Mike Jones - KEEPING UP

A native southern Californian, Mike began his outdoor writing career nearly four decades ago at Western Outdoor News. As a young man, he split his time between wingshooting, fly fishing and local saltwater action before eventually becoming a national voice in professional bass fishing. Along with a couple of books, Mike’s articles and photographs have appeared in nearly every major outdoor publication including BassMaster, Outdoor Life and In-Fisherman. His experience in the fishing industry spans the gamut from writer/photographer to consultant to sport show promoter. “I’ve never had what I would call a real job and I’m so thankful for it.”
It’s all in the stars
In a world where internet shopping dominates, we have become a legion of reviewers and review readers. It doesn’t matter if we’re searching for fishing equipment or not, it is increasingly rare to find a product that hasn’t been reviewed. Nor should it come as any surprise since the review process seems so simple and democratic.

With just a single click, the implied promise is that you can figure out why something got all those stars or why it didn’t… at least that’s the idea. However, for anyone with reasonable expectations, one’s sights should be set lower. Expect reviews to offer a general understanding of why people gave the stars, which is not to be confused with an actual understanding of why they gave the stars.

For someone who has spent a portion of their career evaluating the pluses and minuses of everything from big-ticket items like boats to the smallest implements of terminal tackle, I’m aware of the pitfalls. No matter how dispassionate you may envision yourself, personal prejudices have a nasty way of creeping into those words. In an effort to tamp down my own bias, I have always followed the mantra of never writing when I’m too pissed off or when I’m too happy because, either way, it’s going to show.

Admittedly, there are times when your emotions can fuel your words and make them better. But, that’s not the point. The value of a review is not so much in what is being said as how it is being said. Often, the delivery of the message is what gets people to really pay attention. But, if the message comes with no substance, the effort can fall flat.

The best example of this can be seen in one of the most popular review sites which, in my opinion, is also one of the least helpful. For all of the attention Yelp receives from restaurant owners and restaurant customers, much of what goes on here oozes with pure subjectivity. Don’t know about you, but I’ve spent more than a few meals hearing my companions rave over their entrées while I’m staring down at a tough ribeye. Clearly, here is a review site where the sizzle means more than the steak.

When it comes to our fishing tackle, there is much more at stake (pun intended). For most of us, the days are pretty much over when an outdoor writer or professional angler held sway in cementing our buying decisions. Now, you can breeze through a hundred reviews from verified buyers at the very instant before clicking on the Add to Cart button. It’s a powerful and often frustrating experience.

Since I’m the kind of guy who wants to hear the bad news first, I always start at the one-star reviews and work my way up, especially when something is getting mostly fours and fives. If for no other reason, I want to know how someone can have such a negative experience while everyone else is seeing sunshine and daffodils. Usually, but not always, I find a big bag of nothing. Without specifics and a reasonable argument, the one-stars can be easily written off. Then again, so can a lot of the fives and for the very same reason: no specifics.

While it’s nice to know you’re satisfied with a purchase, an “Everything I expected” or “Just got it, well-packaged” doesn’t cut it. If it happens to be a lure, I’m pleased to hear it caught fish, but give me a little more. What size did you order? Did it work well right out of the box? Were the hooks any good? How does it compare to other brands in this category? I don’t need a mini-novel in response since that makes me think you’re a serial reviewer, someone more interested in becoming an online influencer than a real fisherman trying to help a brother out.

The result is I’m forced to scroll through a litany of useless reviews to hopefully find one or two with something of merit. This is particularly important when the item in question demands sizing information. Shirts, jackets, waders, boots, gloves and headwear all require a smidgeon of information that goes beyond the handy size chart from the manufacturer. When I see, “These shirts tend to run a little small so go up one size,” I want to reach through the computer screen and strangle Bob from Kalamazoo. How big are you Bob? Height, weight, overall build?

Recognizing the compulsion in people to have their say and desperately wanting to quantify it, there is a voracious corporate interest in surveys and reviews. That’s why you often receive a survey following an online purchase. Sometimes it hits your inbox before you actually get the merchandise. More often than not, the survey is generated by a survey company with the sole purpose of constructing a series of questions that compel you to answer in the always annoying multiple choice format. If there is a box for comments, it’s usually at the end of the survey and I generally consider this to be a marketing black hole where your words go to die. Even after writing what I have considered to be remarkably compelling arguments, never have I gotten a response from a customer service representative.

