For myself, these past few weeks have been extremely hectic. I have been swamped with commissioned work since mid June, and with a few events approaching, my free time has been limited. Now, throw in some terrible weather into the equation, and fishing has been almost impossible. But with our friends over at Strongarm Products having the grand opening event for the new shop, it seemed like a great reason to have our group of friends to all make our way south. For some of us, it was a short drive, while others made the trek from Tampa, Lakes Wales, Boca, Titusville, etc. It only made sense for us to continue our drive south into the keys and do some fishing. This is what it’s all about for me, as fishing isn’t anything without a great group of friends to do it with.
Photo by: Warren Chin
Artwork by: Eric Estrada – Iconic Series: Floater, Roller, Backbone, Tailer, Sidelined
The Rock Reef in Key Largo was our home base, and although it’s a nice play to stay, it may be a little too close to Gilbert’s Tiki Bar that instead of spending the perfect afternoon fishing, we spent it feasting and drinking. We expected to fish the dock lights for tarpon once the sun went down. But after pulling up to dock light number one, making a single cast at a nice hefty poon sitting in the light, the property owner didn’t seem to want to help us out, shutting the light off immediately. We made a couple quick stops at nearby lights, but those didn’t show any promise. And quickly, instead of us running to the dock lights, we were chased back to the Rock Reef by another kind of lights. These lights were much stronger, and yielded much more power than a dock light. The cold chill that swept over us let us know that the storm was upon us. We made the long run back to home base, just out running what had crept on us. We spent a few hours tying flies, eating some beef jerky, and Tostito chips with Salsa con Queso. We washed it all down with Yuengling and Heineken, of course.
Artwork by: Eric Estrada – Iconic Series: Tailer, Roller, Backbone, Sidelined
The alarms were set, and we were to drive south to Islamorada in the am. On the morning drive, I had spotted all the flags down the road were straight down. But I had a feeling that wouldn’t be the case on the water, as it would be too good to be true. Jose Sanchez noted that there was no wind, but I still wasn’t a believer. Sure enough, as we pushed the skiffs into the drink, there was a stiff wind well over 10 knots. Warren Chin and I jumped on my old skiff, the sideconsole Ankona Copperhead that’s now owned by a great friend Capt. Ryan Masihdas, as he jumped aboard Matt Cox’s brand new Beavertail Strike. Matt had yet to catch a fish in Florida Bay, and Ryan was determined to make that no longer be the case. Jose Sanchez was fishing with Ryan’s cousin Randy (Brandon) on his 18′ Ankona Shadowcast, and Marty Vacarro was in his Ankona SUV 17 with his girlfriend Uhmbah.
We made our run across the open basins and jumped onto the shallow to get out of the nasty chop, and simply put a hurting on some fish. Warren spent his morning on the bow looking to get him his first bonefish on fly. But we simply couldn’t find any around, as the water was much higher than usual for that stage of the tide. I continued to pole toward shallower water as we came across a giant permit just sitting there, in about a foot and a half of water. We kind of crept up on it unintentionally, as we didn’t notice it until we were about 15-20′ away from it. Warren put his cast ahead of it, spooking it as we expected. For one cannot catch their first permit on fly, before catching a bonefish on fly, and definitely not the first permit you ever throw a fly in front of. Finally, we make it to shallow water and are welcomed by pods of tailing redfish. Warren making accurate casts ahead of schools of tailing and mudding reds, but to no avail.
