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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.”
These days, the word “leak” as it applies to the press sometimes has negative connotations. Leaking information, to some, carries with it a vague sense of disloyalty. I choose to think differently. Granted, there can be a dark side to the process, especially when the goal is to hide the corruption, not expose it. But, the danger comes when leaks are all lumped into the same category.

Like it or not, decisions about the outdoors are often made without our direct participation. By the time we hear about something important to our world, it can be too late. The power brokers in government or business have already made the deal and outdoorsmen are the last to hear the news. Enter the leaker…

Having been on the receiving end of leaks, I can tell you from personal experience, it is not something to be taken lightly. Without solid information about the source, more specifically about their motives, this can be a very slippery slope. No responsible writer wants to risk their reputation and possibly their livelihood on the word of someone else. You have to be very careful.

Complicating matters even more, you’re dealing with some very smart and very well-connected people who also expect you to respond professionally. A good chunk of them are lawyers. This is the profession that has spawned as many jokes as politicians, who, to a large degree, often began their careers as litigators. Like you, I’ve heard most of them. What do you call ten lawyers at the bottom of a pool? (A good start) Why won’t sharks attack attorneys? (professional courtesy) The list goes on.

Of the people who have fed me information over the years, two of my most productive relationships were with lawyers. Patrick J. Marley was one of them. On the bass fishing side, he was my conduit. A funny and flamboyant firebrand, Pat loved fishing as much as he enjoyed doing the right thing, which, most of the time, was pro bono. In legalese that means for free. Unknown to most anglers, Marley was the velvet hammer that got things done whether it was exposing water department misdeeds or fish and game shenanigans. And, if it required going a little back-channel, he didn’t hesitate. That’s where I came in.

To understand the process, you have to first understand government and big business. To these entities, the threat of legal action only goes so far. They’ve got plenty of attorneys on their payroll and politicians in their pockets. In many cases, the playing field is tipped in their favor. They can outlast you and they can out-spend you. But, combine the specter of legal recourse with public outcry and the game changes. The powerbrokers can throw wrenches into the legal process, but quashing public opinion is something else.

In the early stages of any issue, it seemed as though Pat would bring a knife to the knife fight. Without bullying, he wanted to give people the opportunity to act responsibly. It was the classic Teddy Roosevelt “speak softly and carry a big stick” situation. If that failed, he brought out the howitzers.

My role in these dramas was calling the necessary office or department armed with some sensitive facts and then act clueless just long enough for someone to tell me something contrary to what I knew to be true. Then, I would politely ask for a “clarification.” In doing so, I would use words or references alerting them to the fact that I was in on the game. Strangely enough, they rarely disputed my assertion. In most cases, there would be a pregnant pause at the other end of the line as they began passing the buck up to their superior. As much as I would have liked for the boss to come clean, they never did. But they knew we were on to them. Whether it was a British Petroleum spill off the coast or a Department of Water Resources attempt at draining Silverwood Lake without mitigation to the fishery, they knew Pat Marley was a capable adversary.

Equally capable and equally irascible was another attorney, Barret McInerney. Just as driven as Marley and just as dedicated to the good fight, I came across Barrett’s radar in 1984, not long after local fly fishing legend, Dick Dahlgren, had discovered trout in Rush Creek. After El Nino storms had sent the water over the dam at Grant Lake, reinvigorating a stream that had been dried up by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) in 1941, McInerney became the legal pit bull dedicated to maintaining the flows, revitalizing Rush Creek and saving Mono Lake in the process. Compared to Dahlgren and McInerney, I was a bit player in this scenario, but a willing one.

At the time, what I knew of the DWP was probably the result of the 1974 movie, “Chinatown.” It didn’t take long to figure out that, for once, the Hollywood version was not an exaggeration. Water companies only care about water and the money that flows from it. If some deception is required, so be it. In my experience, their media representatives often had a very tenuous relationship with the truth. In the case of Rush Creek, McInerney and Dahlgren did the unthinkable: They crushed a behemoth. To me, they are folk heroes.

From Marley and McInerney, I learned lessons that served me well in other battles to come. When Diamond Valley Reservoir was being proposed, the language being put forth by Metropolitan Water was not foreign to me. Nor was it to the angling public. By then, we all knew the game being played. As much as Metropolitan may have wanted to keep fishermen off their water-storage facility, it was too big and too visible to be treated like a Lake Mathews. Not to mention the fish swimming in the lake and the professionals charged with their care were both being paid for by us.

So the next time you hear the word “leak,” don’t think the worst. When the powers that be would rather keep you in the dark, remember what McInerney said – “The one thing those people don’t like is sunlight.”

