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  • Ken Perrotte

Let's Go Fishing for Big Redfish & Black Drum in Amazing Venice, Louisiana with Strike King Lures

Updated: Jun 29, 2023

Anyone who knows me realizes that, although I was born in the far north, I love many parts of the American south, especially Louisiana. Between the fishing, the food, the fun and the resilient nature of the people there, there is a lot to love. I’ve fished from Lake Charles to Morgan City to Slidell and even fished Lake D’Arbonne, up in Monroe Parish, for giant crappie. But I had never made it down to Venice, the end of the line when it comes to dry land on the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a place where big redfish, speckled trout, black drum, flounder and more roam.

Keep reading and check out the action-packed fishing video at the end of this weblog!

That opportunity finally came in mid-June 2023 when I joined a group of outdoor communicators on a trip set up by Mark Copley of Rather Outdoors, which owns several iconic brands, including Strike King, Quantum, Zebco, Lew’s and more. We were going to be using Strike King’s new saltwater lures along with Quantum Smoke inshore reels, fishing out of Redfish Lodge of Louisiana with Captain Mike Frenette and his sons Michael, age 33, and Steve, 31. “My boys have been fishing under my wing since they were old enough to talk,” Mike said. “They’re probably better fishermen than I am now, very knowledgeable and people-people.”

Frenette’s first boats in Venice were a custom-built offshore boat (the “Teaser”), with twin caterpillar engines and a tuna tower and a couple of smaller inshore boats. He set a lot of offshore records early back then. He laughs when he recalls the Teaser being a top boat in the northern Gulf because it could do 25 miles per hour, making it a speed demon in those days. “Now, they’ve got boats that’ll do 25 in reverse around me,” he joked, “but it was a comfortable boat to fish.”

We had no GPS, no electrics. I just had a compass, would calculate my drifts based on the current. The deepwater oil platforms weren’t even out there then. Mike recalls watching the “Cognac Rig” getting erected, 11 miles out of South Pass and 40 miles from Venice in almost 1,100 feet of water. “There were giant buoys all around the work area,” he said. “I’d going trolling in the morning and there’d be wahoo, bull dolphin, tuna, you name it, a plethora of species, all attracted by building this structure. More offshore rigs, including semi-submersible rigs, followed,” he said

Even though you’re near the end of the south Louisiana coastline, I didn’t realize the distances we’d travel by boat to the prime fishing areas. We’d travel a couple miles of bayou, passing sleeping shrimp boats, out to the main Mississippi and then run 10-12 miles, eventually crossing the miles-wide river and entering a tangle of islands, small bays, flats and marshy canals. Crossing the Mississippi in a small boat can be sporty, especially when you have big ship traffic and the extensive winds we encountered over our two days of fishing.

Many anglers there like to use natural baits, such as live or dead shrimp or cracked blue crab. But we quickly saw that big redfish and black drum were happy to slurp in our Strike King artificials. Among the lures we got acquainted with were the new Rage Menace, Swimmer and Flood Minnow plastics. The lure that really stood out to me, though, was the tried-and-true quarter-ounce Strike King Redfish Magic spinner. It’s a skirtless lure, crafted from lightweight gold wire, with a substantial Colorado blade on it. The hook’s jighead featured a large 3D eye. We used many different colors of soft plastics in multiple colors and design, from light purple to chartreuse to white and more – I know they have some creative names for some of the colors - stuff like “Electric Chicken.”

We used paddle-tail swimbaits, the plastic that comes with the package, and sometimes swapped out for the Rage Tail Menace, with their split tails that really flutter. I caught my biggest black drum on a spinner dressed with the Menace.

Like a lot of redfish angling, much of the fishing near Venice involves sight-casting, sometimes in shallow water and extremely short windows to make an attempt. Sometimes the fish are incredibly close, short flipping distances. Fishing with Steve Frenette the first morning, he saw a big black drum just 15 feet ahead. He flipped that spinnerbait toward it, saying, “He probably won’t hit this, but…”

The statement was premature. The drum attacked it! And it was an incredible fight with the 20-25-pounder. Later that afternoon, I fished with “Big” Mike Frenette, Steve’s dad. As water was rapidly falling with the tide and wind, he spotted a big redfish and cast the Redfish Magic spinner toward it. This fish, which we estimated at about 35 pounds, inhaled that lure. About five minutes after we released the fish, cast my spinner across a small channel toward a deep pocket in the bank. Boom! Another monster black drum – probably close to 25 -30 pounds.

This told me that these big black drum will happily, hungrily hit this Redfish Magic spinner bait. It was no isolated experience. I later told a friend up in Lafitte about it and he quickly pulled up a photo on his phone, sharing his story of a huge black drum taking the same bait. So much for the conventional wisdom that you need a shrimp, or piece of crab for a lazy black drum to eat. We even caught two flounder with this spinner. Amazing.

