Don Wilson, Sentinel Columnist. Orlando Sentinel. Orlando, Fla.: Sep 15, 2005. pg. D.12

During the years of fishing club tournaments, he'd learned the major bass waters such as the Kissimmee Chain and the Butler Chain.

(Copyright 2005 by The Orlando Sentinel) Don Wilson can be reached at dwilson@orlandosentinel.com.

Long's Law No. 1: When fishing with a 300-pound pro wrestler, give him plenty of room.

Long's Law No. 2: Don't be surprised by anything a client does.

In the seven years he has been a professional bass guide, Bill Long has come to expect the unexpected

.Like the trip with the wrestler."He went to set the hook on [what would be] a 4-pound bass, and he set it so hard that he fell backward and broke the windshield on the boat," Long said. "Luckily, he was just bruised -- and he caught the bass.

"Another client, this one an 80-year-old gentleman, set the hook on another bass. Then he fell overboard.Long nearly had a heart attack, hoping his client wouldn't."But he popped up to the surface, sputtering and laughing," Long said. "He still had his fishing rod and got back in the boat and landed the bass.

"Long, 42, started his career as a bass guide later than most. Until 1998, when the state bought the property, he helped manage the family's Long Farms in Apopka.But bass fishing always had been his favorite escape.He caught his first bass, a 4-pounder, when he was 4 years old.

"And I'd been fishing bass club tournaments since I was 13," Long said.At first, his new beginning as a bass guide wasn't easy

.In Central Florida, the bass guides outnumber the orange trees that have escaped development."It took six months to a year to get the business rolling. I even got my own Web site, www.centralfloridafishing.com, and that helped," Long said.

During the years of fishing club tournaments, he'd learned the major bass waters such as the Kissimmee Chain and the Butler Chain."The Butler Chain is my favorite -- I especially like Lake Tibet Butler," Long said.His biggest boost, though, probably came from a single fishing trip on a private lake to which he has access: Bear Lake.He took a pair of Chicago bass fanatics there, and one of them caught a 12-pound bass.

"They keep coming back, and that's the only lake they want to fish," Long said. "They're pretty good and always catch at least one big fish -- an 8-, a 9-, a 10- and an 11[-pounder]."But don't get the idea Bear Lake is some mystical place.Those fish were caught during the January through March spawning season, Long said.

On a four-hour morning trip to the lake last week, the fishing was anything but spectacular.Despite trying every trick in the book, he only could tempt three small bass into striking.Part of the problem was that grass carp had been put in the lake a number of years to control hydrilla and had eaten the bottom bare of all vegetation, scattering the bass.

Most of the carp are gone now, though, and Long was excited to find a large section of eel grass growing on one side.

But he'll still count on the Butler Chain later this month when he heads a 30-boat bass trip for the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association's annual convention in Orlando.That is where a nervous Bill Long took his first client eight years ago."The guy caught eight bass, all on live shiners. He was happy and so was I, especially for my first trip," Long said.That's also the chain of lakes where he scored his best day ever."On that trip, two people caught 75 bass on one trip, including some 7- and 8-pounders -- all on plastic worms," he said.

He's built a repeat-clientele base and even has attracted customers from the NFL.And along the way, Long has learned that a good guide needs to be part-psychologist."It was a definite change from farming. You're dealing with people for eight hours in a boat and dealing with all sorts of personalities," he said.