They just weren’t having it. After a few attempts, he suggested we switch up, as I had now poled several hundreds of yards just getting to the shallow water to begin with, and noticed the fish just weren’t responding to his presentations for whatever reason. I unwillingly fought and screamed agains’t his thoughts, and told him I did not want to get on the bow, but he was persistent and wouldn’t take no for an answer. (I jumped off the platform so fast before he even finished the sentence with his thought about switching over). Quickly, we spot another tailing redfish about 40 yards away, and as we approached, I noticed another tail pop up about ten feet just beyond it. Now, in my head, I knew I was going to make a cast and hook up, so I had to think of a new catch phrase. Once in position, two false casts and I lay the fly just passed the fish’s nose. But the moment I stripped the fly line, it exploded in the water a giant boil as it stormed off. I stayed calm, as I noticed the other redfish did not move, so I picked up my line and dropped it an extra ten feet beyond my first cast. As soon as the fly hit the water, I shouted “I BROUGHT MY DANCING SHOES!” as I strip set the redfish. Warren hadn’t even seen the red I casted at, so he had no idea what I was casting at. So it was more fitting to catch the second fish, as it kept him on his toes.
Photo by Warren Chin – Myself, Eric Estrada holding an Islamorada Redfish
Artwork by: Eric Estrada – Iconic Series: Sidelined, BackBone
We ran into Jose Sanchez and Randy nearby, and were told that Randy, a novice in fly fishing got a nice Tarpon on fly at their first stop, and Jose picked off a redfish on the long rod himself.
We moved on to another spot to get Warren some more shots at tailing fish, but again, they weren’t feeling him. Every cast he made, accurate or not, they wanted nothing to do with it. It was becoming ridiculous, and I never wish that upon anyone. He wasn’t doing anything wrong, they simply just didn’t eat his flies.
In the morning, we had all agreed to meet up at the Lorelei for lunch around noon, so off we went, reluctantly. We regrouped with everyone and were glad to hear everyone had a better morning than we did. As these are waters we fish regularly, and the others were all outsiders just getting a glimpse of our fishery. We exchanged stories of our day over some great food and drinks, enjoying the brief time we get to actually fish together.
Photo by Warren Chin – The skiffs lined up at the Lorelei for lunch
After lunch, we figured out what we planned on doing for the rest of the afternoon. Some wanted to take a stab at some permit, while we really didn’t know what we wanted to look for. Warren took his disappointing/frustrating morning in stride like a champ and offered to pole the rest of the afternoon. Again, I fought him on his decision, but he was so determined, that I couldn’t refuse to get on the bow, as he had a look in his eyes of terror had I chose otherwise. We poled around for about 45 minutes, then just decided to make the run to where the others were at, only to find them in the middle of a photo shoot taking photos of the new skiffs.
As we poled along the flat to get to where they were, we noticed a few tails waving us over. So I put on my sequin blouse, white leather gloves and dancing shoes and was ready to throw down. Just as we got into casting range, we witnessed over one hundred redfish tails rise up and taunt us. It’s the exact image that was in my head when I did the first “Sea of Tails” painting that inspired the “Tails” Stalker Mask. It’s as if I was reliving a moment that played in my head a year ago, except when I made my cast, it was like Warren’s morning all over again. I made about at least ten casts ahead of the school, next to the school, on top of the school until they finally turned around and swam off toward the photo shoot that was going on just a couple hundred feet away. We let them know what was approaching, and Marty and Oombah put on their dancing shoes and got to them and made a cast. Shortly after, Uhmbah hooked up and caught a nice redfish out of the bunch. The rest of the meatwad swam off as we watched them disappear into the horizon. We all decided that would be a great ending to an amazing day/weekend so we caravanned back to the ramp, and made our way back north.
Thanks to Bob Reeves of Strongarm Products in Homestead, FL that unknowingly made this weekend happen when he planned his grand opening event. Also for always helping us out whenever any of us need something. And happy that everyone was able to make the drive down and do some fishing, as I cannot wait until the Big Pine trip in October, where many more will be down to wreak some havoc on the flats.
This upcoming weekend, I will be down in Islamorada at the Islander Resort for the Herman Lucerne Memorial Tournament. If you’re not familiar with what that is, I ask that you look it up as it’s an amazing event for a great cause. With all proceeds going directly into the fishery I call home, Everglades National Park. I will have the Estrada Art booth set up selling artwork, and some cool stuff that I donated will be in the silent auction. Plus, SWC is the official apparel sponsor of the event, so make sure you check it out.
Until next time,