Steve Frenette observed, “Even with some strong winds today, the water was still pretty clean. You could see those fish coming by in those shallow ponds, two to three feet deep. The fish weren’t really schooled up, although we did find that one group where we were able to pick off a few. We were able to get those Redfish Magic spinners in their face, paired with Rage swimmer paddle tails. I used the paddle tails because with so much wind you already had a lot of drag on your line, you had to keep the rod tip down to get the line tight. The swimbait action helped the lure stay down in the water; that little extra friction you get from that design helped.”

Fishing for Big Louisiana Redfish!

“We did a pretty good job targeting today when the sun was out,” Steve said, “and we could see better to sight-cast to fish. But, still, we didn’t do too bad just blind casting, targeting pockets, points and cuts along the reeds and walls of vegetation.”

“My redfish are usually way more active than my black fish (black drum),” Steve added. “Today, they were all active. On some days, you might see 10 black drum and hook one (with an artificial lure). Today, we saw six and hooked five. The black drum would even chase that spinner bait today. They’re known to be less aggressive than redfish. Black drum sometimes don’t put up a terribly impressive fight, but one fish fooled Steve into believing a big red was hooked up.

The Redfish Magic spinner, whether paired with the Rage Menace, the Swimmer or the Flood Minnow all caught black drum. “I think a lot of it has to do with the amount of vibration that lure puts off,” Steve said. “We even caught flounder on that spinner.”

Michael Frenette says he thinks the spinner’s prominent Colorado blade is what triggers the action. “It looks like the swim fin on an escaping blue crab and that is something redfish and drum can’t resist,” he said. “When you’ve got a lure that can entice a drum, that’s a darn good lure,” Mike Frenette said. Copley summed it up with, “This shows you don’t need to use live bait to catch fish here.”

We also fished a lot with Strike King’s flats jigs, again switching out various plastics. I was lucky to be in the boat when Max Martin hooked into a 41-inch redfish more than halfway through the falling tide. Water drains quickly there, especially when steady winds help push it along. Martin spotted the fish, cast well behind it and burned the lure back toward the fish, pausing to let it flutter once. By the time he cranked the handle a couple more times, the big red was on.

Steve Frenette started his day tossing the spinner but switched to a 3/8-ounce flats jig for the cloudier afternoon, “I can take a quarter-ounce spinner bait and just blind cast and burn, all day if needed. And I will end up with fish,” he said. “But this afternoon, I switched up and used the jig with the rage Flood Minnow, doing what I call my ‘sniper action.’ It has a bit skinnier action. I wanted to get the bait down to the fish faster, trying to get it on their nose almost as quickly as I spotted them. We had one redfish give a nibble and I thought we were going to miss that fish, but then he just decided to “thhhoook” - suck the whole thing in. He drug us around the marsh a couple of times.”

Fishing for big Louisiana redfish is always a rush. Few fishing experiences are more exciting than hooking into a hard-fighting redfish when you’re using light tackle. With light tackle, big fish and lots of current, a good reel with a quality, easy-to-adjust drag system is essential. I’ve lost enough fish over the years due to my overconfidence in my skills and not understanding when to loosen the drag to let the fish fight without breaking off. The Quantum Smoke is an extremely smooth spinning reel, with components manufactured and treated to withstand harsh saltwater conditions. I adjusted the drag multiple times while fighting bigger fish and know it helped get those fish to the boat.

Mike Frenette has worked with Strike King on their saltwater baits for more than a decade. First, it was looking at crossover options from the company’s freshwater offerings. Then, the decision was made a few years ago to design lures expressly for saltwater, with considerations related to the type, strength and corrosion resistance of split rings and saltwater hooks, the jighead’s 3D eyes, wire diameter, color options and patterns.

“We looked at color options that could work anywhere from the Chesapeake Bay to Texas to California,” Frenette said. “I really like watching how an idea comes to life when it’s handed to Strike King’s production team. These are all designed from scratch. We’re picking the colors, designing the profile. We also tested the prototype lures extensively in saltwater environments, exposing them to saltwater for multiple days and then just leaving them out to see what would happen.”

Food and Family

You can’t talk about the Frenettes' Redfish Lodge without noting Lori Frenette’s incredible seafood cooking. We had jumbo seasoned shrimp each night, tasty salads, homemade crawfish etouffee, tuna and snapper ceviche, grilled tuna, grilled red snapper and more. It was fantastic! The snapper and tuna were caught the day we arrived in camp. Michael and Steve had ventured offshore and caught the fish – the red snappers were huge – with some pushing 25 pounds.

Mike acknowledged Lori’s cooking brings repeat customers. “I’ve had guys coming for 25 years and they’ll say, ‘Mike, we’re here to fish, but mainly we want to eat Lori’s food.’ That’s a big part of everybody’s trip,” he said.

