This week more than a few West Coast and national fishing reporters and editors are probably going through their archives and shaking their heads in disbelief.
In the wake of a devastating one–two punch posted Monday evening on SDFish.com about the validity of San Diego-area basser Mike Long’s lake record catches and tournament wins and earnings, and how he may have pulled it all off, last night I dug through boxes and boxes of old issues from my Fishing & Hunting News days in search of California editions.
My memories from the early 2000s are increasingly hazy, but Long’s name is one I remember, and sure enough it popped up in four of 12 issues of rodent-poop-peppered copies of the mag I found on the shelves of my shed.
One of them, the May 23, 2002, issue listed him as the best bass fisherman in all of California.
It was part of an annual Top 40 roundup put together by a longtime close observer of the Golden State’s bassing world, and in naming Long to the top spot that year it specifically called out his catch of an 18-pound, 2-ounce Lake Poway largemouth in February.
The honor followed on Long’s two straight $25,000-plus paydays winning the Big Bass Record Club’s annual largest largemouth contest, which blasted him onto the scene, and his entry into San Diego tournament fishing.
But according to SDFish.com editor Kellen Ellis’s nearly 19,000-plus-word story, after Long marked down catching that Poway fish on the lake’s logbook, he claimed his photos of it didn’t turn out, and when pressed by a local outdoor reporter to send him one, used an image of himself holding a 16.25-pounder that his tourney partner had actually caught there.
Then, three years later, he used the same image to claim he’d caught another of his half-dozen lake record fish at a nearby reservoir — “the most preposterous, absurd, and fraudulent of them all,” Ellis claims.
Long would later admit to having used the pic of his buddy’s fish for the Poway lake record — but not the other.
Across the space of nine webpages, interviews with multiple sources including tournament partners, lake managers and someone Long allegedly stalked after they saw two bass in a fish tank in Long’s garage next to his boat, as well as video Ellis surreptitiously shot in April of Long apparently snagging spawning bass in the side and side of the mouth, Ellis essentially makes the case that Long’s achievements over the years were the same — “preposterous, absurd, and fraudulent.”
While Ellis says that in the early 2000s Long could count on him as one of his supporters to swat away controversies over catches — “I sincerely regret that,” he states — he says that since ending their relationship in early 2010, he has been working on the piece for most of the decade.
Though the internet has already drawn and quartered Long — images of a treble hook baited with a twist-tail worm above a drop-shot weight are being called the Long rig — the subject himself has apparently yet to comment on the issue.
Nowhere in Ellis’s exhaustive work does it mention that Long had any remarks on the allegations about to be leveled by the owner-editor-administrator of SDFish.com.
Long appears to have gone into hiding rather than refute them.
His Facebook and Instagram pages are currently down; his blog reads that it “is currently undergoing scheduled maintenance.”
When Long speaks, I’ll report on his comments.
Meanwhile, it left the author of a national semiweekly bass fishing email in shock yesterday.
“Personally hope it’s somehow all NOT true so we don’t have to be suspicious about big-fish catches, but the stuff SDFish/Kellen put out there is pretty disturbing…and I bet required a whale-load of effort. Speaking as a former-life investigative-type reporter, my 2c is it’s obviously not just something he threw together,” Kumar wrote in his BassBlaster.
At least one sponsor, Airrus Rods, has pulled up stakes with Long and will donate their remaining stock of his signature-line rods to a kids angling academy.
And one of Long’s big-catch chroniclers, former San Diego Union-Tribune outdoor reporter Ed Zieralski tweeted out, “If this is true, and based on the video and story no reason for it not to be, this big bass asshole brought down his best friend and defrauded an entire bass fishing community.”
Mike Long long ago disappeared from those Top 40 California basser roundups that initially ran in F&H News and after it folded in mid-2008, continued in other publications.
He slipped from No. 1 in both 2001 and 2002, to 2nd in 2003, 3rd in 2004, 7th in 2005, and by 2009, was 17th.
In spring 2010 Long’s local tournament career came to a sudden halt as the directors of three different series told him he couldn’t participate without taking a lie detector test to address allegations of cheating.
By that time Long had already collected a reported $150,000 in tourney winnings over the years, somehow finishing first more than twice as often while fishing by himself than with a partner (former ones say he was actually a poor angler), and events were drawing fewer and fewer boaters because competitors believed the fix was in, according to Ellis.
Before sending out 2010’s top 40 list, its author, George Kramer, made a cryptic post entitled “Tips on spotting the ‘bass cheater.'”
Long didn’t make it that year.
Since then he’s popped up here and there this decade as an article source on fishing for big bass, as well as taken to the aforementioned social media channels.
It’s all yet another reminder to the supposed gatekeepers like myself and other outdoor editors and reporters that there are people out there who are seeking fame and money — Long has been on a reported 45 magazine covers, and was featured by minnows and heavyweights (Outdoor Life, Bassmasters) alike — but who may not be all they’re claiming to be, or be completely above board.
We may have fallen for the allure of big fish and the big readership those catches promise, but we can learn from this and do better for our fellow legitimate fishermen.