Back in the summer of 1979 I walked out into the backyard of the house my parents had just purchased and met a tall, gangly kid with a shock of red hair. He was holding a fishing pole, a bucket, and the widest smile I had ever encountered in someone my age. Only seconds after he had introduced himself as Mike Long, he asked me if I wanted to help him catch some crawdads.
The house we had just purchased sat no more than 50 feet from a creek that meandered the length of Poway, California, surrounded by Sycamore and Scrub Oak, which were home to Opossums, Raccoon, and Red-tailed Hawks. Having lived in the suburbs almost my entire life, I was out of my element among all this natural wonder. As strange as it all was though, I was about to get a master’s class in nature and Mike Long was the first and most notable of all the professors I’d ever have directing my education.
I’ve known Mike for going on 32 years, and enjoyed the privilege of having first hand access to the vast amount of information he gathers about his chosen hobbies. He taught me to fish for Catfish, Rainbow Trout, Crappie, Sunfish and of course, Large mouth Bass. He pulled me up and around hill and dale, all the while, teaching me about what to do and when to do it. He never asked anything in return, just friendship and I was more than happy to oblige.
Though time and distance have always come between us, we’re kindred spirits. We enjoy the same things and share many of the same beliefs, the least of which is our passion for the outdoors. Eventually college, and then a career in advertising pulled me away from Southern California, but I kept up with his adventures in the great outdoors.
When fate and my father’s illness brought me back to San Diego in late 2010, one of the first people to welcome me back was Mike Long. We began toying with the idea of a website to share his knowledge and the site you find yourself on now is the result of many such conversations.
While we’ve talked almost daily since I’ve returned to San Diego, it actually wasn’t until this past September that we actually got together on a lake to do some fishing for largemouth bass.
Mike chose the body of water we both grew up fishing, Poway Lake, located in San Diego’s North County. It’s a small reservoir, made smaller by consecutive years of drought, stocked with Rainbow Trout each winter and Catfish each summer. It has a good population of Largemouth Bass, Sunfish and Bluegill to keep everyone happy no matter what your particular passion.
It had been almost two decades since I last fished for bass, but Mike promised he’d take it easy on me and show me what to do. In fact, he even brought a few spinning reels for me to use since I’ve not used a bait caster in a very long time. First thing Mike did was get the lay of the land, or water to be more precise. Choosing a few possible spots, we made our way across the lake toward the first area he wanted to try, a deep water channel. As we arrived, I looked around and noticed there were a dozen or so other fisherman on the lake. From the look of it, they were doing a bit of fishing, but not a whole lot of catching. That isn’t unusual for this lake, especially for those fishing for largemouth bass.
The thing was, much like when we were kids, I had a secret weapon. I had Mike to show me the way. He quickly tied on a 4″ Robo worm in Aaron’s Magic color, using a simple drop shot rig and told me what to do. I’d like to say I quickly landed my first bass in 20 years, but that wouldn’t be true. What is true is within 30 minutes on the water, Mike DID land our first fish… a 3 pounder, very small by Mike’s standards, but a whopper in my book. Keeping with Mike’s teachings, we moved around, eliminating water, trying to find where the fish were. We moved to shallower water near a point. Mike landed a few more, small bass, while I couldn’t seem to get the hang of the proper action necessary to catch a fish… any fish… heck I was willing to land a shad if it would take me out of the skunked column.
He kept explaining what he was doing and why it was working. Mike had landed 3 other bass while he was explaining the intricacies of fishing this particular lake, at this particular time in the day, in this particular season. It was akin to listening to Stephen Hawking talk about cosmology while orbiting the Earth on the space shuttle. If I remember half of what he told me, I’ll be three times the fisherman that I am now.
Finally, I put it all together and I landed my first bass of the day. Less than a pound, but it was a pound more fish than I’ve caught in 15 years and I was quite excited. A few more casts and I caught another fish, this one almost breaking 2 lbs. I figured if I kept at it, by the end of the day I might have enough fish that, combined, would weigh as much as the smallest fish Mike would catch that day.