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We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website 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.

Westward Ho!
This is the time of year when everyone feels the need to represent their home team wherever home may be. It makes sense, after all, home is where we grew up, it’s what we know to be true. I’m proud to be from the West and certainly enjoy a spirited conversation when the spirit involved is based on fact, not something else.

Sports can bring out the worst in these discussions or the best if the participants have any grasp of history. The history in question can be a day, week, year, decade or generation old. It doesn’t matter unless the history is either ignored or skewed for purposes of argument. While politicians can get away with alternative facts, fishermen cannot. The fish will tell you otherwise. Had a great day on the water? Okay, now repeat it, over and over and over until others take note. If they start duplicating what you started, color yourself a trendsetter.

So, what if you were the first to do a certain thing? To create something or modify it or simply showcase it? What if you changed how fishermen fished? I would call that special. It’s what qualifies you for hall of fame status. However, in an era where fame can mean a lot of things other than greatness or excellence or genius, I have a problem with these halls because they sometimes reflect celebrity more than contribution.

What can be lost on these career rewards programs is that people who may be a little cantankerous, opinionated or resistant of the group dynamic are often overlooked. And, it certainly doesn’t help if the person in question did his or her work a thousand or more miles away from the opinion makers which, for westerners, means towards the setting sun.

For example, freshwater bass anglers and pioneers from the West generally have to contribute something so overwhelming in scope or longevity to be considered. Dee Thomas has been inducted into the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame and for obvious good reason. He gift-wrapped his flippin’ technique to the good ’ol boys at a time when bass fishing was beginning to hit its stride.

Dave Myers, the tech guru largely responsible for the collapsible rod design, however, was not included.

Nor was Dave Gliebe, perhaps the most enigmatic and accomplished bass angler of his or any other era, a name likely to be lost to the scrap heap of time.

Obviously, some are easier to overlook than others, especially when a sport like bass fishing has always been promoted from a southern perspective.

Case in point would be Bobby Garland. Although born a southerner in Arkansas, Garland eventually moved west and began his lure-making legacy. If he had stopped with his tube-like Mini-Jig for crappie, Garland could have found angling immortality by that alone. Instead, it merely served as a launching pad for a bass lure that, by the mere mention of its name, carbon dates any western fisherman. If you say you caught them on Gitzits, there’s some gray on your temples. To a younger generation, it’s a tube bait.

As the story goes, Guido Hibdon fished with Garland at the U.S. Open in 1983 and headed back east. Soon thereafter, his tournament exploits, along with those of Shaw Grigsby, took what we knew to be a Gitzit and turned it into a generic tube jig.

I considered Guido a friend and still count Shaw among that group, confident they both would point to Bobby Garland as their inspiration.

Trouble is, a lot of other people, wouldn’t. Even more disturbing is that whomever is responsible for bestowing these lifetime achievement awards are often members in good standing of The Church of What’s Happening Now. In addition to appearing historically tone-deaf, business, friendship, politics and yes, regional bias, also seems to be part of the program.

To me, Bobby Garland would be an obvious choice. Others like San Diego’s Bill Murphy require more dedication to the cause of history. Granted, this big bass savant was no promoter, in fact, some might say he was just the opposite.

At a time and in a place littered with big bass liars and scoundrels, Murphy kept to himself. By the time Murphy’s accomplishments and insights became public, he had already been overshadowed by the likes of Glen Lau and Doug Hannon despite having done his research in the deeper, heavily pressured waters of southern California, not the clear and shallow backwaters of a bygone Florida.

While Murphy didn’t make it easy for a national audience to appreciate his contributions, those in the San Diego area have little excuse for ignoring one of their own. Except, of course, that shortly before his death in 2004, he made it clear he wanted no posthumous recognition from people who didn’t embrace him in life. So far, he’s gotten his wish.

Others who have been ignored are tougher to explain. Despite being what some might call a lovable curmudgeon, Don Iovino was also as ferocious a tournament competitor as he was a tireless promoter of finesse fishing, most notably his vertical “doodling” technique. While others focused on big baits and Castaic fame, Iovino set about pioneering what morphed into a radically new bass fishing discipline, one that fueled a market for finesse rods, reels, accessories and terminal tackle. From shaky heads to drop-shot rigs, much of the finesse DNA can be traced back to Iovino. And, meaning no disrespect to the likes of an Aaron Martens, anyone who has benefited from finesse is standing on the shoulders of guys like the Godfather. Or Bill Murphy. Or Bobby Garland.

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We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website 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.

