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Mike Jones - KEEPING UP

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Friday, June 01, 2018
Slow to Grow
Friday, June 22, 2018
Simply Zen


West of the Pecos
If you consider yourself a Californian and if you’ve done any kind of traveling, you are well aware of the reaction we get. If you add “southern” to the description of your home turf, it can sometimes spin things off into uncharted territory. Everyone seems to have an opinion.

After spending 12 years in Texas, I am well-versed in the prevailing attitudes of the Lone Star State. In a place where you can see bumper stickers that say “I wasn’t born in Texas but I got here as soon as I could,” you can pretty much guess where conversations headed once my birthplace was revealed. If I needed to project a more forceful demeanor, I made the distinction that I was born not just in L.A., but East L.A., vato.


Eventually, someone would say something disparaging about San Francisco and I would have to remind them that while I had lived in northern California for awhile, “They really hate us up there.”


“Why?”


“Because we steal their water.”


Then, while I had them befuddled, I’d go in for the kill.


“Yeah, it’s kinda like how those Sooners to the north feel about y’all down here in Baja Oklahoma.”


It worked every time.


At the very dawn of my involvement in the world of freshwater bass, SoCal was barely on the national radar. On March 4, 1980, Ray Easley’s 21-3 from Lake Casitas changed all that. The bass fishing world was rolled back on its collective heels. Yes, forty-eight years after Georgia’s Montgomery Lake produced a 22-4 for George Perry, it seems another southern lake had given up a monster, only these waters were due south of Bakersfield.


For those who viewed the largemouth bass as a cultural waypoint more down-home than grits and chicken fried steak, the news was not fixin’ to get any better. They had yet to hear the name of the other lake in Los Angeles. Unlike Casitas with its rolling hills and stately oaks, Castaic was a moonscape, a rocky lunar-like expanse choked with enormous, sow-bellied unicorns. Here were fish so large, so obesely grotesque, they looked more like cartoons of big bass.


Then, as if adding insult to injury, San Diego reminded the bass fishing universe of its claim to a 20-pounder way back in the 1970s. In the land of perfect weather, a place where people didn’t need or deserve any more advantages, they had huge bass by the bushel. By the 1980s, a whole lot of those fish had gotten a whole lot bigger and names like Hodges and Otay began to resonate with a national audience.


For me, the barrage of good news couldn’t have come at a better time. As a western outdoor writer working the national bass circuits, the serious trash talk was over. I didn’t go out of my way to reveal my home address, but then again, I didn’t mind when someone asked where I was from.


In my best homage to James Bond, I answered the question with the obligatory pause and that oh-so-subtle inflection.


“California,” I purred. (Pause) “Southern California.”


I didn’t need the baccarat table, martinis or scantily clad femme fatales to set the stage. I usually had the aroma of a live bait tank mixed with bacon grease from the marina grill. It was, as the saying goes, all good.


Yes, it was a nice time to be Californian. If you weren’t, there was no good way for a bass fishing conversation to go. All the cards seemed to be on our side of the table, especially since flippin’ and finesse — two of the most significant bass tactics in recent memory — had California DNA. Eventually, swimbaits would add yet another chromosome.


If you kept your mouth shut, sooner or later, someone would drift into the 10-pound discussion without a clue as to how utterly weird things had become out West. And, without much exaggeration, it was easy to set them straight.


When asked about personal bests and the like, I found the most show-stopping response was “Out where I live, it’s easier to make a list of guys who haven’t caught a 10 pounder than the ones who have.”


After waiting a moment for their slack-jawed expressions to regain a sense of normalcy, you followed up with the coup de grace.


“Then again,” you sighed, not at all being untruthful and secretly wishing you were chewing on a hay straw and peering out from under a Stetson, “where I come from, unless you’ve caught a ‘teen’ fish, no one dares to do any braggin’.”


* * *

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