"Last summer I was fishing a small lake that's at about 4,600 feet elevation. It was a bright, sunny day," Mike Long says. "I had on a long-sleeved shirt and a buff that covered my head, ears and neck. I must have looked pretty strange to this other guy out there who was trout fishing. He asked if I was there to fish or rob a bank. I just laughed. I get that a lot. He was in a tank top and no hat."
Welcome to Part III of Mike Long's series on how to target the biggest bass of your life. As we progress, it should become more and more apparent that these 10 steps to the fish of a lifetime are all part of the same big picture. You can leave one or two out of the mix and still have an image, but it won't be as sharp or as focused as it needs to be if you really want to see "it." Taking proper care of you — the angler — ties directly to Long's second tip (having the right attitude) and it's inextricably linked to all of his advice.
"If you don't feel right, it's almost impossible to think right and have the right attitude," he explains. "Instead of focusing on what your bait's doing or how deep you should be fishing, you're wasting time and energy thinking about how tired you are or that you shouldn't have had that beer the night before. Even momentary lapses can cost you when you're talking about the biggest fish of your life."
Long takes personal care seriously. You can tell that at a glance. At 6 feet 4 inches tall and 220 pounds, Long looks like an athlete in excellent condition — a guy you probably wouldn't want to race or arm wrestle or challenge in a physical way. Even at 47, he's an imposing figure. You might think that with such physical gifts, he could "coast" … at least a little. After all, bass anglers aren't exactly known for their Greek god-like physiques.
But nothing could be further from the truth … at least for the world's foremost trophy bass angler. Long is grateful for his physical gifts, but he earned them, keeps them sharp through considerable time and dedication and relies upon them as an integral part of his trophy fishing approach. He'll be the first to say you don't need to be as big or as strong as he is to be successful, but you definitely need to take care of what you've got and keep yourself in shape to get the most out of your fishing.
"On my next pass around the lake — about an hour later — I saw the trout fisherman again. This time, the tank top was off, and he was turning red. I offered him some sunscreen. All he said in response was 'Do you think I'm some kind of a wimp?'"
"Sometimes you can get away with eating junk," says Long, "but when it comes to game time you need to be lean and mean." For Long, the body is an engine, a machine that requires the right fuel and the right maintenance if it's going to get the job done.
"If I'm going fishing on Saturday, by late Thursday I'm getting into my nutrition regimen by increasing my complex carbohydrates and cutting back on the simple sugars and fats. I'll have some pasta for dinner and plenty of fruits and vegetables on Friday. If I eat too much of the wrong stuff — candy, soft drinks, processed sugars — I'll be sluggish, 'gummed up,' and I won't feel as good as I should when I'm fishing."
To the casual observer, fishing — even serious bass fishing — may not seem like an athletic endeavor, but studies have shown that an angler fishing all day, making a couple of thousand casts and standing to operate a foot-controlled electric motor will burn more calories that an NFL lineman on a Sunday in October. Being in pretty good shape and properly fueling your body for the "game" on the water is critical.
"On the days I go fishing, I make sure I get up early enough to have some breakfast — usually a bowl of oatmeal and a banana," Long advises. "Then, when I'm on the water, I make sure I have some granola bars and peanut butter crackers. That gives me some complex carbohydrates that I can burn throughout the day. I don't carry candy bars or stuff with a lot of processed sugar. I want something my body can burn nice and lean and steadily through the day without any rushes and crashes."
Long is quick to admit that what works for him may not be the answer for you. Ultimately, you need to find the combination and timing that helps you feel good.
Water, water everywhere … Gatorade, too
"After I offered him some sunscreen, I noticed there were three empty beers in the bottom of his boat. It was the only thing he had to drink out there on a hot, clear day at a very high elevation. I told him I had some extra water if he needed it, but he told me to mind my own business. I can take a hint, and I know you can't help someone who refuses to be helped, so I kept on fishing."
Hand in hand with food come the fluids that Mike Long drinks in preparation for and during a fishing trip. Alcohol is a no-no, not just on the water, but even the night before a trip. It will dehydrate you and can dull your senses even the morning after.
"I always make sure I have plenty of fluids on my boat," Long says. "I'll carry water, some Gatorade Thirst Quencher Powder and a little coconut milk. I like to keep my liquids cool, but not cold. If you get them too cold, you can actually put your body into shock and cause it to relax too much.
"One of the most important things to remember when thinking about fluids on the water is to drink periodically throughout the day. One way I remind myself to do that is by keeping a bottle of water up front with me. It stays next to the foot-control pedal so I see it all the time. Don't wait until you're actually thirsty to have a drink. If you wait until your body tells you that you need fluids, you're already becoming dehydrated. Once you get dehydrated, your body shifts into survival mode and you won't be able to think as clearly, quickly or effectively."
For more Mike Long tips on hydration, check out this video.