We broke for lunch and it gave me the opportunity to ask Mike the questions that I would imagine most people would ask him if they had the opportunity.
Ed: When we were kids, we fished for a lot of different kinds of fish, but mostly for stocked trout and catfish. Did you ever think you’d make your mark as a trophy bass fisherman?
Mike: Not at all, I just wanted to fish more than anything else in the world, i did not care what species of fish as long as they put up a fight.
Ed:This lake (Poway Lake) has been our “home” lake for over 30 years and it’s changed a great deal since we started fishing here back in the late 70s. What’s changed for the better? What’s changed for the worse?
Mike: Lake Poway is a small lake where kids can learn to fish and that has gotten better over the years with some added structure. On the downside the lake is infested with quagga mussels which are killing the ecosystem and I’ve seen a huge decline in the numbers of big bass in the lake.
Ed: Of all the local lakes, which is your favorite?
Mike: San Vicente Reservoir
Mike: It is a deep semi-clear reservoir that offers lots of different types of shorelines from steep hard rock to large boulders, to flat shallow bays and offshore islands. It also has large blue catfish over 100 lbs and some giant bass.
Ed: What drives you to hunt big bass?
Mike: Catching big bass is the end game of big bass hunting. And what drives me is the never-ending challenge of trying to figure out where the bass are in the lake and what to catch them on. It’s always a game with the payoff being landing that big bass.
Ed: Was coming close to the record a positive experience?
Mike: The day I caught the 20-12 was the most peaceful day of my bass fishing career and nothing else mattered that day. It has been a positive experience, especially since it has only been done a handful of times.
Ed: Is there anything you would have done differently knowing what you know now about that whole experience?
Mike: The first time I weighed the big bass she weighed over 22 lbs, so I have learned the first weight is the official weight. I never leave the house without a verified scale. Who knows what would have happened had I known to bring the right scale that day.
Ed: We’ve talked a little bit about tournament fishing, and I know you’re a pretty competitive guy, but you refuse to fish competitively. Why is that?
Mike: Raising a family costs lots of money these days and trying to get kids through college and finding a new job has been a huge challenge of survival this year, so tournament fishing has taken a back seat until there is some money available to fish them right.
Ed: When we were kids, you used to keep a notebook, filled with data from our fishing trips. I know you’ve converted all that information into a spreadsheet. Do you ever let anyone peruse that information?
Mike: My data is my data. I have spent years collecting it and don’t let anyone have access to it. I do, however, teach people how to build a spread sheet and convert their data into a useful form that will help them in their pursuit of giant bass.
Ed: Why did you choose this format (a website) to share your information?
Mike: I love the World Wide Web. It’s amazing what you can learn from different people, all over the planet. I wanted to be part of this global classroom… doing my part is to simply share as much as I know about bass fishing. If I can help others to learn and see things a little differently in their pursuit of big bass, this website will be a success in my eyes.
Ed: Is a book out of the question?
Mike: One of my goals is to write a book, and in fact, I have my first more than halfway done. Hopefully I will finish it soon and have another way to share what I know with people who are willing to learn.
Ed: What does the future hold for you as an outdoorsmen?
Mike: Lots of adventure, taking my abilities on the road and traveling the globe in pursuit of giant fish is my future goal. Sharing that with everyone would be the icing on the cake. I LOVE to catch fish and I hope that desire never changes.
We spent the rest of the day simply figuring out where the fish were and what they’d likely bite. I honestly can’t remember how many fish Mike caught that day, but I can tell you he beat me by a country mile. This isn’t unusual of course, and I doubt many people can keep up with him when he gets in a groove, but it was fascinating to see someone so knowledgeable about a given pursuit put it into practice. After spending a day on the lake with him, he’s still every bit the kid I met over 30 years ago. Maybe a little grayer, and a little thicker around the middle, but still loves what he does and loves sharing what he knows with everyone he meets. 30 years later I can safely say that I still learn something every time we spend time together.
He’s still the professor and I’m still the student.