In this age of social media where fleeting thoughts can be broadcast in a few clicks and forgotten just as quickly, the expectation of having others make your decision for you is — as it should be — a fool’s mission. It’s especially foolhardy when it comes to something as important as your fishing tackle. So, if you choose not to give reviews, I completely understand. Unfortunately, you are most likely the exact person who should be giving them. It may be pure speculation but I’m guessing you’ve given more thought to not writing a review as those who have actually written them.

* * *

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.

Picking your poison
The earth orbits around the sun just as my life has always revolved around fishing. And yes, I know I’m preaching to the choir. It’s what we do. It’s who we are. But if you take a moment — as I have — to really evaluate how much of our life is predicated upon this unique obsession, one that drives us through all manner of deprivation, economic and emotional hardship, it is a little breathtaking.

Granted, there are times we stand out in the rain or endure blistering heat for reasons other than fishing, but they tend to be singular events — a football game in late November or a family barbecue in mid-July. Those are the things in life that just happen. With fishing, we plan for them, we run to them, we welcome them with gleeful abandon. If we have to wear sunscreen masks that make us look like angling terrorists, so be it. If we have to don a suit more reminiscent of a Hazmat technician or deep-space explorer, no problem.

We relish the entire process of preparing for such eventualities if for no other reason than being able to rag on our fishing buddy.

“Hey, dude, I told you to buy the Fish Boss 5000 jacket with Gore-Tex Weather Killer Supreme membrane and monsoon-stopping technology.”

Or, the ever snarky and popular, “Yeah, extra horsepower would come in handy right now.”

So how is it we know all this stuff? It’s because we no longer fear the H-word. When it comes to fishing, we will readily violate our now-ancient pledge to, at all costs, avoid homework. Now it is cost be damned if that’s all there is standing between us and the perfect fast-taper rod. Moreover, the research we do has become part of the adventure, no longer a task to be dreaded.

In my case, this mental exercise of picking my poison has affected how I view certain other outdoor pursuits. Although hiking has a rich heritage passed down from countless generations, for the life of me, I can’t fathom why anyone would participate in this pointless activity. When backpacking took the concept to a more complicated and expensive level in the 1970s, my college friends couldn’t comprehend why anyone so invested in the outdoor lifestyle would balk. Get a pack, they would say. Then don’t forget the sleeping bag, foam mat, freeze-dried food, tiny stove and 47 other micro-sized items and let’s clank up a mountain together.

Every time they asked, I responded with the same question: “Is there a lake, river or stream where you’re headed, one that has fish in it?” Almost always, the answer was no. It seems that hikers are forever going somewhere without any real intention of going anywhere. In the rare instance when I received a positive response, it generally came with caveats. As if to sweeten the offer, they might add how the hiking crew would most assuredly be walking past lakes, rivers and streams that held fish. To me, this was utter blasphemy. Who, in their right mind, would do that? It was the literal interpretation of bait-and-switch and eventually the exchange would devolve into remarks questioning my physical abilities.

“Well, if you can’t keep up, we understand.”

Right there, I knew they had no idea just who they were dealing with. I am a fisherman. Put a rod in my hand, point me in the direction of a fish and I am capable of walking farther and faster than any Forrest Gump. And, I would be carrying tackle, lots of tackle.

I have the same attitude when it comes to non-outdoor activities that many people apparently enjoy. For instance, I’m not a Sunday drive kind of guy. Driving just to feel the wind rush through the remaining amount of hair I possess is not high on my weekend or weekday to-do lists. Never has been. That said, I couldn’t even hazard a guess as to how many miles I’ve traveled in fishing-related endeavors. If there was a platinum club for highway milers, I’d like to think I could get access to the lounge. I could also get combat pay since most of those miles were spent pulling a boat, which pushes the complexity and pain index to a level even inveterate backpackers might not accept.

Perhaps even more confusing to hikers is that serious fishermen will suffer all of these indignities without any guarantee of success. At least hiking delivers most, if not all, of its expected rewards, marking the precise location where our trails and perspectives go in different directions. To me, a fisherman gets to revel in the same vistas, sounds and smells of the outdoor experience with the added benefit of figuring out how to catch a fish.

Recently, I was talking with a friend in northern California, someone equally talented with flyfishing and conventional gear, who found himself on a beautiful river where the steelhead were biting. There was only one problem. The steelhead obviously preferred a spoon over a fly. Unapolo­getically, he told me how he whacked them with a spinning rod and a spoon, a choice most flyfishermen – purist or otherwise — would have never considered.

Clearly, the poison we pick isn’t always the same. Even so, I can’t help but think of my first reaction when someone tells me they had a great day on the water.

“Oh really. How many did you catch?” I will inquire.