Sweet dreams of lunker bass
"A couple of hours later, I saw the trout fisherman again. By now, it was almost noon and he was already badly burned, but he had to be a tough guy and stay out there. I asked him if he needed any help, but I can't repeat what he said to me. As you can probably guess, it wasn't very nice so I went on my way. When I ran into the lake ranger, though, I asked him to keep an eye on the guy."
Science is just now catching up on the importance of sleep to athletic performance. For Long, it's always been a key component of his trophy bass regimen.
"If I'm going to fish for a full day," Long says, "I need seven or eight hours of sleep. It relaxes my brain and helps to repair my body for the outing. Anything less than that and I'm going to be sluggish and irritable."
At 47, Long admits he needs more sleep than he did a decade ago, and he urges anglers to pay attention to what their bodies are telling them about their own personal needs. We're all different.
"As I get older, I need more rest before I go fishing, I need to eat better on the water and a few days before I fish, and it's more important to stay properly hydrated," he says. "I wish things got easier as we get older, but that's not always the case. Instead, I have to learn from my experiences, stay in tune with my body and adapt to find what works for me right now."
But what if sleep seems nearly impossible? What if you spotted a 15-pound largemouth or 8-pound smallmouth late the previous day and you're just too excited to close your eyes?
"That situation happens to me sometimes," laughs Long. "If I know I'm going to see a giant, I can get too jacked up to sleep. That's when I try to work backward and find a way to relax instead of using that time to gear up for the trip. For me, watching a movie, listening to music or catching up with some baseball or football helps to take my mind off things and relax enough that I can sleep."
"I saw the trout fisherman again at the end of the day in the lake restaurant. He was toast!"
If you're out of shape, it's going to take a while to get into decent fishing condition. That's why Long recommends maintenance and not letting yourself get so far out of shape that you need to start from scratch.
"I do a lot of walking, a lot of stretching," he says. "I want to be agile and limber. I care less about strength than mobility. When I work out with weights — which is no more than a couple of times a week — I use light weights and do a lot of repetitions. I need stamina and balance out on the water, so I do a lot of sit-ups, some pushups and walking with some lunges mixed in."
Long mixes his workout into his day as much as possible, waking up and starting with a couple of sets of pushups (three sets of 20 repetitions each) and sit-ups (three sets of 60 reps) and some walking. If that's not possible, but he's relaxing at home in the evening, he'll watch TV and exercise during the commercials. The goal is to keep his core strong and flexible so he can fish long days with little fatigue.
Dress for success
"Up at the restaurant by the ramp, the trout fisherman was having trouble putting sentences together. He was confused, badly burned, had a headache and couldn't get his boat on the trailer. I'm guessing he didn't enjoy his fishing, either."
Just as in the world of high fashion, the right clothes depend on the circumstances. A fashionista wouldn’t wear white after Labor Day, and Mike Long will never dress too lightly for a cold day on the water. The biggest difference is that with fishing fashion, comfort truly is everything.
"They make some amazing sports fabrics now, that wick away sweat and moisture in hot weather and that help you stay warm when it's cold," Long notes. "The important thing is to stay safe and comfortable so you can focus on your fishing."
Nothing earth-shattering here. Long recommends layers in winter with a good outer shell to protect yourself from wind, and he typically opts for rain pants when it's cold rather than jeans.
In hot weather, he'll often wear shorts or sweatpants, but never wears sandals anymore. "My feet need more protection than that, and I've had some painful experiences with sunburn on my feet.
"I wear long sleeves whenever I'm fishing, and I apply sunscreen regularly throughout the day. I like the spray-on variety because it means I don't have to get it on my hands where it can contact my baits."
Whereas lots of today's tournament pros are using big, wide-brimmed hats to protect themselves from the sun, Long prefers a buff that he uses to cover much of his face, ears and neck. Oftentimes he'll put a baseball cap on top of that, but sometimes the cap will go on first and then the buff over the top to cover his ears.
"I've also learned how important it is to protect my hands," Long says. "I wear sun-protection gloves that have the fingers cut out so I can tie knots and cast more easily. The gloves are long enough that they run up my forearms and under my long sleeves to fully protect my arms. You really need to limit your amount of exposed skin, even on cloudy days."
For more on how Mike Long dresses for success, check out this video.
The eyes have it
A good pair of polarized sunglasses is standard equipment for any Mike Long fishing outing. He prefers Kaenon Rhinos in the grey G-12 lens. Not only do quality sunglasses protect your eyes, but they also allow you to see better, and that can be critical if the bass of your dreams is shallow enough to be caught by sight fishing methods.
"There's just no good reason not to wear good sunglasses," says Long. "It's definitely one area where it doesn't pay to cut corners. Quality lenses will protect your eyes from the sun and from flying projectiles that happen around every fishing boat. Find a pair that's comfortable and that cuts out light from the sides so you can see better into the water."
"A couple of months after watching that trout fisherman fall apart right before my eyes, I ran into him again on the same lake. This time he had long sleeves, a big hat, sunscreen and no beer. He was a lot nicer, too."