the Optimum swimbait - among the first with an internal jig- head - made its debut in 1996, it shook things up. Designed by Sean Donovan, the bait started as his secret weapon in So Cal lakes like Castaic and Casitas, but eventually the demand outstripped his ability to manufacture, and he turned to the Painos to turn them out in volume. The big trout imitator was a hit both in the US and in the Japanese market, where the swimbait craze was just taking off. The Painos eventually took over the Optimum brand from Donovan. The original Optimum swimbait was a petite 4”. More than a dozen years later, it’s available in seven sizes up to 8” and “still considered one of the best swimbaits out there,” according to pro angler and guide Randy Pringle. When the time came, Matt decided to take his university study abroad time in Japan, and ended up liking it so much that when one of his Japanese distributors invited him to set up camp in their offices, he returned for another several years. Learning the language and being physically located in Japan allowed him to introduce more lures to distributors and tackle stores, and was able to offer advice and insight on the product line. “No one knows the product more than me,” says Matt.
When he first arrived in Japan, few manufacturers were pro- ducing the big baits that were getting so much attention in Cali- fornia. Japanese bass fishing is limited to small number of lakes, with intense pressure and competition. Anglers were looking for something new they could throw from shore that would attract the attention of indifferent fish. All of which made it the perfect time to introduce the Optimum and California-style swimbait techniques. Then, in April 2003, a Japanese big bass hunter named Ka- zuya Shimada caught a staggering 19.15 lb. monster in Lake Ikehara on the Optimum Heavy Cover Double Spin Swimbait, a record that is only now being challenged by this year’s world record contender caught in Japan’s Lake Biwa by Manabu Kurita. Sud- denly big baits were big business. Shimada’s technique was innovative as well, using a 1 oz. weight for a heavy drop shot. For those of you taking notes for future Japanese explorations, that was the 4” size in a chartreuse and blue color combo. The record brought new light to the Optimum line, particu- larly the Double Spin bait, which had been underestimated. It also raised awareness of the richness of Japan’s waters for big bait fishing, and back in the US, American anglers were taking note of the country’s bait selection. Matt found that he was now able to gain access and introductions within to the notoriously exclusive Japanese tackle industry, and importantly, to the tack- le shows. Although bass live in dozens of countries worldwide, Japan is the only other major market developing lures, and the tackle shows are legendary. “Absolutely nothing compares to the Japanese shows,” he says. The two big annual tackle shows are open to the public and attract crowds of as many as 40,000 anglers in three days, and make headlines in the press. When he returned to his home waters in California, he brought with him an extensive knowledge of Japanese tackle, and ideas for more lures of his own. Since then the company has expanded, with over 15 new designs, as well as an exclusive
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