A giant redfish that would have almost certainly broken the current state record was caught — and then released — last Friday afternoon in Venice along the shoreline outside of South Pass.
Capt. Mike Frenette, with Redfish Lodge of Louisiana, said the massive fish measured 53 1/2 inches long with a girth of more than 31 inches, and weighed approximately 65 pounds.
Estimating the weight of a redfish is fairly easy, using a simple mathematical formula.
“Without a doubt — no question, no hype, no B.S., no nothing — if we would have killed the fish and brought it in, it would be a new state record,” said Frenette, who estimates he catches and releases 15 to 20 redfish each year weighing more than 50 pounds. “The largest I’ve ever caught was 58 pounds on a topwater bait, and this fish was bigger than any of those.
“When I saw it first come up to the surface fairly close to the boat, I knew it was a special fish. It’s the first redfish ever — and I release a lot every day — that I couldn’t hold onto it’s tail with one hand. I couldn’t hold on to the base of it’s tail. I had to use two hands just to revive it.”
According to the Louisiana Outdoor Writers Association, which maintains official state records in Louisiana, the largest redfish caught in the state was a 61-pounder reeled in by David Weber in June, 1992.
“This was truly a special fish, without a doubt,” Frenette said. “One, I’m not sure I thought I would ever catch one that big, and two, I’m not going to gamble against it, but I doubt we ever will again.
“It’s just a special fish.”
The angler who reeled in the beast — a task that took about 70 minutes Friday afternoon — was Dr. Darrel Gilbert, a dentist from Atlanta.
"It was pretty amazing," Gilbert said. "I've caught redfish before, and I've learned you can't determine its size by its fight. So when I first got it on, I didn't think anything of it. I thought it was just another redfish."
His impression of the fish started to change as the fight wore on and the fish made one run after another, eventually circling the boat several times and almost getting caught in the motor.
"I was getting a little nervous because I was looking at the spool and there wasn't a lot of line left," Gilbert said. "But I worked it in and made some progress, then we went back and forth quite a while."
At the time Gilbert was hooked up with the giant, Frenette was assisting Gilbert’s son, Perrin, in landing a 39-pounder.
“For the first 45 minutes of the fight, I had no idea of the magnitude of the fish, absolutely not,” Frenette said. “I just thought it was another good fish. We were kind of giving him grief because he’s taking forever to get this fish in. It took almost all the line and we never really got to see it.
“I even asked him, I said, ‘Are you sure this is a redfish and not a jack crevalle?’ He said, ‘Mike, I saw it once and I swear it’s a redfish.’”
Gilbert was using a 7-foot light/medium Quantum rod spooled with 20-pound Vicious braid and a 25-pound Vicious Elite fluorocarbon leader. The big red hit a pumpkin and chartreuse Strike King Redfish Magic glass minnow on a 3/8-ounce jighead about 2 1/2 feet under a popping cork in shallow water, Frenette said.
“It wasn’t until I finally got the fish’s head in the net that I looked at Darrel and said, ‘Buddy, you have no idea how big this fish is,'" Frenette said. "'This is going to be huge.’”
At that point, Gilbert was just happy to have landed the monster.
"I was exhausted," he said. "I was pretty sweaty and tired and my right arm was tired. It was a relief to get it in the boat."
The big red was measured and photos were taken, but Gilbert said he wasn't aware of any potential state record until after the fish had already been released and Frenette started crunching the numbers.
The decision to ultimately let the bull swim free is one the guide is comfortable with.
“About 99.9 percent of my customers always release the fish, and there was no reason to change it because of this one..." Frenette said. "He did the admirable thing, which is special in itself.
“I told him, ‘You’re going to have this memory for the rest of your life. You’re more of a sportsman for what you just did.’ If we’d have brought it in for a dead fish picture, we’d have probably looked at each other and said, ‘I really don’t feel good about what we just did.’ There’s no question in my mind we would have said that. Afterwards, we would have felt worse.”
Frenette said the big red swam off after about five minutes, seemingly no worse for the wear.
“It was in absolutely perfect shape,” he said. “It swam off ready to do it again.”