Lord of the Flies

A local man angles for Guinness glory

By the end of 2004, he broke the 100 barrier.

Ratner, of course, heard about Marty's run. Since receiving the lifetime achievement award, Ratner had slowed down his hunt considerably. He was, in part, concentrating more on other hobbies, such as his collection of medieval swords and armor. He wasn't as aggressive as in the old days, in part, said Capt. Jim Anson, "because he was so far ahead of anyone else."

But in late 2004, Anson and Ratner noticed Marty was, at last, on to them. Anson looked at several of Marty's recent records. "He'd set one, then beat it by a small margin a day or two later, then beat it again. You get credit for three records," said Anson. "He figured out a part of the formula. If you're going to be number one in this, that's what you have to do. Marty was the only one to figure this out. He knows the rules."

Marty Arostegui, who has 179 world records, hunts for big 
fish everywhere — salt water, fresh water, rivers, lakes,  
oceans, canals, drainage ditches
Jacqueline Carini
Marty Arostegui, who has 179 world records, hunts for big fish everywhere — salt water, fresh water, rivers, lakes, oceans, canals, drainage ditches
Marty prepares for a trip to the Snake Pit
Jacqueline Carini
Marty prepares for a trip to the Snake Pit

Ratner, then 65, responded by going on an unprecedented record-hunting blitz. At one point he was so obsessed with accumulating records that he and Anson spent nearly a month waking at dawn to stalk grass carp on a Snapper Creek canal. Sometimes Ratner would go out with as many as eight prerigged lines in the rare case he would spot a record in a particular class. In a furious streak that took less than ten weeks, Ratner brought in almost twenty new records. His total hit its highest point ever — nearing 180. Later that summer he told the Pittsburgh Tribune: "I'm waking up with a sparkle in my eye again."

"He was as dogmatic as ever," said Anson.

Rejuvenated by the competition, Ratner was taking aim at 200.

Marty held plenty of what Ralph Delph would call "righteous records." For instance, he caught the world's heaviest fish on a fly rod — the 385-pound lemon shark. But the only way one could ever expect to beat Herb Ratner would be through ugly fish.

The pariahs of the ichthyologic kingdom are typically not popular with anglers, who tend to be captivated by glamorous game species (e.g., marlins, tarpon, bonefish) or tasty fish. As such, they're primo candidates for serial record-hunters like Marty and Ratner. Marty, for instance, began picking up long-nose and alligator gar records after he learned Lake Livingston in East Texas had some monsters. He also went after grass carp, a Ratner specialty; and targeted oscars, a species that rarely breaks three pounds. "He'd go for anything with record potential," said Alan Zaremba, a Broward-based guide. "Even mudfish."

There was one so-called trash fish Marty owned. "[Ratner] doesn't fish for snakeheads, I guess," said a puzzled Marty, as he exited off I-95 in Broward County. The Snake Pit is the epicenter of Marty's snakehead efforts. You can't find it in any book — and you certainly won't find a guide specializing in snakeheads in South Florida.

"That's part of the appeal," Marty explained. "You have to do your own research. No one around here knows anything about fishing for them." His interest in snakeheads began when he received a hot tip from Zaremba, one of his longtime guides. A peacock bass specialist who knew about Marty's record lust, Zaremba spotted the Southeast Asian natives in Broward County's C-100 canal system. While many fishermen feared the snakeheads — thinking the fish, which is similar to the mudfish and infamous for its ability to thrive in low-oxygen environments, would obliterate native species — Marty became excited.

The strategy behind this particular trip to the Pit — Marty has been here at least ten times in the past two years — was record protection. He was trying to strengthen two of his world records, which were eminently beatable. His prime competitors were not, in this case, Ratner, but two guys in Asia: Masahiro Oomiri, a fly-fishing guru in Japan; and Jean-François Helias, a Frenchman living in Thailand. "It's a trash fish here," Marty said wryly, "but a prized game fish in Thailand."

The Snake Pit is perhaps the quintessential example of the "ugly" school of record-breaking. It is a roughly 500-yard-long, 10-foot-wide drainage ditch in front of a condo complex and across the street from a Publix and a Papa John's. Marty, who has fished in plenty of postcard-beautiful spots around the globe, walked toward the litter-strewn pond, eyes widening. This was, for his purposes, among the most productive locales in South Florida: Two world records have come out of this ditch. "That's why it's the Snake Pit," he said excitedly.

The Arostegui record-breaking style is almost industrial in its efficiency. From research, Marty knows exactly what size fish is possible in the ditch, where they will be, and what line class he needs to win the record. In this case, he was ready with a spinning rod with an eight-pound test line. He wanted a fish that exceeded five pounds four ounces. "No records are accidental," he said.

Marty moved through the area methodically, targeting three or four logical spots, which happened to be clogged with trash. When he didn't see the right fish — he skipped several beefy peacock and largemouth bass — he moved on. When he did nab a snakehead, it was too small. He carefully returned the fish to its habitat — as he does with all of his catches — gathered his gear, and quickly moved out of the Pit.

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