It's early Sunday afternoon in the Plaquemines Parish wetlands and Tyson Chandler has just missed what seems like his millionth fish of the day.
"Dang," he mutters. "They're so quick."
This is only Chandler's second time fishing out in the wetlands southwest of metropolitan New Orleans. The first time he came out here, it was cold, windy and, since he was underdressed, Chandler left with more stories about the freezing temperatures than fish. But today is pleasant, and Chandler layered heavily under his team-issued sweat suit. It's like he's warming up.
Fishing with us is Chandler's brother-in-law; another local writer and Sal Gagliano, the man who owns the boat. It's still early in the trip but everyone is having moderate success fishing speckled trout.
Everyone, that is, but Chandler.
"Tyson couldn't steal a fish if he wanted," says the writer. It's a familiar joke. Tyson laughs, but quickly gets back to ironing out a tangled line. Gagliano offers to take a look at Tyson's fishing rod but as he's doing so, feels a tug on his line and starts to reel in yet another trout. He offers Chandler the bending poll.
"That's all you," he declines. "I'm going to get myself a fish."
At 7'1", Chandler is comically tall in current company alone, but on a fishing boat he seems like a giant in danger. Will he fall off? His center of gravity is so…high. Looks, as they say, are deceiving. Though he was drafted out of Dominguez high school in Los Angeles, Calif., Chandler was raised on a farm in Hansford (three hours north of L.A.) until he was nine. A self-described "country boy" who began fishing at a young age to simply pass the time and relax, he is an avid offshore and deep-sea fisherman and is constantly going on trips during the off-season. The wetlands offer a new challenge.
When you're fishing in the marsh, you want conditions to be as calm as possible. (Gagliano says the best fishing is at four in the morning).
The conditions aren't half bad. The fish, however, are shy today. Gagliano explains that fish are lazier in the winter and aren't as aggressive going after lures. You must be patient. After catching his good-sized speckled trout, the writer points out how their mouths get more tender as they age, making the bigger ones even harder to catch.
"But, you see, these are what we call 'here-fors,'" he adds. "These are the fish you're here for."
I'm starting to feel bad for Chandler.
Galgiano is seemingly reeling in trout at will ("That just comes from years of knowing where the fish will be") and the writer is developing a hot reel after the slow start. Even the brother-in-law, whose fishing attire consists of a U.S. Soccer jumpsuit and pair of purple Converse Chuck Taylors, is getting bites. Yet aside from nibbles, Chandler hasn't even landed a single here-for. He hooks a good-sized trout, but it springs free just feet from the boat.
Gagliano suggests Tyson use shrimp as bait and go for redfish. After one cast with no bite, he reels in a shrimpless hook. The tall fisherman shakes his head and casts again.
Finally. Chandler gets hold of a good-sized fish and leans back. "It's a redfish," he yells, and the other fishermen nearly drop their rods in the water to assist. Gagliano instinctively reaches for his net, positioning himself to bag the catch. Reminders are offered. "Keep the rod up!" The redfish tries to writhe away in the water, but it's hardly a fair fight. Chandler keeps it steady and Sal nets it.
"That's how you get it done," Chandler says, pumping his fist.
By anyone's standards, it is a great catch. The redfish is at least three feet long and weighs a good 11 pounds. It's at least twice as big as the next largest fish caught by anyone on the boat all day. Chandler marvels at his catch.
"That's the biggest fresh water fish I've ever caught," he says. (Galgiano corrects him. We are fishing, apparently, in brackish water.)
Chandler holds up the fish and poses for some pictures and then plops the fish into the boat's ice chest, admiring it some more before closing the lid. He fields some tips from the writer about how to cook redfish fillet, then grabs a pole and starts casting away again. A couple more fish give him the slip and he catches one trout too small to keep.
"It's OK to throw them back so long as you're catching them," he says.
Spoken like a true fisherman.