When Brent Dupre set the hook on a fishing trip out of Cocodrie with his buddies a few days before Christmas, he figured he had caught another run of the mill redfish in deep water just minutes from Lake Pelto.
Turns out, he couldn't have been more wrong.
Dupre, along with friends Nick Bascle, Taylor Ledet and Seth Babin, had headed out on the foggy morning of Dec. 22 for a fun trip to get together before the holidays.
“We were just fishing and trying to see what we could catch,” he said.
But no one anticipated the strange encounter they were about to experience when something hit Dupre’s Carolina-rigged dead shrimp that morning around 10:30 in 15 to 20 feet of water.
“It would come to the boat and it would go — I’m used to catching redfish so I know how they pull,” said Dupre, 21, of Houma. “So I’m thinking, ‘Alright, it’s another redfish.’ At first I wasn’t sure because it was being kind of weird, but when I saw it come to the top I saw the golden back.
“It gets closer, then I see the tail. I was like, ‘That’s a good-sized fish.’ Well, whenever the head comes up, it was like, ‘What the hell is that?’ We were confused. Everybody stopped fishing, and we were just looking, like, ‘What is this monstrosity of a fish?’”
What Dupre reeled in appears to be a normal redfish in every way — except for it’s badly misshapened head. Instead of a typical red drum snout, Dupre’s fish has a very pronounced rounded dome.
“We were all clueless,” he said. “We’re like, ‘What is this fish?’ And we pulled it up, and sure enough it was a redfish with some sort of … head.
“We knew it was a redfish, but we were thinking a red maybe had a party with a mahi mahi or something.”
Dupre posted pictures of the fish — which measured 42 inches and weighed 36 pounds — on social media, where hilarious comments followed. Guesses about the strange looking fish ranged from a carp/redfish hybrid to drum/redfish mix, all the way to BP oil dispersants and Russians being blamed for the mutation.
But Dr. Kyle Piller, a fish geneticist with Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, said the likely cause of the defect was much more mundane.
“I assume this is simply a developmental abnormality that occurred early on in this fish’s lifetime,” Piller wrote in an email to LouisianaSportsman.com. “Often, abnormal or aberrant individuals (like this) are naturally removed from a population because they can't swim as well, making them vulnerable to predation.
“Somehow, this individual was able to survive.”
That jives with what a representative with the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium told Dupre after examining the fish at the boat landing that afternoon.
“A guy with a LUMCON shirt told me it seemed like it was a birth defect, like the fish was too big in the egg case and his head got squished up,” Dupre said. “Or it could have been some type of gene defect.”
Unfortunately, Dupre didn’t think about mounting the fish until after it was already cleaned and in his freezer.
The only mystery left now is if his dad will fry it up — or make redfish courtbouillon.
“It would have been a good wall-hanger for our camp out in Bayou Salle,” he said. “It survived with a head like that for pretty long — until he came around and saw my shrimp.”