“Bass have the ability to take a snapshot in their mind. That’s how they live – they know you’re there, or if things are out of place. The fish aren’t out there having a good time. They’re surviving.”
In a nearly euphoric high, I was breathing it all in. The conversation had turned away from fishing techniques to theory and alternative thinking. There was talk of environmental food chains, coined “big bass pyramids”, “peeling back the layers” and determining what “makes the soup” – the perfect mix of habitat and forage that clues an angler in to the lunker’s lair.
Not since brief talks with the late Doug Hannon had I immersed myself so deeply in a conversation with another big-bass junkie. After all, this guy was Mike Long.
Six weeks ago, while on assignment for FLW Magazine, I was again interviewing one of the legends of trophy bass fishing. Previous pieces had led me to premier guides in Florida and Tennessee, as well as an in-depth interview with friend and colleague Porter Hall, a man often referred to as “the encyclopedia of trophy bass” for his extensive knowledge on the subject.
This time, however, I had a real celebrity on the phone. The conversation went from the ecology behind California’s downturn in big-bass production to key methods for fishing huge swimbaits. Involved more than ever, and drinking up every last sip of the story, I was surprised by one of Long’s quick comments.
“I still catch a bunch of big fish; I just don’t report it. I’ve caught two fish in the last month over 18 pounds.”
Huh? Well, I guess.
The following week again found me in a remote area of central Florida, shiner fishing with Porter Hall. As the sun blazed down, I recited Long’s story. Hall, a man likely capable of reciting the largemouth top-25 list off the top of his head; a man who was often featured in many of the same publications as Long during the '90s record hunt; a man who once turned a fishing trip into 9-year stay in southern California, had to interject.
“I find that hard to believe. I just haven’t heard of anything that big … from anywhere.”
Regardless, I had done the interview, collecting 11 pages of notes, scribbling as fast as I could to ensure I wouldn’t miss anything. Sure, Long’s story had been sensational, with a few questionable details at the time – not unlike those of many others I’ve interviewed over the years – but I was willing to overlook all of that. Far more aspects of the story were entirely believable.
Later that week, I compiled all of the material and submitted a draft to FLW. Another edition of Balog’s Trophy Quest was in the books, this one sure to be better than ever. The following day, my e-mail exploded.
As nearly all of you now know, Mike Long was exposed as a suspected fraud. He was accused of everything from cheating in bass tournaments to snagging trophy fish; even lying his way into the record books of many of California’s trophy lakes.
Kellen Ellis is credited with compiling Long’s expose'; a blend of both written and video material that has now been viewed hundreds of thousands of times and reported by media sources all across North America and into Japan.
As luck would have it, I was likely the last person to interview Long himself, and certainly the last to submit a favorable, technique-driven story covering his forays. One that, as luck would have it, I got to write for free.
Anyway, for the last month, I’ve immersed myself in the Long case, careful not to draw any conclusions until I heard all sides of the story. In this case, there was only one, and the reporting that led to the groundbreaking news was, in fact, built almost entirely on hearsay and third-person accounts. Granted, there was video to back up some of the author’s claims, but conclusive, fact-driven reporting this was not.
There’s now a massive amount of information condemning Long, no doubt. I recently listened to an interview with Ellis, and his claims seem real, driven more by transparency than any agenda. But regardless of the acceptance of all of these theories, I can’t help but question one important principle.
What, in the name of God, would make a man go to such an extent to totally destroy another human being?
You see, folks, there’s more to this than the vengeance felt by all the BassFans out there who got stiffed; the legions of us who bought Mike Long rods or swimbaits or hooks. This is the total annihilation of a man. One that was based on the stories of others and videos of the guy snagging fish.
Now, before I go any further, in no means am I here to defend Mike Long. I watched the videos just like anyone else, and it’s clear he was after recognition for “catching” big fish however he could, likely totally obsessed with his portrayal on social media. In my mind, such throws out any credibility.
But I wonder if this story is as cut and dry as it’s being perceived. Consider this: Numerous times when interviewing Long, I was impressed by his forward thinking and his apparent knowledge of fishing techniques and biological principles that few outside the hardcore trophy circles ever discuss. He repeatedly presented material that would be totally impossible for a minor-league bass angler to understand.
In addition, several times Long mentioned the importance of “teaching others” so they could “learn to catch big fish where they live.” He stressed the importance of respecting the bass, holding them properly with two hands, and how it’s his “job to push it that way” in a sport driven by competition and money.
And, you know what, I believed him.
Was Mike Long a fraud? He certainly could have been. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve run across one in the world of professional bass fishing, a sport totally driven by media attention and endorsement contracts, with little reference for proof.
Or possibly, Mike Long had some segment of legitimacy. Perhaps he’s currently preparing a defamation of character lawsuit, aimed to demolish the men who’ve erased his credibility, likely worth hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of dollars.
Or maybe he just disappeared, the way most of us are hoping.
Because, you see, none of us want to see what happens when you totally destroy a human being just for the sake of exposing his fishing folly. It’s much easier to say “he got what he deserved” and click to another website, or jump to another subject, the whole time hoping we don’t see his face on the morning news.
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)