The Dark Secret of “America’s Big Bass Guru”

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.

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  • Murphy addressed these concerns in a Feb. 24, 2002 article written by Zieralski in the Union-Tribune titled “Murphy wrote the book on big bass.”

    “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.

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    Kellen Ellis

    The owner, editor and administrator of sdfish.com.

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    Ed Zieralski
    Ed Zieralski

    They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Kellen Ellis’ undercover video — and kudos for the work and camo on the equipment — says it all. Add in the thousands of words he wrote and the hard investigative work he put into this piece, and what we have… Read more »

    Jake A
    Jake A

    Also….what a guy Dan Hermes is. A kid, gets to fish with his hero and recognizes he’s cheating and that it isn’t right. He refuses any credit in the tournament and tells that POS Mike to keep the prize money. A true moral dilemma and he takes the right path.… Read more »

    James Murtha
    James Murtha

    Kellen,

    This was one of the most compelling pieces of investigative journalism I have ever read. As a securities fraud investigative attorney for the SEC and novice angler, this brought my two worlds together. Kudos to you brother and tight lines!

    James

    Bryan Fischer
    Bryan Fischer

    If Long is known for cheating, with not only substantiated eye-witness accounts, failed polygraph, and now actual video footage – how on God’s Green Earth does this guy still hold Cal State Lake records?
    He should receive a lifetime ban on attaining a fishing license with all state records vacated.

    Amy
    Amy

    Mama Bear is on alert……Don’t mess with the mama bear she can get ANGRY. My ex John Kerr is a fantastic fisherman who dedicated his life to the sport on the utmost moral level….Rumors have come my way over the years that he was in kahoots with Mike Long and… Read more »

    B.W.
    B.W.

    Used to live in Lakeside back in military days. Loved fishing but having to pay to fish everywhere ON TOP of buying a license?? I hated California for that. I already wasn’t making much and to basically make fishing a rich man’s game. Such an overbearing government. Why haven’t y’all… Read more »

    T Lain
    T Lain

    First of all, Kellen Ellis, great article and outstanding investigative reporting!! When I first started fishing Bass tournaments as a teenager, it was in San Diego. Mike Long was the King, and even then I thought “No one is that good or that lucky!!”. Fast forward… When Long broke the… Read more »

    Otay Michael
    Otay Michael

    Kellen, you told me years ago he was a cheater, did not want to believe you. Now I’ve absolutely no reason to think otherwise. Such a sad deal he stole so much of everyone’s winnings. Feel sorry for my buddy John K. and his son. I’ve fished with them, true… Read more »

    Zachary payne
    Zachary payne

    Most reading I’ve done in 10 years…..I could have read a 100 more pages…..Awesome!!!

    Stephen McKay
    Stephen McKay

    I used to fish with Bill Murphy quite a bit back in the day and cheating was a frequent topic of discussion. There was a group of guys fishing with trout that we were attempting to expose…they were a bold group, even showing up with a truck with a tank… Read more »