As of this past Sunday, Mike Long enjoyed long-standing national recognition as the greatest big bass angler of all time. Stories and photos that appeared in newspapers and magazines on a regular basis for over two decades proclaimed as much.
The story by Ellis speaks for itself, loudly and clearly, so no need to recount the misdeeds of larceny, fraud and dishonesty here. There will surely be more to come as those involved in the world and big business of sport fishing – tournament organizers, competitors, sponsors, the media and others – pause for a bit of reflection to consider their roles in the mess as well.
Regardless of what might further be revealed as the “legend” of Mike Long continues to unravel, know this: he was not the first big cheater in the world of fishing (or for that matter sport), nor will he be the last.
Among those connected to fishing in San Diego, he is simply the most recent, but with the most public and well-documented downfall.
When you live three score and 12 years in the same place as I have in San Diego, and with most of that life intertwined with fishing in one fashion or another, you come across some characters and stories, and I can think of a few.
Although I am disappointed with my past association with Mike Long, no one sticks out in my mind more than one Phil M. Jay, and it would be fair to say we haunted each other on occasion over many years. Like Long, Phil had a penchant for big fish, the attention and money they could bring and eventually suffered a downfall of his own.
My first recollection of Phil Jay came in association with him being declared the winner of a county-wide trout derby run by one Joe Zarola, a friend and colorful character in his own right from the local fishing scene.
As I recall, interested anglers needed to pay an entry fee and if they caught a trout of a certain weight over the course of the season, or had the largest trout that week, they qualified for a one day derby held at the Santee Lakes. On the day of that derby, another friend, Evening Tribune outdoor writer Harlon Bartlett showed up near the end of the event with plans to cover the weigh-in and naming of the winner whose prize included cash and/or a compact car.
Arriving before the weigh-in, Bartlett decided to take a break away from the commotion and away from anglers lining the bank. As he waited, a car entered the facility and pulled into a nearby parking spot well away from the action. Bartlett watched as a man emerged from the car with a rod, reel and a bucket, hustled down to the water for a few casts. Observed the entire time by Bartlett and failing to catch a fish, the man returned to the car and drove to the weigh-in with Bartlett not far behind.
Minutes later, Bartlett was stunned to see the man he watched just minutes earlier march to the scales with a large and very dead trout, that sure enough “won” the derby. The victorious angler was Phil M. Jay who went on to explain that he was lucky, because he arrived so late and had time to make only a few casts, casts that Bartlett had observed and had turned up empty.
Bartlett was a talented writer and good reporter who found the answers by Jay and Zarola to his questions evasive and unbelievable. Following his column detailing the events he observed there would be no further such trout derbies. It was the first time I heard of Phil M. Jay and would be far from the last.
The next instance came when I received a communication under the letterhead of the Florida Game and Fish Commission listing Jay as a Commissioner. The letter requested that as a professional courtesy I provide Jay with a key to Lake Miramar, since he was a part-time resident of San Diego.
I replied by explaining that I could not provide a key, but that I would be willing to facilitate access for any official business purposes he might have. My response was unsatisfactory to Mr. Jay who subsequently called to set up a meeting in my office.
At the appointed time, Phil Jay arrived at my office in Balboa Park’s Conference Building, and introduced himself as not only a member of the Florida Game and Fish Commission, but as a freelance writer as well. Accordingly, he needed unlimited access and wanted keys to the gate at Lake Miramar, the gate to the dock, availability of a boat and motor and a letter of permission for same.
Once again, but this time in person, I explained to him that while I could not provide anything that he had requested, but would be willing to provide access for anything that I would agree as a legitimate purpose associated with his work as a free lance writer.
“You work for Pete, right,” he yelled.
“No,” I explained, “I work for Don Makie, who is Pete?”
“Pete Wilson, he’s the Mayor and a friend of mine, as soon as I leave here I’m going to call him to get what I need and you’re going to be in trouble!”
After conceding that I worked indirectly for the Mayor and many times removed, I asked Mr. Jay to hang on a minute, turned to my phone and dialed a friend, Rich Garcia who served as an assistant to the Mayor.
“Hi Rich, its Jim with City Lakes. If Pete is available a friend of his is in my office and would like to speak to him.”
Before Rich could answer, and without a word, Jay jumped from the chair that faced my desk and literally ran out the door of the office, past the receptionist and along the catwalk that lead to the stairs and his exit from the building. Apparently he had changed his mind about speaking to his friend the Mayor.
This was not the last time I would hear from Phil M. Jay, nor disappoint him.
In the next installment, Phil Jay returns with a million dollar proposal for the city and we learn a lot more about another man who created a legend of himself that included big bass.
Check out part two: Phil Jay’s Million Dollar Pitch… and a host of Dirty Deeds