“I didn’t catch a thing, but I still had a good day,” they respond, most likely with the politically correct glow that comes with having said something that would never come out of my mouth.

As much as I’d like to agree to avoid hurt feelings, I seem to always end the conversation by saying the exact same thing:

“Yeah, but you would’ve had an even better time if you’d caught something.”

* * *

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.

As Seen On TV
Like you, I watch fishing on television. Most of the time, I do so with casual interest, hoping to find a small nugget I can file for future reference. If I really learn something, I consider that a bonus. What I don’t like to do is unlearn something.

The problem — as I see it — is that even professionals can have bad habits. Or, they ascribe to some of the same balderdash we often do. To be clear, I’m not referring to strategy or lure choices or any of the mental gymnastics required of a cast-for-cash fisherman. No, I’m talking about mechanics. You know, the muscle-memory basics of putting a fish in the boat; the stuff we no longer have to consciously think about.

Of all the transgressions at an angler’s fingertips, the one you would assume professionals have overcome are those committed right at the boat. I mean exactly at the location where one would expect every fiber of their being and every second of their experience to be used with absolute precision. Yet, over the last two decades or so, this is where most of the experimentation has taken place.

I’m not sure of the exact chronology, but a sea change in landing technique sent a wave of pros running back to the driver’s console where, among a veritable parts list of potential trouble spots including power shifter, electronics, windshield and steering wheel, they collectively decided this was the most effective place to cradle and land a fish. Closer to the water, alright, fair enough. But also in a seated position, which pretty much makes this decision a full-commit proposition. If something does go terribly wrong, getting back up and back into the fight — particularly if one is encumbered by a heavy jacket or rain gear — throws up some huge question marks. Strategi­cally imaginative or tactically insane?

If you believe in coincidences (which I do not), this penchant for landing fish in perhaps the most congested area of the boat magically coincided with another questionable activity. At more or less the same time, it became fashionable to scramble around the boat dodging cameramen and other less mobile objects in completing the process. In a professional sport where the participants are constantly alluding to eliminating mistakes, making good decisions and streamlining their performances, I can’t see how any of this bass boat ballet (my apologies to ballerinas everywhere) even remotely checked any of those boxes.

Does the need ever arise for doing something crazy? Of course it does. The very nature of fishing sometimes puts us in situations where one needs to be creative. But, unless you are constantly out of position and always fishing in areas resembling the apocalyptic world of a Mad Max movie, it is usually the exception, not the rule. It is even less the rule — or should be — for anyone fishing out of an $85,000 bass boat. I sometimes wonder what their troll­ing motor sponsors are thinking. “What?” Our motor wasn’t working?”

And, while we’re on the subject of bigger fish, may I offer my humble professional opinion? In a career largely predicated on catching bigger fish, I can say with absolute certainty that among the options available to an angler in subduing a mammoth fish, running around the boat should not be your first instinct. Remaining under control should be. Remember, every movement of your rod is just as important after the hookset as it is before.

Modern fishing rods are responsive, powerful and ridiculously lightweight, producing maximum output from minimum input. Coupled with low-stretch braid and fluorocarbon, the fish knows what you’re trying to do. If you’re under duress or in tight quarters, there’s pretty much no other choice than putting the wood to them. But, in the vast majority of big fish encounters, the key is in leading them to the boat, not forcing them. With larger specimens, there is a premium on being counterintuitive. Rod movements should be smooth and purposeful, done calmly and without violent or sudden changes in angle or force. This, of course, rules out what is commonly called crossing over.

Crossing over the rod is a rather self-descriptive phrase in that it describes the rapid movement of the rod from one side to the other which, up until a few decades ago, identified an angler as someone lacking in basic fish-fighting skills. Then, somehow, it became a thing, one adopted by crankbait fishermen who considered this risky maneuver a worthwhile risk in attempting to get a better hookset.

So, let’s follow the logic here: You work hard to catch a fish. You hook one. Then, at the most critical juncture of the fish-fighting process, you swing your rod violently across the compass in hopes of affecting a more positive hookset? Pardon me if I pause for a moment to slip on my hip boots. While I have been fortunate enough to share the boat with a veritable Who’s Who of great anglers, I have never seen this technique work with any degree of consistency — in real life, or on tele­vision — that would entice me to include it in my personal skill set. Yet, the practice persists nearly every weekend on a cable channel near you.

Just why anyone would adopt techniques where the downside leads underground and the upside could barely peek over a blade of grass is beyond me. Math was never my strength but I do understand percentages. What I’m probably overlooking is the power of the television camera. It makes people do strange things. It also makes the people who watch these strange things do them. Don’t.

