Lord of the Flies

A local man angles for Guinness glory

Undeterred, he headed to his second favorite spot, a place he calls simply "Dunkin Donuts." As he drove down Atlantic Boulevard, Marty pointed to his GPS tracker, which highlighted bodies of water. "Look," he said excitedly, noting ponds and canals scattered among the strip malls and housing complexes of central Broward. "There could be snakeheads all over there."

Dunkin Donuts, a tiny pond behind the doughnut shop's parking lot, was basically a drive-by. A few quick casts, fifteen minutes, no records, and that was it. Marty didn't blame the locale, though. "I saw a big one," he said. It was bad luck — an iguana jumped into the pond just as he arrived. "That may have spooked them," he said.

The trip to Snakehead Land was seemingly a bust. "Skunked," Marty said, smiling. "You don't get world records every day."

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

But as he headed back toward Miami, he planned to make one final stop.

The shocking news was revealed during the administrative phase of Marty's day. In addition to catching big fish, a would-be record-setter must prove he has caught a big fish. Marty takes his applications especially seriously: He submits a photo of the fish, a photo of himself with the catch on land, a sample of line, and a witness's signature. "If you're trying to do what I'm doing," he explained, "you don't want to leave any room for doubt."

The World Records Administration office on the third floor of the Hall of Fame building in Dania is a routine stop for a guy who collects records like baseball cards.

Marty filled out some forms and paid his fees ($35 for each record) for the nineteen applications from his Costa Rica trip. His son Martini picked up some junior records, as did his wife Roberta. As he talked about the fishing off Golfito, I asked Becky Reynolds, who runs the office, to check the standings and see how close Marty was. She tapped in to the IGFA database.

Then the shocker.

"Ratner," she said, was up by eighteen in December. He had 178, according to her. And Arostegui had 160. But Marty has thirteen pending and, she said, pointing to a package on the floor, six new applications. That would be 179. Reynolds smiled. "Marty, you'd be ahead by one."

Marty, only three feet away, did not respond. The man who has dedicated much of the past three years to catching Ratner did not even look up. He just kept filling out the forms.

"His applications are pending," Reynolds pointed out. This year, for instance, more than a quarter of the 93 applications were not approved. She gestured to a volunteer who was using a machine to check the weight of a line. "Sometimes the line won't test. It's happened to Marty." But overwhelmingly, she said, his applications are approved. Marty still did not react.

For nearly 45 minutes, as he weaved through traffic on I-95, neither the R-name nor the magic number was uttered.

He talked about how being a doctor has aided his record-hunting: Surgical training helps with good knot-tying; anatomy helps with understanding the biology and behavior of fish. Marty even likened his choice of medical specialty — the gritty emergency room — to his fondness for the "ugly fish." And he suggested his obsessive pursuit of world records simply satisfies an urge. "Goals," he said. "I needed it in business. And now I'm doing it in fishing."

But as he approached the Gables, around 27th Street and South Dixie Highway, Marty brought it up voluntarily. "You know.... About the record. I never expected it would happen so soon. I didn't know I was so close." He wasn't giddy. There was a tinge of melancholy, almost as if he had finally beaten his big brother and wasn't prepared for the feeling. "I kind of feel bad," he admitted, noting he was competing against a man no longer in his prime. Ratner is nearing 70. He's not fishing as much. "Maybe he'll come back," Marty added, almost hopefully.

The King returned to his Pennsylvania summer home in May. Reached by phone one morning, he confirmed suspicions: There will be no resurgence. "I'm done," said Ratner. "I've retired from record-hunting." Why? "No explanation. It's personal. The why is for me to know," he said, his voice still booming. "It's time for Gene [DuVal] or Marty to take the baton. God bless them. I've done all that I want."

Two weeks later the IGFA World Records office reported, "Marty came in today with more records." Faced with overwhelming signs of his triumph, Marty was still unconvinced. "Pending," he said emphatically. "Those records haven't been approved yet."

A day later Reynolds all but confirmed Marty's ascent. Officially, she explained, all domestic records must go through a 60-day waiting period, and international records must wait 90 days, before approval. "But unofficially," she added, "yes."

But on Tuesday, May 24, there was a wrinkle. Ratner, though professing his retirement from competition, questioned the accounting. "One seventy-eight?" he roared. "I have 180. I know I have 180."

He was right. After a brief investigation, Reynolds discovered that, in fact, two of his records qualified in not one but two categories. Ratner: 180. "As of right now, Herb is still ahead by one," she said.

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