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CALIFORNIA'S ONLY SPORTSMAN'S NEWS SINCE 1953

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.”
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.


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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.”


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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. 


perrybass
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.


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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.


Leaks
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 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.


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 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.


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