By his own count, Mike Long of San Diego County, Calif., has caught hundreds of bass weighing more than 10 pounds, dozens in the teens, 82 over 15 pounds and one weighing more than 20. That last fish was the famous “Dottie,” which weighed 20 pounds, 12 ounces when Long caught her, earning the 10th spot on Bassmaster Magazine’s list of the all-time heaviest bass ever weighed.
Not only was he a big-bass specialist, but Long was a threat to win any tournament he entered in the San Diego area. In an 8 1/2-year period in the early 2000s, Long won more than 35 tournaments and earned about $150,000.
Bassmaster Magazine editors — including the author — featured him on the cover twice, in 2001 and 2009, as did editors of more than 40 other publications around the world.
We called Long “the big-bass guru.” He was almost too good to be true.
In June, an enterprising and tenacious journalist exposed Long as a bass-fishing con man, a tournament cheater who won big-bass bounties and claimed lake records with fish he either caught illegally or “borrowed” from a friend.
The story, "The Dark Secret of ‘America’s Big-Bass Guru'" — How a catfish poacher lied, cheated, snagged, bribed and bullied his way to become the big bass king of the world,” was written by Kellen Ellis, owner and editor of SDFish.com, a popular website devoted to freshwater and saltwater sportfishing in the San Diego area.
In a long, exhaustive article that quickly went viral in the bass fishing community, Ellis details numerous incidents in which Long used trickery to claim bass records he didn’t deserve. Using testimonies from Long’s former tournament-fishing partners as well as some circumstantial evidence, Ellis builds a case charging Long with using bass he caught previously to win other anglers’ money.
After establishing a reputation as a magician at catching giant bass, Long was able to attract tournament partners who ranked among the best sticks in San Diego County. With them, he won eight team tournaments in a short period. But when he fished alone, as he did 27 times in the same stretch, Long won 15 tournaments.
“He won over 55 percent of the time when fishing alone, and only 25 percent of the time when he was aided by a partner,” Ellis wrote.
Even more condemning, Long’s partners considered him a subpar angler. John Kerr, with whom Long earned six straight Team of the Year titles with WON Bass, said it took him three years of tournament fishing to learn to use a baitcaster. Their first season of fishing together, when they won the first of their team titles, Kerr said Long weighed in exactly one fish.
In March 2005, Kerr and Long weighed in a five-bass limit that set a daily catch record for a fivebass limit, weighing 38.57 pounds, in a WON Bass tournament on Lower Otay Lake. Although Long claimed credit for the catch in a newspaper interview, Kerr later said that Long contributed zero fish to the limit.
Another former partner called Long “the worst I’ve fished with. He couldn’t cast. He couldn’t catch fish.”
So, how did he manage to do so well when fishing solo in those same team tournaments? Ellis is convinced Long was stashing previously caught fish in his boat’s livewell. The expose quotes witnesses as saying Long kept a fish tank containing big bass in his garage. The fish were for stocking a pond, Long explained when confronted with the fact.
One of Long’s partners in a tournament said he happened to turn around and spot Long sticking a hook into a big bass. He pretended not to notice, and shortly afterward, Long “boated” a nearly lifeless bass.
Most telling was when Long called a friend and bragged about catching a 13-pounder one day — most likely on a waterdog, which is illegal to use in California, according to the friend.