Rodney Ply reeled in the fish of his life on a lake in Arkansas but now the fight over that giant 68-pound striped bass has come to South Florida over what many believe should be a million dollar catch.
Ply was participating in a Mustad hooks company event offering a million dollars to anyone who caught a world-record fish with one of its products. Ply's catch beat the record by four pounds. A concrete worker with a school teacher wife and three kids, that kind of money would be "life-changing."
"That was probably one of the most exciting days I've had in my life," said Ply.
But when he mounted the monster fish on a nearby marina scale, the problems began mounting for Ply. First, the state of Arkansas rejected the record because the scale wasn't officially certified, even though there were several sworn witnesses to the weight and the scale proved to be perfectly accurate.
The International Game Fish Association in Dania Beach, which certifies world records, ruled that the scale was fine and the weight was legitimate. But then that organization rejected the record based on the lure that Ply used to catch it.
"It's been a struggle," said Ply.
Ply made the lure himself. Similar to Alabama or umbrella rigs, it's an arrangement of several spinner baits, but the IGFA ruled that it was an illegal "spreader bar arrangement," though spreader bars are commonly used in saltwater trolling, not Ply's freshwater casting.
"IGFA had told me before they had never had a rule against a lure like mine," said Ply. "They classified mine as a spreader bar just to get me to go away."
Ply dove 21 hours from Diamond City, Arkansas to Broward County to find a lawyer – and attorneys Eric Rudenberg and Mike Glasser have taken the case.
"He'd have a better chance of winning the lottery than catching a fish like this again -- he deserves [the prize money]," said Rudenberg.
They say they believe IGFA made its ruling against Ply because it has a bias against freshwater fishing based on its own membership, which is largely made up of saltwater fishers. Ultimately winning the million dollars was a man who caught a saltwater tuna.
"They bent over backwards to deny him the prize because they wanted a picture of a saltwater fish," said Glasser. "That's where they make their money."
"IGFA world record coordinator Jack Vitek wouldn't appear on camera, but he told Local 10 that it was a legitimate ruling.
"It was determined by IGFA's rules committee that the lure used by Mr. Play was a spreader bar arrangement and did not comply with IGFA rules," said Vitek. "Unfortunately because of that his record was rejected."
Rudenberg and Glasser said they plan to file suit against IGFA on Ply's behalf in the coming days.
"Mr. Ply is one of the most genuine honest salt of the earth people I've ever met," said Rudenberg. "And he's been totally thrown out and hung out to dry."
Ply, a decorated war veteran, said his struggle with both the state of Arkansas and IGFA has driven him into debt. But he says it's not about the money anymore, it's about right and wrong.
"I don't like to be done wrong and in life if I was to roll over what's the price the next time when I'm done wrong in life?" he said. "I don't want to see anybody go through what I've gone through over a record fish."