Mike Jones - KEEPING UP

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Friday, May 11, 2018
The Honor Among Thieves
Friday, June 15, 2018
West of the Pecos

Slow to Grow
I miss Vin Scully. And, not always for the obvious reasons. Yes, it was a gift to have grown up listening to the best baseball announcer ever — something that goes without saying. On the rare occasion when I would listen to another team’s announcer, even as a youngster, I wondered what a strange world they must live in. We got anecdotes about opposing players. We knew when it was a breaking ball. And, we got the roar of the crowd as an exclamation mark. But, it was of even greater significance to have Scully’s voice as the soundtrack to so many other things in life. In particular, I hear his dulcet tones when I think of calico bass.


ORIGINAL DECAL. Courtesy of Tom Waters

Growing up in southern California, I was a true democrat when it came to fishing. I wanted to catch anything that swam — from trout in the Eastern Sierra to bonito off the local barge, a place I believe my mother used as a summer day camp. Nowadays, Child Protective Services might request some clarification.

Even after a driver’s license and gas money expanded my angling range from the desert to the sea, it was not until the dawn of my writing career that I began to fully appreciate the mighty calico. Fortunately, a friend with an aging, yet seaworthy tri-hull bass boat gave me a proper introduction to Paralabrax clathratus.

It was a summer night at the Long Beach breakwater when the tide went slack just before midnight. The lights from the shoreline only served to make the shadows and crevices of the rocky riprap even blacker and more foreboding as the rising current surged and percolated with the predictable beat of a metronome. We were alone on the breakwater, isolation punctuated only by the sound of seawater and Scully’s spirited description of a utility player whose parents owned a pancake house in Pacoima. In other words, perfect.

Making it even more so was a fish that didn’t give a whit about the latest in magnetic, anti-backlash technology or fast-response graphite rod construction. These weren’t country brawling largemouth, strong on gumption but weak on stamina. No, these were inner coastal toughs who lived in the big pond and fought like it. Move to the outside of the wall where each swell lifted the boat, threatening to push it towards a rocky demise, the lesson plan was simple: The big bulls didn’t give an inch.

Live in our town, die in our town, fisherboy.

Just as a hiker in Glacier National Park might feel when facing a grizzly on the trail, there was a certain, dyspeptic sensation of knowing you weren’t the alpha predator. For someone who placed a high value on anything or anyone who could give as hard as they could take, I was a smitten kitten. I couldn’t wait to take out some of my tournament bass fishing colleagues and wait for the inevitable kerpop of their 20-pound test as an average-size calico made the statement, Not here, not now, not ever.

What I soon realized, however, is that my newest superhero had a weakness every bit as debilitating as kryptonite. They grow slow. A 12-inch calico bass is about six years old and the most elderly on record measured 25 inches and celebrated 34 birthdays. From that data alone, it is impossibly easy to do the math. The equation was even more disturbing in the 1980s when a whole lot of us became better bass fishermen in the fresh and the salt, fueled by technology that was leaping forward with every tick of the clock. We knew where to find them and became more proficient at catching them.

At the time, I was working with Al Kalin of Kalin Lures, someone as invested in fishing as he was in the process of making lures. A self-described “professional tinkerer”, Al could be notoriously shy among crowds, yet be the most radical free thinker when it came to new ideas. Whether it was the dead time between bites or the really dead time working a sport show, it became apparent to us that fishermen needed to know the sad truth about calico bass. Catch-and-release had become the mantra of the tap water crowd and was being embraced elsewhere, it’s just that no one really wanted to hear preaching from the pulpit of a gel-coat bass boat. No, this had to be an even-handed, bipartisan endeavor, something with no other purpose than to be a gentle reminder of the calico’s vulnerability.

After sorting through several ideas, we settled on creating a decal. But, it couldn’t just be any decal. It had to be a badass, full-color rendition of the calico bass and one devoid of any advertising ploy or money-making agenda. To his credit, Kalin signed off on everything and, perhaps more importantly, signed the checks to pay for the production costs.

Also on board was a local artist at the peak of his powers. In Tom Waters we found someone who knew the industry and understood immediately what we needed. With a portfolio that includes angling royalty from Aftco to Owner to Shimano, Waters style has always been as marketable as it is unmistakable.

Now all that was left to do was devise a tagline as memorable as the artwork. For someone who did more than his share of ad copywriting, I knew this was an Everest often not climbed. Finding an ear bug, a phrase that once heard cannot be unheard, is something just this side of magical. How Al and I decided on the line will forever remain a mystery, but it happened.

“Slow to grow, so let ’em go” has somehow stuck.

I’d like to think Vin Scully had something to do with it.

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