* * *

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.

Dollars and Sense
Lately, I’ve thought about fishing licenses. It began over a month ago when, in my rejuvenated interest for surf fishing, I found myself knee-deep at Newport Beach. The sand was nearly deserted and, quite frankly, my only reason for being there was to try out some new tackle.

At first, I didn’t see the two SUVs pull up behind me. They were not carrying lifeguards or game wardens, but uniformed officers of Newport Beach’s finest.

“Can we see your fishing license?” one policeman asked cordially.

To say I was dumbstruck would be an understatement. Admittedly, I have only been checked a handful of times in a career that should have at least quadrupled that number, but never has the interaction been with a city cop.

As I fumbled for my license, I couldn’t help but ask the question, “You guys can do this?”

Quite politely, he assured me they could. Turns out he was an animal control officer.

So, I asked the next question that seemed to be begging for an answer. “These animals, too?” I said, gesturing towards the water. Again, he answered in the affirmative.

Thinking I had somehow overlooked a whole new dynamic of the modern angling era, I asked around. From surf to salt to freshwater fishermen — including a game warden — I asked if I had missed something. They all offered one of two responses: Either they had never heard of it or it was rare. What this effort did do was remind me that my habit of buying a license was based on the resolutions I made every New Year’s Day: (1) Never do again what I did the night before. (2) Watch the Rose Bowl game. And (3) Get a new license.

It seemed pretty simple, that is, until the idea of having a license valid from the date of purchase rather than calendar-based became the fascination of legislators in various states across the country. On the surface, it looks like a no-brainer. Right there, I start worrying. When someone asks, “What fisherman wouldn’t be for this?” I’m the one raising both arms with upturned palms in the universal sign of “I’m not sure.”

Ask yourself this one: Why would anyone be against the state lottery? They asked us all that question back in 1984 and only those willing to risk the “anti-school” label had much to say. So where’s all that money? Why are teachers still striking and buying their own classroom supplies at Costco? Much of the rhetoric associated with this 365-day license proposal is disturbingly familiar in a legislative, happy talk kind of way. Modernize the system. Make fishing more accessible. Support communities reliant on outdoor activity and tourism. Provide more funds for critical state and conservation programs.

Perhaps it is all true, but I doubt it. If you want the licensing law to be changed for your personal convenience, then you probably won’t be disappointed. But if you’re expecting a torrent of cash to help the resource or even a significant uptick in license sales, I think you need to touch bases with reality. There are a lot of other economic and cultural reasons why license sales have flagged in recent years and none of them have anything to do with the price of a license. It’s the price of everything else. It’s changing demographics to gas prices to video games to parenting issues to real estate to whatever else you want to name that has moved people away from the outdoors. Yet, the authors and sponsors of Assembly Bill 1387 want to boil it down to the bogeyman of license prices.

To me, anyone who uses the price of a fishing license as a reason for not fishing has failed to assess the buy-in price of most any other outdoor activity. Granted, I’m a true believer but the cost of a license has never been anywhere on my list of deterrents. Yes, I’m aware that some residents and non-residents alike don’t share my degree of passion and view the prospect of buying a license in September distasteful. My less accepting reaction is that I will stay out of your bike lanes and avoid clogging your jogging paths because I choose not to invest in shoes or bikes or whatever else is necessary to sample your world. If you see me on a hiking path I will have a rod in hand and be heading for someplace where fish can be caught. For that, I apologize.

Sorry, access to the resource given to you by the price of a license doesn’t make allowances for your schedule. It’s there 365 days a year, 24/7, demanding our support as sportsmen. Perhaps the money for drop-in users will help feed that kitty. Perhaps not, and therein lies the dilemma. What are the unintended consequences, the things that no survey or marketing study has ever been effective in nailing down? Some might call them collateral damages. Will the shift to 365-day licenses create more administrative and enforcement costs and will the expected avalanche of additional money be directly funded to worthwhile programs? The sad truth is that unless we do it, we can’t and won’t know.

A heart-tugging refrain of the 365-day license song is that it will somehow increase participation. If this is the goal, why not provide a family discount whereby any parent, guardian or mentor when accompanied by a child under the age of 16, one with a fishing rod in their hand, can buy a license at a reduced price? Too complicated? Well then, let’s try to un­ravel this cultural knot and encourage parents unwilling to pay for a license to sit on shore and watch their minor child fish for free.

But, no matter how hard I try, I can’t completely oppose AB1387. You need a license and, as I discovered, you never know who is watching. For those who can’t seem to distance themselves from a cell phone, being able to prove your license purchase via a handy online app does make sense. After all, if you can board an airplane with an app, you should be able to display a fishing license.

