A B.A.S.S. member and the $1 million striper

Rodney Ply
Photos courtesy of Rodney Ply
Rodney Ply holds up his catch.

This story originally appeared on The Outdoor Channel.

This is some story, all of it true, and hopefully it's not over. So far it goes like this:

B.A.S.S. member and Arkansas resident Rodney Ply went fishing on Bull Shoals on Feb. 18 of this year. He was bass fishing with a bait he made himself. Calls it a Bass Tricker, and it's sort of between a spinnerbait and, you guessed it, an umbrella rig. 

He fired a cast to the bank and wham! "All of a sudden I had one of the hardest hits I’ve ever had in my life," he told local media. It ended up being a striper that weighed more than 68 pounds – and the 12-year-old world record is 64-08.

He rushed it to the bank to get it weighed, and that's when the wheels started to come off a bit. But let's back up: Weeks before Rodney went fishing that day, he signed up for Mustad Hooks’ "Hook-a-Million" contest, which boils down to:

  • Catch a state record fish on a Mustad hook and win $100,000.
  • Catch a world record fish on a Mustad hook and win $1 million.

So Rodney's fish of a lifetime was worth a sum of a lifetime: $1.1 million. Back to the story....

The State Record

To be an Arkansas state record, a fish has to be weighed on certified scales and someone from Arkansas Game and Fish or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has to witness the weight. Rodney and friends "called multiple times to get Arkansas Game and Fish to come to us” and "went through two counties trying to find a scale that was big enough to weigh it....”

 

Here's a shot of the bait Rodney Ply used; it weighs 1.4 ounces.

Bottom line is that the fish was weighed in front of witnesses but not the folks specified, and the marina scale – which was big enough to weigh the fish – was certified after the fact as accurate.

Because of that, Arkansas would not certify the state record – even though it apparently recently certified other records under the same, similar or sketchier circumstances. So ended (temporarily) the road to the state record and $100,000 for Rodney.

The World Record

Rodney also submitted his fish to the International Game Fish Association (IGFA), which is the official keeper of all fishing world records. Interestingly, IGFA had no problem with the weight or the scales. But it wanted to evaluate the bait.

IGFA world record coordinator Jack Vitek told Bassmaster.com that "99.9 percent of the time" world-record submissions are handled by IGFA staff. "But for this particular situation, with the bait being used, we decided to move it to the rules committee to let them decide on the legalities of it. After significant review, they determined it to be a spreader bar arrangement."

If you don't hit blue water for billfish, you may not be familiar with a spreader bar. It's used to mimic a school of baitfish, like an umbrella rig does. Vitek said, "Most people might think a spreader bar is just for saltwater, but that's not necessarily the case. They're used in freshwater too – umbrella rigs are also considered a spreader bar arrangement."

This is an example of a spreader bar being sold on eBay.

In other words, the IGFA considered Rodney's bait an umbrella-type rig. But that in itself isn't illegal according to the IGFA: If, when a fish strikes, the line with hooked fish breaks away from the spreader bar, it's world record legal.

Let's stop there and recap:

  • Arkansas is okay with the bait but not okay with the way the fish was weighed even though it apparently has sanctioned records weighed like that in the recent past. So thus far, no $100,000 for Rodney for a state record.
  • The IGFA is okay with the way the fish was weighed, but is not okay with the bait. So thus far, no $1 million for Rodney for a world record.

Where Rodney Comes Out

Even though, as allowed under IGFA rules, Rodney has appealed the IGFA ruling (no word from the IGFA whether appeals have ever been successful), the bottom line for him is this: "I'm just sick over it, really."

He believes his "lure and fish got caught up in the Alabama rig controversy," he said. "The lure I used is nothing more than a spinnerbait using two hooks and weighing 1.4 ounces.

"[IGFA rules state] two-hook lures are legal, and I was told [by the IGFA] my lure did not inhibit the fight of the fish or give me an unfair advantage in landing it, no more than any other lure," he said.

"And why would you release a hook [as from a spreader bar] from a lure that only weighs 1.4 ounces? It's impossible to release a hook from a lure while casting with one rod and one line.

"I think they got so caught up in the controversy of the Alabama rig, they're afraid to do anything with my lure," he reiterated. "It's a new lure, but it's nothing more than a spinnerbait with two hooks and five blades."

The Appeal and Beyond?

You may be thinking that Rodney, or maybe you in Rodney's position, would be looking for a lawyer. He said, "I don't want to go legal. I've never sued anyone in my life. I just want what's right. That's all I wanted out of it, ever.

"I'd never even dreamed of catching a fish like this in my lifetime, and the way it's turned out has been real disheartening for me.

"I caught the record fish, and should be in the record books for that record fish. The money...that's life-changing for me and my family. A million dollars would change anyone's life. I'm not saying I don't need the money because I do. What I'm saying is, money's not everything in life. There are principles out there that have to be held up to a bigger standard."

Still, Rodney doesn't appear to be crossing out the legal option, should it come to that. Right now, everything once again rests with the IGFA, this time its executive committee. The review process could take days or months.

Rodney is waiting, Mustad is waiting, the fishing world is waiting...and wondering whether it's possible that an "ordinary" fisherman who catches a fish of a lifetime on a bait he made – what fishing is ultimately all about – won't get what he appears to deserve.

[Note: Anglers have started a petition here asking the IGFA and Mustad to "please recognize and reward Rodney Ply's world record striped bass."]

This story originally appeared on The Outdoor Channel. Published on Aug. 16, 2012.

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