Sportsmen are known for embellishing their stories.
The following is a fish tale with twists and turns worthy of a real whopper…and the ending has yet to be written.
For starters…it won't be a state record but could still become a world record.
Sounds crazy? Rodney Ply agrees.
Ply of Diamond City has lived on and fished Bull Shoals Lake his entire life.
His once-in-a lifetime catch came earlier this year.
But the tale of this enormous fish actually begins several weeks before the catch.
That is when Ply registered for Mustad Hooks "Hook-a-Million" contest. Catch a state record fish on a Mustad Hook and win $100,000. Catch a world record fish and you could land $1,000,000.
On February 18th Rodney and a fishing buddy ventured out onto Bull Shoals Lake angling for some big bass.
"I cast in towards the bank and boy…all of a sudden I had one of the hardest hits I've ever had in my life," recalls Ply.
"I don't know what the odds are of winning the lottery but it's gotta be about the same for catching a fish like that," says Ply's fishing partner Chad Whited, also of Diamond City.
Rodney and Chad rushed their catch to the nearest marina to get it weighed.
"We've always had that scale and we've always relied on it pretty good for weights of the big fish," says Farris Brotherton, owner of 125 Marina.
"When we got here to the dock and we put the fish on the scale for the first time I mean…I couldn't believe what I was seeing on the scale," says Ply.
Decades ago this the size of a state record striped bass was much smaller.
The current record was caught 12 years ago. It weighed in at 64 pounds, eight ounces.
Rodney says his striper weighed more than 68 pounds.
"Chad can tell you what he seen on the scale," says Ply. "And I can tell you what I seen on the scale. But it was…it's a record fish."
"We've sent Mr. Ply a letter saying his fish is not going to be certified as a state record," shares Mark Oliver, Chief of Fisheries for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Click here to read the rejection letter sent to Ply by Game and Fish.
Oliver showed us where the information on all the state's record fish is kept.
You'll find application forms and photos of past state record fish, current state record fish, and famous state record fish…like the 40 pound German Brown trout caught by Howard "Rip" Collins in the Little Red River that was for many years a world record.
Oliver says Ply's striped bass is not being certified because post-catch protocol was not followed.
"And two of those (protocols) are that the fish has to be weighed on certified scales and that somebody from the Arkansas Game and Fish or US Federal Wildlife Service has to witness the weight," says Oliver.
"It's not like we didn't request Arkansas Game and Fish to come to the scale," says Ply. "We called multiple times to get Arkansas Game and Fish to come to us."
But Ply and his friends were told to meet a game warden at a grocery store 30 miles from the marina.
"We went there and come to find out, you know, they didn't have a scale there big enough to weigh it," recalls Brotherton. "And the four or five place that we went…we went through two counties trying to find a scale that was big enough to weigh it or that would accommodate a fish this big."
Had a game warden or other certified witness traveled to 125 Marina to witness the weigh in there, Ply would likely be a state record holder and $100,000 richer.
That's because it turns out the scale, although not certified, was working perfectly.
"Had it sent in, had it verified, had it certified," says Brotherton of his marina's scale. "It came back at 100 percent that it was accurate."
With bragging rights and big money on the line, Ply took his case all the way to the top…to Arkansas Game and Fish Director Loren Hitchcock.
Hitchcock's emailed response reads in part "You seem to think I personally certified all previous records and it is my decision to vary from standards. It doesn't work that way on my watch. You are misinformed. I'm not going to vary from written guidelines."
Well three of the most recent records certified on Hitchcock's watch seem to have varied from the written guidelines.
A tilapia caught in November was weighed in without a qualified witness present. But the fish's weight of three pounds, eight ounces is in the record books.
A yellow bullhead was weighed in at the Lonoke Post Office on June 6th. The scale was certified on June 7th…after the fact. (NOTE: after the broadcast of this story we learned that Chase Evans caught his record bullhead on June 6th but because it was late in the evening he did not have it weighed until the next day. The Bureau of Standards does not certify scales at U.S. Post Offices and therefore had no record of the certification, but according to Evans' application the scale was certified June 7th...the day after his catch but still before it was weighed).
And also on June 6th a ten year-old beat a 35 year-old state record when he caught a five pound black crappie. But the state Bureau of Standards has no record of the scale used at Rocky Stop in Mena to weigh the fish has ever been certified. And the witness to the weigh-in who signed the state record fish application is the store's owner, not a game and fish or wildlife service employee.
In reviewing the applications for state record fishes we found some that lack official witnesses, some that lack scale certification information, and many that show fishes were weighed in on scales that hadn't been certified in years.
"We're going to try and figure out if some weren't done correctly…as best we can," says Oliver. "Some of them date way back. And if we do find ones that weren't done correctly…those fish would be decertified."
"I don't want to take anything away from anybody," says Brotherton. "That is not what this is about. It's just being treated fair. If you hold us to a standard different from everybody else…that's not fair."
"A guy will fish many a day on this lake before you'll ever have the opportunity at a fish like that again," says Whited. "Rodney never will have. I never will have. And it is just a little disheartening that something that happens so few times in a man's life would be disrupted by a bunch of technicalities that really make no sense to me."
They've took the fun plum out of it," says Ply about the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission's rejection of his record fish. "I never dreamed of a fish that size at Bull Shoals lake to begin with. But I never dreamt of catching a record fish and not getting to say you caught the record fish. I mean…I just don't understand that whatsoever."
Actually…Rodney may still have a record fish…a world record fish.
The International Game and Fish Association (IGFA) is expected to decide by the end of the week whether or not Rodney's fish is a world-record, fresh water striped bass.
And if it is, the $1,000,000 contest prize will remain be a possibility.
All involved admit that it will be odd if Rodney's fish gains world record status but falls short of state record status.