Even so, when I listen to how wonderful and utopian something sounds, I remember what my parents and your parents told all of us. “When something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.”

* * *

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.

Snap, crackle, text
Not long ago, I went on something of a rant about cellphones. It related more to the audio portion of the program, specifically how they distract us from the true experience of catching fish. However, as for the cellphone’s photographic capability, I’m all for it.

Having toted a camera around for most of my adult life to the point where it seemed like more of an appendage than a tool, the last thing I ever wanted to do was take photos in my spare time. Oh, how a cellphone could have helped negotiate some tricky personal quagmires. What do you say to the new girlfriend who volunteers you as party photographer? Or someone who begs you to shoot their wedding? I once fell for that teary request and not long thereafter ended my wedding photography career at exactly one. If you’ve ever hired one of these poor souls, trust me, whatever you paid them wasn’t enough. 

A PHOTO OF George Perry showing a very large bass, but perhaps not the (22-4) bass.

Of course, no one, certainly not me, saw the wireless locomotive headed our way. Who knew how a little camera in everyone’s pocket could be so addictive? If I never have to witness another plate of food being photographed at a restaurant, I will die a happy man. Or, if I never get pulled into some semi-meaningless group shot for immediate release on Instagram, hallelujah!

Still, in all fairness, there has been a tremendous upside to cellphone cameras. When it comes to non-fishing situations, nothing has quite surpassed its effect on the frequency of Bigfoot, Yeti and UFO sightings. Once everyone acquired a mobile phone, it seemed as if alien encounters all but disappeared. Coincidence? With Sherpas and end-of-the-roaders alike embracing digital technology, Sasquatch, the Snowman and E.T. apparently got the message.

In the world of fishing, there has also been a cellular awakening, specifically in how a certain portion of the angling fraternity has begrudgingly embraced the concept of honesty. For years, I was the guy who got the assignment to track down, interview and report back on the latest claim of a largemouth world record. Most of them happened out here in California, so almost by default, I became rather proficient at interviewing people who had a big story to tell.

When George Perry’s 22-4 was still the record, the pursuit of this mythic standard — one I admired for what it brought to the sport but never quite believed in — took on a somewhat sinister tone. There were fishermen who wanted the record so desperately, they would do almost anything to get it. And, some did.

In nearly every case, the record claim fell apart quickly if for no other reason than the story just didn’t add up. Invariably the tale would come to a point where I would ask myself, “Is this what the average person would do?”

Would you not start yelling to the high heavens and corral the closest person, as soon as humanly possible, to serve as witness to your good fortune? Would you not try to get it to the nearest certified scale? Would you not call fish and game? Would you not take a picture?

As much as most of these questions seem to have obvious answers, those recounting their world record experiences often said something different. They veered from the path of credibility onto a winding switchback where the only ones who considered their actions sensible and above reproach were them. However, of all the answers given, the one that didn’t immediately raise a red flag concerned photographs. In those days, you could be forgiven for not having a camera. Not anymore.

Today, it would be laughable to use not having a phone as an excuse. Even the most trusting souls would be suspicious. If the event didn’t occur in Antarctica or Outer Mongolia, we expect photographic evidence. In fact, when there isn’t a photo or video of something, we’re surprised - really surprised.

While big fish eras seem to be cyclical, dependent on a host of interlacing conditions, you can’t help but wonder if the digital age didn’t have at least a little to do with the drop-off in record claims. Before cellphones, the stories evolved. Now, they’re instantaneous. And, no one back then was worried if someone else had a camera, one that could offer irrefutable proof of what actually transpired. The guys with the big catches weren’t concerned about the random video that might show their boat trailer in another parking lot at another lake when they were supposed to be catching the record fish somewhere else. Honestly, I’m not a conspiracy theorist guy. I tend to believe that when the answer to the mystery is finally uncovered, it will probably be the simple one. To me, cellphones are the simple answer.

My mom always told me, “Locks are there to keep honest people honest.” I think she was right. Given the opportunity — and with a gentle nudge — most of us will do the right thing. That said, the cameras on our cellphones have exposed some less than savory parts to our personalities. Like you, when I catch a nice fish and know my friends are stuck at work, I can’t help myself. I snap a picture, crackle out a snarky comment and pop goes the text message with photo attached: Wish you were here.

* * *

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website wonews.com. Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.

Page 1 of 7 First | Previous | Next | Last

Luna Sea Sports Ad
Advertise with Western Outdoor News