When Rodney Ply got a call from his friend Chad Whited on the morning of Feb. 18 to go fishing on Bull Shoals Lake in Arkansas, he politely declined. Thirty minutes later, Whited’s truck was in his driveway and Whited was hooking up Ply’s 18’6″ 175 Starfire with a 150 pro-v Yamaha engine. Looking back, it’s hard to say if it would have been better for Ply to stay home that day. On one hand, he ended up catching a massive striped bass weighing 68 pounds that could have broken the landlocked record. On the other hand, catching that fish and the chaos that followed caused Ply to go through the heartbreak of losing out on $1 million. Story by Scott Yorko; photos courtesy of Rodney Ply, Farris Brotherton, and Ken Shirley
Twenty-four days earlier, Ply had registered for Mustad’s Hook-a-Million contest, where contestants could win $100,000 for any state record fish they catch, and $1 milion for a world record. The only catch: Fishermen have to use a Mustad hook, which was no problem for Ply. “I use nothing but Mustads,” he said. That day Ply told his wife, “Tina, ‘I think I might catch a state record largemouth today.’ My wife chuckled. I think I’m gonna catch a big one every time I go.”
Ply had been trying out his prototype, an umbrella-type lure complete with three baits and just two hooks (one bait is a teaser). It has five blades and the whole thing weighs 1.4 ounces. “I got the idea when the Bill Dance spinner bait came out with five blades on it–big to little, all on one shaft. I thought, ‘why not have multiple shafts?’ Five shafts gives a spinner bait tremendous balance,” Ply explained. It’s designed to look like a bait pod.
Ply and Whited decided to fish a spot on Bull Shoals called Peel. They got the boat in the water around 11:15 a.m. and started fishing a small pocket in 15 feet of water. It wasn’t long before a fish took the bait and immediately went deep. The fight went on for 10 minutes. Ply had to put his trolling motor on high to chase the fish down, and he played the fight carefully to not break the line.
“I saw the bottom of my line more than once. When he came up next to the boat, I told Chad, ‘you better get that net, Chad. You’re not going to be able to lip that fish,'” said Ply.
On the way back to the marina, Ply and Whited called the marina’s owner, Farris Brotherton, and met him on the dock to weigh the fish. Ply had to hang it with a water skiing rope since it was so big. They weighed the fish over half a dozen times, and it never registered less than 68 pounds. The inland striper world record is 64 pounds, 8 ounces.
Brotherton immediately went inside to call Arkansas Game and Fish and inform them of the record-breaking striper at his marina. Minutes later, he came out still holding the phone in his hand with a look of disbelief. “Arkansas Game and Fish had just told him (Brotherton) that if we wanted to have them witness the weight of that fish, we’d have to drive 30 miles to a little town called Summit, Arkansas, and meet them at Allen’s Grocery,” says Ply. “We called Game and Fish back three times, but they would not send someone out to witness the weight.”
Thus ensued an eight-hour goose chase all over Marion County with Game Warden Jodell Purdam and Ken Shirley, a district fisheries biologist. Every grocery store and butcher shop they went to had a scale that was either too small or not certified. Not even the post office was open. Meanwhile, the potential world record fish was floating in an 80-gallon fiberglass tub in the back of Brotherton’s truck bed, regurgitating other little fish it had eaten earlier. When Ply, usually a cordial gentleman, lost his patience and asked how Arkansas Game and Fish could be so unprepared, they simply admitted that they never thought such a thing would happen. “My own Arkansas Game and Fish failed me that day after eight hours of driving around,” Ply said.
By the time the men got the fish on a certified scale, it had spit up so much shad that the weight was down to 58 pounds, 3 ounces. Although Ken Shirley came out to 125 Marina the next day to certify Farris Brotherton’s scale, which passed all necessary tests, and despite all the witness statements collected by Chief of the Arkansa’s Game and Fish’s Fisheries Division, this was not enough to satisfy Director Lauren Hitchcock. Hitchcock wrote to Ply, “I am notifying you of my final decision in this matter: the Fisheries Division Chief and I cannot certify your striped bass as a new state record”.
This is the scale used to weigh the striper.
Recently, in the midst of Ply’s appeal, the International Game and Fish Association also ruled that Ply’s prototype lure was a spreader bar arrangement, which would disqualify him from breaking the world record. So Ply missed out on $100,000 for his fish not breaking the Arkansas state record and $1 million for his fish being disqualified as an IGFA world record. The following email excerpt was sent to Mr. Ply by Jack Vitek (pictured here, center), World Records Coordinator for the IGFA: “After significant review by our Rules Committee, we consider your lure to be a spreader bar arrangement. IGFA Equipment Regulations state: ‘spreader bars are permitted to be used provided that the actual fishing line is attached to the snap or other release device, either directly or with some other material.’ Since the angler’s line is not attached to a release device so that the hook could be disengaged from the lure arrangement, this lure violated IGFA equipment rules for spreader bars.”
“They’re going to have to come up with something better than that,” said Ply, noting that a spreader bar has eight baits on it and weighs several pounds. According to Ply, the IGFA states that you can use two lures and still be legal. Rodney has gathered many supporters throughout the ordeal. Therockyriver.com has started a global petition for Rodney on change.org. Ply still hopes that his appeal will be accepted and that justice will be served. “I just never dreamed of being put through what I was put through with Arkansas Game and Fish. That’s just ridiculous for anyone to go through that,” he said.
Rodney Ply thought he had caught the World Record landlocked Striped Bass and won $1 million until Arkansas Fish and Game wouldn’t certify his catch and the IGFA rejected his record. See the story and photos of Ply’s fish.