The weather on Baja’s East Cape was perfect. Maybe too perfect. The wind was perhaps a little too calm, the sun a tad too bright. Other than prospects for an occasional tuna or dorado, our hopes of a marlin were becoming bleaker by the minute. The relentless drone of the boat’s engine coupled with the steady froth from teasers and lures only added to the treacherous lullaby that can put fishermen to sleep.

Then, without warning, a solitary fin appeared. Other skippers, desperate for anything to rally their troops, saw the same thing. On cue, tuna towers began heeling over as every boat began turning in chaotic arcs to intercept the lone marlin. As the big fish breezed by our baits without the slightest deviation, our disappointment soon changed to mild amusement as the fin continued, undeterred, on a straight line through the fleet. With a boat reserved only for the morning hours, we were all but done.

Clinging to what little time we had left, we began lazily drifting away from the fleet, fly-lining some live bait. Off to my right, a marlin suddenly broke the surface, free jumping on a parallel course. My hand became a blur as I spun the reel handle, water-skiing the mackerel back in for a cast into the kill zone. Incredibly, the marlin kept jumping and I kept reeling.

“Look!” my partner shouted. “Look!”

With my head cocked hard to the right, eyes on the prize, I answered with an irritated shriek, “I am looking!”

The next thing I felt was a hand over each ear, physically turning my head astern. There I saw the bill of another marlin slashing up and down as it tried vainly to grab my bait. In the next instant, all that remained was an indistinct swirl. It only took a few more cranks to see what was left — a bluish fish pancake with eyes pointed skywards as if pleading, “What just happened?”

The species and the place may vary, but nearly every fisherman has experienced something very, very similar. Let your guard down, give in to distractions and the moment will forever be burned into your memory. Whether you call it “being in the moment” or prefer the more Zen-like term of “mindfulness” to describe the phenomenon, you’re saying the same thing. As much as this mindfulness is an integral part of fishing, it is generally ignored when describing the attributes of a good angler. To me, mindfulness should always be at the top of the list.

Great fishermen see and process information that others do not. It’s not a robotic act, but one of simply being aware more often and more intently than most. They don’t ignore the nature around them, instead they become a part of it. If this is sounding too New Age for you, think back to my marlin. Being in the moment is built on a foundation of experience. It becomes internalized and doesn’t require conscious thought. In other words, I knew better. The chances of getting a cast out to that jumping marlin were slim at best. I had a bait in the water and I should have kept it there. Lesson learned. If you want to issue me a pass, I’ll take it. Yes, the heat of battle and all that, I get it. But, probably like you, I’m hardest on myself.

That said, I never want to give in to distractions, nor do I want to bring any along. While many can be avoided, the modern bane of being in the moment is, without question, the cell phone. For those of you who have never experienced life without one, it’s impossible to fully appreciate the nostalgia associated with a Gone fishin’ sign. There was a day when we got in our trucks, headed down the road and everyone understood the program. Yes, there were emergencies and other events where a cell phone would have been helpful. Lives could have been saved. I know, I know. But, for now, let’s restrict the discussion to fishing.

With the rare, good fortune to have shared days with some of the world’s greatest anglers, I can say with assurance they all shared one common trait: intensity. Although wildly different in personality and background, put a rod in their hands and every one of them was immediately locked in. Some put forth a more carefree demeanor, some appeared more serious. Some were chatty and told jokes, others measured their words. But none of them missed much. Now, maybe Kevin Van Dam can cradle a phone on his shoulder, knock out a sponsor deal with Johnny Morris and sense a subtle shift in baitfish activity. I have no doubt he could do it. Us? Not so much. In our angling lives, we all spend a king’s ransom in money and time learning, re­fining and mastering a showcase of talents only to be ready for the moment. Not being in it can short-circuit everything.

If you do fail, learn from it. You can learn from a loss, just don’t make a habit of it. After the marlin debacle I had to get my mind back in the game, so my buddy and I decided to do an afternoon wreck dive. Having learned to scuba when we were sixteen, the dive master wanted us to pair up with some newbies who would be there shortly.

“Mike,” he asked me as I bent over my equipment, “I want you to meet someone.”

I looked up into the eyes of a drop-dead gorgeous woman. Turns out, she was in Baja for an Elle magazine photo shoot and was the girl being featured in blue jean ads that were constantly running on television. For a few hours, I was her hand-holding dive buddy and I never took my eyes off her. Now that’s mindfulness.

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We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website 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.

The Good, The Bad and The Lucky
When it comes to fishing, I’ve never allowed myself to believe in luck. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist for as sure there is a nick in my line that won’t break no matter how much force I apply in pulling free of a snag, there is one that will fail a moment later when an eight-pounder strikes. Luck of every description rides shotgun with us; I’m just not willing to acknowledge its existence. To do so would mean that I accept the bad kind as much, or as willingly, or as honestly as I do the good.

