exposed to the fishing needs of a worldwide market. Storm is an international brand that is known worldwide and so I felt it was a good opportunity.

Where do you seek inspiration for your lure designs?
For lure eye shapes and designs, I look to the automotive industry. If you have noticed, the headlamps of older cars are usually round or squarish. These days, the trend is to go for more stylish or even aggressive designs. With that said, I constantly strive to look out for new ideas and looks to incorporate them into lure designs. My lure designs do not have a specific trademark style or identity. Each region may have different requirements and therefore I will design the lures according to the needs and requirements. For example, when I was asked to design the Storm Thunder Barra for Australian Barramundi fishing, I needed to fish the terrain and understand the need of the anglers there before proceeding with the design. Most importantly, my lures must be practical to the needs of the angler. It must be properly balanced, aerodynamically shaped to cast well and able to create the action intended to catch the target fish. The appearance of the lure is a personal thing and each designer would have his own style. Some people prefer realistic eyes while some prefer conceptual eye designs. I would say if 80% of anglers like my design, I would consider it as a ‘good design’. If only 10% of anglers like a design that I consider as ‘good’, then I would have failed.

Can you briefly share what is the process of developing a lure?
Usually it starts off with requests from regional sales teams to meet a specific market need. I then propose a design and develop prototypes for field-testers to assess and provide feedback. When a design is approved, the lure mould is then created for mass production.

How do ensure your lure designs are effective on the water before mass production?
I personally test the prototypes myself apart from sending samples to field testers. Moulding is very expensive and I take personal responsibility to ensure that the final design is up to expectation prior to mass production. I take pride in my work so even if field-testers are OK with the proposed design, I would still verify and ensure that the designs are indeed good enough to meet the requirements. Field-tester feedback is very important and if the field-testers are not stringent enough, the lack of proper feedback can result in a poor quality product after production. I enjoy working very closely with the Japan sales teams as their quality expectations are very high.

Are there specific characteristics that take precedence over others in a lure’s design? (e.g. buoyancy, action, swimming depth, etc.)
It depends on the type of lure. For example, castability is key for the Japanese seabass lure market. If I can have a lure that can cast 10% further from the competition, I would have 80% of the market share. Each lure is unique and will have different key characteristics depending on the market segment requirement. Occasionally I do get quite difficult requirements (for example, a tiny lure that can cast 200m and stay afloat!). While I try my best to achieve all the requirements, very often I will need to discuss with stakeholders to see which characteristic has a higher priority. But I would say lure aerodynamics is very important as it influences casting and swimming action. I am continually learning about aerodynamics from the aviation industry.

Some lure manufacturers individually test their lures for quality assurance. Are Storm lures individually tested to ensure they swim straight out of the box?
All lipped hardbait lures are individually tank tested in the factory. Even the Storm Live Kickin’ Minnow is tank-tested piece by piece.

Storm Gomame

Storm Gomame Jig

I assume metal lures for jigging would be designed and tested differently from conventional swimming lures. How do you test the action of these metal lures and jigs?

Metal lure design is not as complicated as compared to hardbait lures. There are many considerations in hardbait manufacturing: composition of materials, buoyancy, lip angle and aerodynamics. The important factor for metal jigs is balance. What is the required presentation? Is the jig is weighted at the head, centre-weighted, or tail-weighted? For example, when designing the Japanese Gomoku concept jigs, I was given all the parameters such as expected type of line, snap and swivel used and how many metres the jig needed to flutter before plummeting straight down. The Japanese have a very clear idea of the requirements of the expected jig action. In this case, the jig had to flutter for 3 metres before dropping straight down. Initial tests are done in a deep pool but field-tests are still performed in Japan. The water is very clear and the field-testers can see for themselves if the jig action is in accordance to the required specifications.

In your opinion, is colour important in lure design?
Colour is definitely important but preference is purely a personal thing. For me, fluorescent pink is my favourite colour especially for PVC lures. When people ask me for a lure colour recommendation, I’d say pink! What happens very often is that the person would take the pink coloured lure to the cashier only to turn back and pick up a natural-looking pattern instead. Some who have the budget would buy both pink and the natural-looking pattern! Basically what I’m trying to say is that the angler himself must believe in the colour of choice. The more he uses it, the higher the chances of getting a fish.

Out of all the lures you’ve designed and produced, which lure do you feel is your best design or production to date?
My best lure is the next one. I’m never satisfied with any of my past lure designs. The day I am satisfied, I will retire from my job.

What keeps you awake at night (in terms of lure design)?
Not having any innovative ideas. I want to be able to continually create new products and designs. The good thing is that I love input and feedback from people and that is where I get ideas from time to time.

Are there any words of wisdom that you’d wish to share with fellow lure anglers?
Don’t ponder on why you didn’t get a bite but think about what you did when you got a bite. To improve oneself in lure fishing, one must always ask “WHY?” What did I do to trigger a strike or bite? You will then understand how a fish thinks and improve your skills as a lure angler.

Daniel Wan has been fishing since the age of 12 and has a deep passion for fishing with artificial lures – especially light-tackle jigging. Previously working for two multinational IT companies, Daniel left the IT industry to follow his passion for fishing, photography and writing.