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Mike Jones - KEEPING UP

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Tuesday, May 07, 2019
It’s all in the stars


The Sad Truth
Wanting to believe is a powerful thing. It can become an insidious thing when you mix in celebrity, money and dreams.

If you haven’t seen the Mike Long video and read the accompanying in-depth story on SDFish.com, you should. The smoking gun that somehow escaped the rest of us all these years has finally shown up. You see, a lot of us knew exactly what was going on. Fortunately, I was one of the lucky ones.


Very early in my outdoor writing career, I nearly got burned by another big bass derelict. Thankfully, this guy got cited for having trout in his livewell before I had a chance to write anything. Quite frankly, my professional life in fishing might have ended before it had ever begun. From that moment on, I distanced myself from these characters unless I had compelling evidence as to their credentials. In some respects, it wasn’t fair. Case in point, I truly regret not connecting with Bill Murphy until late in his career and life.


Even so, being a skeptic served me well. I became a reporter who covered just about every world record claim and big bass incident and, in most cases, came away with the same reaction. “Huh?”


Invariably, somewhere in these stories, there was always something that violated what anyone would expect a normal human being to do. Why did you release the fish? Why didn’t you contact the lake manager or Fish and Game? Why did you weigh it on a bathroom scale? Why? Why? Why?


When you spend two-and-a-half hours in a movie theatre, the director is trying to maintain the concept of “willing suspension of disbelief.”


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Obviously, you know you’re in a cinema and the lights being flashed on the screen present a world that doesn’t really exist. As long as the story keeps you in this altered state, it works.


However, if something in the film challenges how you expect a character to react or how a scenario plays out, the effort fails. This is exactly how I felt listening to the accounts of so many record catches. There was always something that didn’t quite ring true.


For those without my ingrained distrust or backstory details, it becomes a whole lot easier to accept a big fish picture and the story that goes along with it.


Especially when you’re seeing the same photo in every outdoor magazine across the country.


To my way of thinking, there was only one thing to do. In fact, it was the only thing I could do and that was to ignore them. If it was publicity they wanted, it wouldn’t come from me. The only problem is that big bass catches had gone national and, no matter how much I warned other writers — not everyone had grown up here — a lot didn’t have enough bass fishing experience to recognize the discrepancies and others simply had to bend to the pressure from editors who wanted that big bass on their magazine covers.


There were other problems too, sticky little things like libel and defamation of character. Unless the story was so in­expertly expressed and the lies so obvious that everyone backed away from the story, there was little else to do. Fishermen wanted to believe, some lakes wanted to promote their fisheries and no one actually had the kind of proof necessary to kill the big lie. That is, until now.


In a concisely documented and superbly written account, Kellen Ellis of SDFish.com has put together a compelling chronology supported by first-hand accounts, quotes and photo­graphic evidence of Mike Long’s undeniably bizarre behavior and sometimes laughable attempts at maintaining an image of big bass guru. In retrospect, they are only mildly humorous and only from the perspective of a very dark and sinister comedy. Like so many others, Ellis is quick to admit that he was taken in by Long and knew, better than anyone, that nothing short of video proof would turn the tide. In that effort, he has succeeded.


When I first heard that a snagging video existed, I couldn’t help but think this would be yet another well-meaning, doomed-for-failure attempt at bringing a bass scoundrel to justice. After all, if it only depicted a series of swings and misses without close-ups of a treble hook gaffing rig, what would be the point? Ellis proved my fears to be unjustified. He got all of that and more. Cloaked in full camouflage and hidden in the brush for days, Ellis documented scenes that were as blood-boiling as they were sad.


To me, the precise and almost robotic way Long went about his business made the process seem well-rehearsed and clinical. It also appeared to be completely joyless. Fish were brought over the side and photographed without wasting a single motion. This was a brutally efficient, step-by-step routine, the precision of which leaving little doubt as to how frequently it had been repeated in the past. Only when Long held the camera up for an Instagram photo did he display any emotion. Online, the photos showed a happy fisherman. In the video, his grins were chilling.


Mike Long, of course, is the one who finally got caught. Still, there are plenty of others who will forever drift in the shadows where only rumors remain. The difference is that other bass violators were more like street thugs who found victims of opportunity, while Long seems hardwired to the life. Even after an early brush with lake biologist Larry Bottroff, who knew a San Vicente catfish when he saw one, Long put another mark on his bass fishing rap sheet when he later tried to pass off a bright green, trout-fed, fat-bellied largemouth at Lake Sutherland. Long apparently did the same thing with photographs, lake record catches, tournament subterfuge, Big Bass Record Club claims and tales of stocking a mystery pond. In the face of growing distrust, outright disdain and even banishment from tournament circuits, there was never any recognition that the end might be near. He never backed off. If you were innocent, it seems you would at least try to appear above board. If you were guilty, one would consider it imperative. Not so with Mr. Long.


And this is where the story veers out of the fishing lane. A lot of people got fooled, a lot of people got cheated and a lot of people should be feeling pangs of guilt for having enabled Mike Long to promote their own personal and business agendas.


The most despicable of this group were the pack of bass fishing hyenas who were Mike Long camp followers, anglers who learned their trade at the knee of the master. No different than any other gang of social misfits, they undermined the very ethics of sportfishing and did so in a place that truly belied this darker side.


Sunny San Diego? While there were scores of misdeeds being committed farther north, the mean streets of Los Angeles always seemed to be a more likely setting. On that point, I was completely wrong, for nowhere did any area of the country produce more bass criminals or a lower breed of miscreant than San Diego. And, even in light of such damning evidence as that compiled by Kellen Ellis, I doubt if we’ve heard the last from Long’s stormtroopers.


But let’s at least hope this is the last we hear from — or of —Mike Long. Once again, this is what I consider to be the worst punishment. Watch the video again. Get mad again and, if you lost some money in a long ago tournament, take an extra moment in staying mad. Then, really pay attention to that video. What you will see is a pitiful man who probably needs whatever pity we may have left.


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