Kellen Ellis had just weighed in the heaviest limit of the field on the first day of his second-ever bass fishing tournament, one of the biggest in San Diego County. The then-18-year-old was flying high. His day got even better when the rock star of California big bass fishing walked over to say hello.

“Mike Long came up to me afterwards and was just really, really nice and really interested in what we did to catch those fish. I always thought that was cool.” Ellis told MeatEater. “I think in hindsight he was setting me up or lining up a pawn he can use later down the road. I think everybody that was friends with him was kind of a pawn in the end.”

That 2001 meeting led to a decade-long friendship. After that friendship crumbled in 2010, Ellis spent nearly as many years working to expose celebrity angler Mike Long for lying, cheating, fraud, illegal fishing, and physically threatening anyone who might expose him. On Monday, June 24, Ellis published an 18,000-plus-word exposé and two years of undercover video evidence on his website, SDfish.com. The evidence appears to show that, as far back as 1997, Long has been snagging record-class bass on nests, sneaking previously-caught fish into tournaments and lying about record book fish. These transgressions helped Long win over $150,000 in competition purses and gain international notoriety.

“Mike Long claims to have caught hundreds of bass over 10 pounds, 75 over 15 and one over 20, the ninth largest bass ever caught!” Ellis wrote in his story. “His big bass photos have been circulated all over the world, across the covers of over 40 magazines—even gracing billboards along the highways of America’s heartland. You can buy baits and high-end fishing rods with his name on them.”

In 2010, Ellis nearly partnered with Long to produce a bass fishing video series despite suspicious rumors. But their potential business relationship fell apart when Long refused to let Ellis videotape him fishing—for fishing videos. Long insisted they would re-create the catches. In 10 years as friends, fellow anglers and competitors, the two never fished together.

After they severed ties, Ellis tracked down some of Long’s former fishing partners and witnesses to some of his lake-record catches. He heard the story of Jordan Kerr, son of Long’s former fishing partner John Kerr. Then-13-year-old Jordan noticed a fish tank containing two large bass in Long’s garage. Jordan mentioned the bass to several people, and a few weeks later, Long showed up inside the Kerr’s home unannounced, asking which room Jordan slept in. The family later caught Long sneaking around outside at night, peering into windows with a flashlight.

The elder Kerr claims Long weighed in two bass resembling the ones his son described at a tournament soon after.

“Kerr cut ties with Long and started creating separation between them,” Ellis wrote. “Seeing the bass in the tank was proof in his mind that Long was bringing bass to tournaments and threatening to hurt his teenage son was the final straw.”

As rumors of his misconduct spread, Long’s threats appear to have turned dangerous. In 2010, Kerr and a friend were fishing Lake Cuyamaca. Long was also there that day. When they left, Kerr noticed a bad wobble in his right front tire. He pulled over to find that wheel missing a lug nut and the others only a thread away from coming off.

Another former tournament partner, Kevin Northling, had both tires pop off his trailer as he left a lake. This vandalism occurred shortly after the final tournament Northling and Long fished together. Northling told a number of people that he cut ties with Long after seeing him boat a bass that he appeared to have tied to a sunken tree before the tournament.

A park ranger who’d called out Long experienced a similar vehicle sabotage.

As Long consistently decimated the competition, suspicions mounted. Rumors spread that he was entering tournaments with bass hidden in his boat or tied to logs. As a result, participation in San Diego County’s vibrant competitive bass scene dropped. By April, 2010, Long was indefinitely banned from all three major tournament leagues, unless he submitted to a polygraph examination to address the allegations of cheating from numerous former fishing partners. He never did.

“In the 8.5 years Long fished local tournaments he earned approximately $150,000, winning at least 35 times,” Ellis wrote. “From the results still available on the internet, he fished 27 tournaments by himself (including a couple he fished with his young son Colton), and won 15 of those! He won over 55% of the time when fishing alone, and only 25% of the time when he was aided by a partner.”

Somehow, news that the legendary Mike Long had snagged or faked most of his claims to fame never got out of Southern California. He continued to sponsor products, appear in magazines and generate large followings on social media, where he could delete any negative comments or allegations.

“There was so much rumor, but he was so big,” Ellis said. “I think his reputation was bigger than all of us. Like, we would say stuff and then he would say, ‘oh, you’re just jealous haters.’”

“He made threats against all of us. He threatened to kill me several times. He threatened to kill Kevin Mattson several times,” Ellis said.

And yet, Long continued to fish the same lakes as all the people he’d cheated and threatened. In 2018, Ellis finally had enough. The only thing missing, the only thing keeping Long in the fishing world was a lack of indisputable evidence. So, for two spring spawning seasons, Ellis built a network of informants and staked out lakes Long was known to frequent. He wore camouflage and hid on hillsides with a camera and a zoom lens.

“After all these years, I wanted proof of his despicable tactics that even his most loyal supporters wouldn’t be able to refute, proof that explained once and for all how Mike Long was able to get his hands on all these big largemouth bass.”

The first season, Ellis failed to capture good footage of Long snagging bass.

“In March of this year it was more of the same, but on April 4 at Lake Poway he finally ripped his treble hook into the side of the head of a large bass right in front of me, with the camera rolling,” Ellis wrote. Viewers can see the camera shaking from Ellis’ excitement when it happened. “Not more than a minute or two after releasing that fish, he had snagged another one. And later that day, another. The very next day he returned to Poway and snagged a couple more. I finally had what the world needed to see. The secret tactic for ‘America’s big bass guru.’”

Mike Long’s social media accounts, website and signature series product pages are all disabled. We were unable to reach him for comment. Ellis said that, last he heard, Long was selling all his fishing gear and trying to start a new life.

Ellis, who now lives in Texas, told MeatEater that his decade-long effort wasn’t personal—he wanted to restore the integrity of bass tournaments. He said he wants a 10-pound bass to really mean something again. But in his exposé, he aimed his last shot at the heart of the identity that Long built and leveraged for fame and riches.

“Perhaps the hardest thing for people to believe about Long was that he’s not even a good fisherman to start with,” Ellis wrote. “In addition to witnessing him cheating, his former partners shared the same sentiment of Long—that he was a surprisingly poor bass fisherman.”