Lord of the Flies

A local man angles for Guinness glory

The main reason Marty became Ratner's first serious challenger, though, was because of a seismic career change. Early in Marty's tenure as an emergency room physician, he partnered with Gitin and formed a company. The Emergency Medical Group was a doctors' group that hired ER specialists and allowed local hospitals to outsource their care. The idea was wildly successful. The firm grew, provided new services (critical care, prison and military health, HMO administration), and merged with another company. By the time Marty was in his late forties, he was vice president of the HMO division of InPhyNet Medical Management, an industry giant valued at several hundred million dollars. In late 1997, the company was acquired by another healthcare behemoth, MedPartners.

After years of working twelve-hour days, Marty had had enough. He retired at the age of 51. "I was lucky," he said. "But I could do it."

He had money, lots of free time, and a passion for fishing.

World records can happen anywhere — even in the shadow 
of The Falls mall
Jacqueline Carini
World records can happen anywhere — even in the shadow of The Falls mall
Angler's trophy room
Jacqueline Carini
Angler's trophy room

There are plenty of super-rich, fishing-mad type-A guys running around. But none dedicated his retirement to chasing Ratner. Few others challenged him, partly because of the stigma attached to this pursuit. Some anglers criticized Ratner, said IGFA's Schratwieser. "It's one thing to go after a largemouth bass record, or a marlin record," he said, "but some anglers will criticize you for going after the smaller, less popular fish." Or as Ralph Delph, a legendary saltwater guide in Key West explained it, all records are not created equally: "There are righteous records. And there are paper records. Some of them are ridiculous."

Some leading record-holders bristle at the term record-hunter. When asked about her accomplishments, Virginian Gene DuVal, who is nearing 140 records and is behind only Ratner and Marty, said, "I'm not a record-hunter. If a big fish is there, I say, Ooh, maybe that's a record. But I don't target." Even Becky Reynolds, IGFA's chief records administrator, who has 50 herself, balked at being labeled a hunter.

Marty, however, has no qualms with the term.

Marty didn't go after Ratner right away; first he became Grandmaster, Sharkmaster, Tarponmaster, and Bassmaster. The Metropolitan South Florida Fishing Tournament, known as "the Met," is one of the world's most prestigious angling tournaments, and it annually holds six-month-long competitions — the angler's version of a triathlon. These "masters" tourneys require competitors to nab a variety of species, using different tackle (spinning, plug, bait-casting, fly rod) and bait. From 1998 to 2002 Marty treated the tournament as an occupation. Fishing twice a week, finding the best guides in whatever species he was hunting, he ripped through the Tarponmaster, Grandmaster, Sharkmaster, and Bassmaster, winning each one. He also became a member of the Met's elite Flyfishing Hall of Fame. In late 2002, just as he was considering whether to complete the suite of Met tournaments (the Billfishmaster still beckoned), he heard about Ratner.

The big Pennsylvanian was being crowned with one of IGFA's highest honors: its lifetime achievement award, for his 150-plus world records. At the time, Marty held only a few records — tripletail, barracuda, and peacock bass. But he thought, I could do that. Chasing Ratner was promptly added to the to-do list.

Not more than a month later, Marty logged on to the IGFA Website and for the first time scoured the records list with the eye of a hunter.

He was not reading the thousands of categories for awesome records to usurp. He was not looking to beat, say, the yellow perch caught by Dr. Charles Abbot in northern New Jersey in 1879; or George Perry's 22-pound largemouth bass, sometimes called fishing's Holy Grail; or some of the great tarpon or marlin records. Nor did he want to catch a 50-pound carp on a two-pound tippet. Those were too unlikely. Marty was looking for feasibility. "I needed multiple achievable records."

In late January 2003, Marty took a one-week trip to Rio Tapera, in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon. His brother Gonzalo and a friend were supposed to accompany him, but they canceled. So Marty was alone and able to concentrate exclusively on records. He returned as the world king in almost twenty new categories, including one for a fish called the giant trahira.

About a year later, Schratwieser was fishing with Marty near the Marquesas Keys, about 30 miles off Key West, when Schratwieser saw the telltale sign. Of course Marty, having done research on sharks, had all the basics — the certified IGFA scale, the IGFA shark record data. He had consulted with his guide Delph about what was running, what was possible. He had prerigged for the right line class and had brought not one but two cameras to photograph the world record. But he also had the look. Said Schratwieser: "The place was loaded with mutton snappers and red groupers. Great fish. We were really excited. But Marty was hoping for sharks." He just wasn't excited about play fishing. "I started wondering," Schratwieser continued, "if fishing was even fun for him anymore." Said Marty of his approach: "If you're going to do this, you can't stop for every fish. You have to stay focused."

Marty was spending lavishly on his quest: tens of thousands of dollars on flights, charters, gear, guides. "It's already an expensive sport," he said, "but the record-hunting is very expensive. I know I'm lucky to be able to do this."

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