When good luck comes calling, the sun is shining and, it seems, all things are possible. Casts fall precisely where we direct them. There are no cut fingers, forgotten sunglasses or dead batteries. The fish are somehow powerless against our wile and cat-like physicality. We are an unstoppable force, blending art and science seamlessly together in a water-borne ballet of angling perfection. We are fishing gods.

When it goes right, it feels like that. When it goes wrong, it is a much different kettle of, well, no fish. It is a cold and black place where even once-friendly allies conspire against you. Of course it is an exaggeration to compare our petty little fishing foibles to something as terrible as, say, the Game of Thrones Red Wedding scene, but, yeah, it does feel something like crossbows and daggers.

In my experience, the start to the day can mean everything. Sometimes the smallest of things can be the tipping point in creating an aura of invincibility or one of failure. Attitude, as they often say, is everything.

One morning not all that long ago, I awoke to a day full of promise, the kind with that certain sunrise where you are assured of needing only a fleece hoody to be comfortable. The hitch lowered right down onto the ball without any muscling required, all the trailer lights, even the balky ones, shone brightly and no one else was on the road.

About halfway to the lake, the neon glow of a mini-mart appeared up ahead. Nothing like a cup of coffee to get the juices flowing. That is, until I realized, I already had one. It was my favorite mug, the one that always fit perfectly in every cup holder and was right there when I was hooking up the boat. Fuming, I pulled into the parking lot and slammed the door of the truck. Me and that mug had been through a lot together and now I had left it to some lonely roadside graveyard. As I walked towards the store, certain there was little chance of replacing the finest travel mug ever to have been, I saw my old friend still sitting there, right where I had left it on the tongue of the trailer. In an instant, my mood went from despair to elation, a small celebration of good fortune followed by a silent affirmation that I quite possibly might be the smoothest driving, boat trailering fisherman ever. Yes, it happens that fast. Good luck is as seductive as morphine is addictive. Without missing a beat, I had spun the story from being a very minor disaster into something uplifting. And, since the rest of the day went quite memorably, I’m sure I took credit for that as well.

As I said, accepting good luck is the easy part. Bad luck, however, is the white elephant. When it shows up, no one wants to claim it. All but the rarest of human beings, those imbued with a deep honesty and clear vision, will take ownership of something where the root cause is not exactly clear. If we somehow had a hand in creating the bad luck, doing the forensics is a painful process, so painful that even our mothers recognized it wasn’t worth fussing over. To end a sibling squabble or quickly dry up some tears, the classic mom-method to end the uproar was a simple declarative statement, “It’s nobody’s fault.” However, by the time those words were uttered, most mothers were in no mood for further argument.

Obviously, starting a day with bad luck is an awful situation. Only a true optimist would think that somehow things can only get better, as if one can merely brush bad luck aside. Those with the appropriate mental toughness can certainly fend off the effects unless this surly beast slips up with tsunami stealth or crashes down with the sudden fury of an avalanche. Still, the most insidious brand of bad luck doesn’t hit you all at once. Most likely, one piranha won’t kill you until his friends show up. For anglers, the layering of bad on bad like tar on dinosaur bones is more in keeping with how good days go wrong.

While there is no replacement for a positive start, there is much to say about getting the negative stuff out of the way early. At least, you’ve got most of the day to mount a comeback, a far better option than having bad juju show up late.

One of my most vivid memories was of a team tournament in which my partner and I could do no wrong. For all but a very small part of the two-day event, we dominated. We found fish we didn’t have to share, they bit early so our spirits soared from sunup to sundown, we discovered the exact right lure and even had enough time to buy extras, overnighted in, just in case. While we did our due diligence in replacing the factory split rings with upgraded versions, it was hard not to feel giddy. Or mentally sort through carpet swatches that would look nice in our new, first-place boat. Good luck was flowing like free drinks in Vegas, that is, until the following day when our final, limit-making bruiser came unbuttoned right at the boat.

Poor technique, dull hooks, a poor net job? Worse yet, bad luck. Apparently we had neglected to replace all the split rings on all the lures. Anyway, who ever heard of a split-ring failure? When does that ever happen? As the victim of a one-in-a-bazillion chance, it instantly became far more difficult to ignore the power of luck.

And that’s bad.

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We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website 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.

