The Turn of the Century: Long Turns Big Bass Into Big Cash
About the time Long was gaining steam as a big bass force, a fledgling club was being formed in Tampa, FL by a real estate developer, Mickey Owens, and a car salesman, Bill Currie. Their brainchild was the Big Bass Record Club (BBRC), started in 1999, which anyone in the country could enter with annual dues of $18.95. The rules were simple, the 10 heaviest bass of the year would earn cash prizes ranging from $25,000 for the heaviest, down to a couple hundred for 10th. There were bonuses if anyone broke a state record, and a $1 million prize promised to any member that broke the world record. That was bumped up to $8 million for the 2001 contest.
Murphy was concerned. The lure of that prize money gave morally-corrupt anglers an incentive to do nefarious things to get their hands on large bass and walk away with a big payday.
“Putting a bounty on these fish has caused people to do things they’ve never thought of doing before to get that money. I worry about getting knocked over for $25. Imagine what people will do to win $25,000 or $8 million. I guess I’m from the old school, but I don’t like these contests,” Murphy said.
While initially Murphy may have appreciated Long’s admiration, he would make his true feelings of Long known before he died of cancerous melanoma in 2004.
“Murphy absolutely thought he was a cheater. I had breakfast with Bill Murphy a few months before he died, he thought not only was he dangerous, but he was a cheater, and that he was spawning a bad element in bass fishing in San Diego County,” Zieralski told me in a phone interview this May. “He did not respect Long. He feared him. He feared the element that Mike was bringing into the sport.”
Mike Long would proceed to DOMINATE the Big Bass Record Club. In 1999, the club’s first year Long would take home $28,400 after taking first, third and 10th in the contest that year with bass weighing 17.95 pounds (Lake Murray), 15.19 (Lake Poway) and 12.44 (Lake Poway).
The BBRC changed the rules in 2000, likely because of Long, to state that anglers could only claim one prize for their top fish of the year. Still, Long would again beat the rest of the country with a 17.51-pound bass from Lake Poway to take home another $25,000. Controversy marred the 2000 contest, with several other anglers’ catches being disqualified for failure to provide enough photographic evidence of the measurements of the fish.
For the 2001 contest, more rule changes were made; anglers would be subject to a mandatory polygraph examination to legitimatize their submissions. Previous to this, they only needed a witness to vouch for the size of the fish, there was no mechanism to verify if the anglers acquired those fish legally.
In 2001, Long would again top the nationwide contest with the aforementioned 20.75-pound bass from Lake Dixon known as “Dottie.” All that stood between him and another $25,000 check was the polygraph exam.
John Kerr, of Ramona, had the sixth biggest bass in 2001 and was in line for a much more meager $700 award. He also had to pass a polygraph test. Their exams were administered at Horton Plaza, a shopping mall in downtown San Diego. Kerr breezed through his, while Long stumbled and failed to pass his. Long told Kerr that the question that tripped him up was about what the fish had been caught on.
“He said he caught it on a Castaic [swimbait]. But he was spiking the machine when he was asked if he caught the fish on that bait. His brain was confused because he lost the fish on one bait, and caught it on another. When they asked him that question he saw a jig in his mind instead of the swimbait,” Kerr said.
Mickey Owens, CEO of the Big Bass Record Club Inc. confirmed that Long did indeed fail to pass the initial test, but was allowed to retake it and eventually claim the money. “They brought another guy in to do the test after that, with different questions, and he passed it. So, I think at that time we awarded the money. We held it up for quite a while though…I think it was paid like 90 or 120 days afterwards,” Owens said. He didn’t remember the reason that Long had failed to pass the initial test, and said that big-bass expert Doug Hannon, who oversaw a “board of governors” for the BBRC, handled the process of verifying the catch and polygraph exams. Hannon passed away in 2013.
Despite claiming to have caught several bass over 16 pounds in 2002, including an 18-pounder from Mission Viejo, Long submitted no fish for the BBRC contest that year. Was he deterred by the new polygraph requirements? Was he told he wouldn’t be permitted to submit any more fish to the BBRC due to the issues with his polygraph exam surrounding his 2001 submission? We’ll probably never know. John Ross won the $25,000 top prize with a 17-pound fish from Mission Viejo. The BBRC folded in 2003 when their insurance provider, Lloyd’s of London, tripled the premium to cover the world record prize.
With the BBRC money off the table, Long shifted his focus. His reconnection with an old childhood acquaintance would open the door for another money-making venture: tournaments.