Steve said Venice is a superb destination for families, the only caveat being they must be families that like to fish and be in the outdoors. Fishing is everything. There are no attractions, no theaters, no shopping, no putt-putt golf and no restaurants, except for your fishing lodge and the Venice Marina restaurant and bar.

“It’s not like coming to Mardi Gras and then booking a half-day fishing trip,” Steve said. “Come down here when you’re ready to fish. It’s family oriented, as long as you’re a fishing family. It’s kind of like camping, in terms of being remote.”

“You can visit here multiple ways. There are rentals where you can stay, bring your boat, clean and eat your catch,” Frenette said, adding that operations like his Redfish Lodge of Louisiana let someone simply show up with their clothing and whatever drinks or alcohol they might want to bring and they take care of the rest.

Coastal Louisiana a Vanishing Paradise - Action Needed -- Now!

You can’t visit many places in coastal Louisiana without hearing locals talk about their concerns over the vanishing landscape. Ducks Unlimited and the National Wildlife Federation acknowledged the problems and its dangers in 2009 when they established the “Vanishing Paradise” program.

Steve Frenette, 31, has fished the area his entire life, getting his captain’s license at age 18. Even at his still young age, he readily notices the changes, with the last 10 years plagued with coastal erosion and changing weather patterns.

His dad, Mike Frenette, recalls the Venice of his younger years. “Back then, the delta was so vast in terms of the land mass. It was great then, and still is one of the best places in the continental United States to come fishing, but it has changed a lot. Land is land disappearing at an alarming rate,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll get some people in offices and positions so we can rebuild the Delta down here. Whether you’re from Louisiana or Ohio or Minnesota, this delta is so important to the United States. Most people don’t realize that 25 percent of the seafood for the country is harvested here. We’re even shipping crabs from here to the Chesapeake Bay area.”

Steve remembers his father talking about how the Mississippi would be inundated with water from northern states’ snow melt until the end of May. It was mostly freshwater flowing out into the Gulf of Mexico. By June or July, the river would drop low enough to allow saltwater to start pushing in, really cleaning up the estuary and making it a first-class redfish fishing area, whether you’d be throwing across grass-filled ponds at fish you spotted or blind-casting across a sandbar.

Storm damage evidence is abundant

The sad, well-documented reason why so much coastal habitat is disappearing is a double punch -- erosion by powerful storms exacerbated by an inability of the barrier islands and marshlands to become replenished by a flooding Mississippi River. The river, basically, hasn’t been allowed to flood – at least in a historic sense – since the great flood of 1927. Massive levees and other protective structures erected in the following years have prevented that. Communities, business, agriculture and aquaculture all along the mighty river have evolved to adapt to this protected way of life. But that security comes at great coast to coastal Louisiana, as miles of shoreline coastal land vanish out to sea.

“There was so much more land when I was a kid, and I’m just 31,” Steve said. “I’ve watched it disappear so quickly. That pass we went out of this morning to fish, just last year went another half-mile out into the Gulf. I estimate Venice has lost as much dry land in the last three-to-five years as it has lost in the last 20. It’s falling apart.”

Myriad factors contribute to the erosion. For example, the incredible surge from Hurricane Katrina pushed saltwater into many freshwater areas, damaging freshwater plants in the area, killing their root systems and undermining the soil stability. Plant life couldn’t regenerate enough in time before the next system rolled in, leaving the soil susceptible to washing away. The scene repeats itself, with each storm taking away land and the Mississippi unable to replenish it. Hurricane Ida in 2021 saw Lafitte, Louisiana, about 90-minutes north of Venice, inundated with more than 11 feet of water.

As long as the erosion is occurring in sparsely populated fishing villages, it seems to be a bit of an out-of-sight, out-of-mind proposition. Politics and money are always in play and deciding which areas to try to restore or protect often comes down to influence and power.

“When all of this is gone, those shrinking barrier islands protecting the city (New Orleans) will be next. Then, how long before New Orleans is underwater?” Steve posed. That’s a question that has been asked for generations, but the sense of urgency seems to be mounting, at least among the people who live, work and play in these Gulf of Mexico estuaries like the Barataria Basin. The Hazard Mitigation Plan for the City of New Orleans reads, “Within the past 100 years, Louisiana's barrier islands have decreased in area by more than 40 percent, and some islands have lost more than 75 percent of their land area. If these loss rates continue, several of the barriers are expected to erode entirely within the next three decades. Their disappearance will contribute to further loss and deterioration of wetlands and back-barrier estuaries and increase the risk to infrastructure.”

“The technology and the ability are there. It (restoration) can be done; I’ve seen it done. We just need the right people pushing, the right people in power,” Steve said.

The transforming landscape is one big reason why the Frenettes say the time to experience that can only be found near Venice is now.


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