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Walking A Fine Line

Oil Spill pushes Venice guide to double as marsh advocate

By: Steve Bowman, OutdoorChannel.com

VENICE, La. -- Mike Frenette walks a fine line every day.

For the last 30 years, Frenette has been a fishing guide operating the Redfish Lodge out of Venice, La. In that time he’s built a business that has catered to anglers all over the world in a fishery that has no match anywhere else in the world.

Since the Deep-water Horizon oil spill, he has doubled as an advocate for the marsh that has provided the great fishing that people have so willingly flocked to take part in.

See images of fishing in Venice, La.

In those two positions he often finds himself at odds.

“One of our biggest problems is that since Katrina and then the oil-spill, people have stopped coming,’’ Frenette said. “They have this image of an oil-soaked marsh and dead fish. While there are certainly things we should be concerned with because of the oil spill, their impression isn’t accurate at all.”

Commercial anglers all over South Louisiana have the same problem.

“If I stand up and yell too loud about the oil, people think the fish are all gone. That makes it tough: On one hand, we still have the absolute best inshore fishing in the world. That’s as true today as it was before the oil spill. But on the other, we are seeing some things from the oil spill that aren’t being addressed in a timely manner.

“If we fight too loudly for one, we lose the other because those images of oil-soaked marsh just aren’t appealing to a guy who wants to bring his family down for a weekend of fishing.”

Frenette says in those areas that weren’t severely impacted by the oil spill, the fishing is better than ever. On a short trip to prove his point to four Outdoor Channel.com reporters, there were 10 redfish from 29 to 50 pounds caught in less than three hours.

“It really doesn’t get any better than that,’’ Frenette said. “You won’t find that type of fishing anywhere else in the world. For years it’s been like that. Initially we had to fight to get people to realize what we had, and once the word got out they came and they kept on coming.”

Then two disasters struck: Hurricane Katrina and the oil spill. And ironically enough, Hurricane Isaac added a third round a week after the trip mentioned above.

“In the fishing business, people come, enjoy themselves and most of the time before they leave, they are booking a trip for the next season,’’ Frenette said. “But after the hurricane and the oil spill, people started going elsewhere.

“One, they think the fishing has suffered. And two, we have gone through re-building times, especially after Katrina. So as guides we get a double whammy, from the disasters and from a business standpoint because not as many people are coming.”

While Frenette may bemoan the business end of it, he’s more concerned with fewer people having a connection to the marsh.

“If they stop caring about this estuary, arguably the most critical piece of habitat to this country, then we are sunk,’’ Frenette said. “And I say ‘we’ as a collection of all fishermen, guides and this country.”

For video of Marsh Sadness, click here.

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