A Christmas Story
Christmas is a time for memories and it might surprise you that some of my most vivid ones are of the guns and hunting variety. If for no other reason, this was the season when I could focus all my youthful attention on convincing mom and dad that a certain firearm was a necessary factor in positive growth and a healthy, emotional well-being.

As much as I loved fishing, wing shooting was a passion of equal intensity, so much so that I never attended a high school prom and only saw a mere handful of football games. The same fall and winter social calendar was also in play throughout most of my college years. From dove to quail, pheasant to chukar, ducks to geese, it didn’t matter – I had my priorities.


Of course, the starting point for me – as with most everyone – was the BB gun. But unlike Ralphie in the holiday classic A Christmas Story, the object of my affection was not the Red Ryder range model, but rather the Daisy 25 pump-action, something my youthful brain intuitively understood could help create requisite muscle memory for the bird shooting to come. A lever action with a compass in the stock and a thing that tells time was fine for wannabe sheriffs but certainly no choice for a shotgunner of the future.

For parents, the BB gambit hinged on the hope that a youngster could learn respect for a firearm with a rifle that could inflict minimal damage to all but the most unfortunate offenders who, as the movie suggests, might actually manage to shoot their eyes out. Apparently, it was a lesson well learned since I can’t recall any kids with eye patches in elementary school or junior high.

It was also a means of buying time before youngsters moved on to the next stage where .22s became their fixation. Perhaps it was the result of a more suburban California environment or the seductive prose of a well-placed ad in Outdoor Life – probably both – the .22 mania never overtook me. Instead, I lusted for the black oxide, walnut-grained profile of what I considered to be the very pinnacle of kid sharpshooting – a bolt-action Sheridan Bluestreak pellet gun. This was no wimpy .177 Crosman but a serious .20 caliber that if one was manly enough and capable enough of exerting ten full pumps of power, the noisiest of neighborhood crows would never again know solace. It was a gun with weight and wood and metal, peep sights if you could afford them (I couldn’t), or even a Weaver scope (something I assumed kids toted in the hills above Malibu). Still, no matter how much I wanted to understand the incremental steps of a hunter’s learning curve, the shotgun beckoned.

Once again, Christmas morning was my deliverance. There, underneath the tree, was that long box covered in paper and ribbon; a membership in the fraternity of real wing shooters. In the form of a single-shot Stevens 20-gauge, it was also a classic of sorts, an ultimately functional shotgun devoid of vent ribs or any affectation, but full of promise. Clearly, the downside of receiving such a gift on Christmas day was the obvious fact that the hunting season was all but over and the next honest opportunity was the dove opener come September first. In the interim, during the long months of spring and summer, you had to content yourself with trudging up into the foothills with a friend, a borrowed, spring-loaded hand trap, a box of shells and a knapsack stuffed with clay pigeons. With the concept of sporting clays decades away, this was the best, if not primitive, alternative. It was, of course, a different time when the whoomph of shotgun blasts a canyon or two away generally elicited little concern.

By the time there were actual doves corkscrewing overhead, I was ready from both safety and technique perspectives but not so much when it came to having only one round in the chamber. With a single-shot, looking down after a miss presented the toughest of learning curves. Suddenly failure was a fresh and bitter pill that you had to choke down, all the while going through the mechanics of unloading, reloading and re-focusing, not to mention recalculating lead, swing and follow through. At that moment, it would have accomplished little for anyone to remind me how good this was for my wing shooting skill set. I could think of only two things: Take better shots and get a 12-gauge pump as soon as humanly possible.

Eventually, a Winchester Model 1200 showed up on Santa’s list, although I would have much preferred its predecessor, the then-newly-out-of-date Model 12, especially a Pigeon Grade. (I could dream couldn’t I?) In my life to follow, there were more shotguns to replace those of my youth except there was nothing to replace the progression they were a part of. As a youngster, it was sometimes viewed as an intolerably long learning curve. That is, until my youthful group of hunting buddies encountered an outsider who wanted to join the fray and exhibited habits or tendencies counter to what we had all learned as kids. Taking the field with someone had become a solemn thing, not only in terms of safety but of trust. If we didn’t like how they handled themselves afield or, perhaps more importantly, could not depend on their capacity to keep secret the hard-earned locations of our best hunting spots, they were quickly disinvited from future hunts.

As mean-spirited as such decisions might appear, I am proud to say that throughout my young career and beyond, there was never even a close call. Not a pellet to the arm or a what-the-hell-was-that moment. This is why, at Christmastime, I choose to write a column on gun control. Times may change, but the progression to responsible gun ownership should not. This is why I do not fear the 18-year-old who finds the shotgun of his dreams under the tree. I fear the 18–year-old who finds his first gun there.




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We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website 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.

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