The Pinnacle Series: The Golden Ticket – My First Permit

posted in: Art, fly fishing, Permit | 0

As a fly fisherman, the absolute top dog of the flats is the permit. Throughout the years, I had never really known much about them. They are the kind of fish that just shows up unannounced to the party, gets everyone worked up, shakes it’s tail around and then disappears and leaves you wondering what went wrong. Typically, while I’m out fishing for Tarpon or Bonefish is when I get the random shots at Permit. Not really planned, it’s just a “I sometimes see permit out here” type of thing.

As a fly fishing artist, I tend to only paint fish I have caught. Well, except for the Permit. To me, painting permit was more about getting to know the fish. If I paint it often, I would be more familiarized with the fish, and ultimately not blow shots when an opportunity presents itself. They say the biggest enemy to a permit fisherman is himself. If you find yourself over thinking a situation, or putting that fish too high on a pedestal, you will ultimately psych yourself out and blow shot after shot. That hasn’t seemed to be my problem. Whenever I have had permit tailing in front of me, I’ve been able to make perfect casts; it’s what happened after the cast that I never quite knew what would make them eat. I can pretty much read most fish. I understand how to make them bite, just by reading their demeanor. However, I haven’t really had enough permit encounters to even begin to understand them.

 

PinnaclePermit[The Pinnacle Series: The Golden Ticket – Original Acrylic on Canvas] 

 

It’s because this that I always told myself that I’d catch my first permit by mistake. As an avid fly fisherman, I had told myself I would catch my first permit ever on a fly rod. I’ve had several buddies and guides tell me we can knock it out with conventional tackle first just to get my feet wet, but I always refused. I wanted my very first permit ever to be on a fly rod.

 

So, I’m at a buddy’s place and we decide to take the skiff out to Flamingo (Everglades National Park) the next morning. We invite another buddy to tag along. I hadn’t fished with these two buddies in about five years. It was a nostalgic trip, originally, it was the three of us who explored the waters of Florida Bay without any knowledge of the area, years prior.

So, feeling nostalgic, we broke out the old bass rigs and picked up some worm hooks and good ol’ artificial lures at our old morning spot and were on our way. We made it into the park and were messing around with the local redfish & seatrout. When we went to take some photos of our early morning catches, I noticed my SD card on my camera was corrupt for some reason. I made a comment along the lines of “Watch, now that the camera isn’t working I’m going to catch a permit or something.” We had some shots at laid up tarpon as well, but no takes. So throughout the morning, we made a few more permit references; more so jokes about catching a permit in the middle of the Everglades. At about lunch time, we decided to make the run over to our favorite lunch spot in Islamorada, The Lorelei. After taking a lunch break, Chris mentions that we should buy some live shrimp and fish around Islamorada for bones or permit. Personally, I didn’t care for that so my response was “If we find fish that are hungry enough, they’ll eat anything.”

 

So we poked around a few of my Islamorada spots and didn’t see anything promising. So we made our run way back into the park to another one of my redfish spots. I happened to tell them that I had seen a few lost permit at this spot throughout the years, and they kind of just laughed it off. We found a hole full of some big mangrove snapper so we decided to throw some in the live well, then I looked back and happened to see a big wake. I asked Bernie to pole over towards it to see what it was, but the wake disappeared. Chris is on the bow, I’m hanging out in the cockpit and Bernie is poling. Out of nowhere, Chris says “IT’S A TAILING PERMIT!”. Earlier in the day, Bernie and I had told Chris that if he ever saw a tailing Permit, he’d know it; it’s not something you confuse. You might see a shark or big bonefish and think to yourself “that might be a permit”, but once you see a tailing permit, you know for sure it’s a tailing permit. So I get up and look, cell phone in hand and sure enough it is a permit. So I film it on SnapChat and made a comment along the lines of “When you have a tailing permit in front of the skiff, and all you have is gulp”.

 

 

Then, I started to think about the situation. I had a fly rod in the gunnel, rigged up with a permit fly. What are the chances this fish will eat a gulp? Not likely. So I figured our best bet would be for me to grab the fly rod and cast a Merkin in his face. So I tell Chris to hold off and not cast at it, that I would cast a fly at him. So I start to grab the fly rod off the rack and I hear Chris say “Well you better hurry up cause he’s right here” so I looked up, and sure enough, the fish was at my 9 o’clock, at about 15′ from the skiff. I sat there and looked at the fly rod, I would likely spook the fish simply by pulling the rod out of the rack, or dumping enough line out to pitch a cast at it, so I told my self screw it, I grabbed the bass rod, with 5 year old 10lb braided line and plopped a terrible cast at it with the Gulp. The moment that lure hit the water, that permit shot at it like a bat out of hell and set the hook on himself and started to swim off. That’s when we realized how big that fish was. It was well over 40″ and super heavy. I kept cursing myself for not having a fly rod in hand. That was THE fish. Seeing the way that fish was scavenging across that flat, his energy and demeanor told me that fish would have eaten ANYTHING at that moment. It was such a bad cast that plunked in the water and the fish didn’t hesitate. Swam right at it full speed, ate it and took off. But halfway through the battle, the anger within myself turned into joy. Even though I missed the opportunity to possibly land my first permit on fly, a feeling of happiness settled in. After a long fight, Bernie jumped in the water and grabbed the fish. He tried handing it to me but I could barely hold it up. This thing was giant, heavy, and incredible. We snapped a couple photos and Bernie jumped back in the water for revival. Mind you, the water was less than a foot deep, so this beast of a fish had to swim sideways as it was probably at least 20+ inches tall.

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[My First Permit, way up in the Everglades]

 

All in all, I knew my first permit would be by mistake. Snapper fishing with a bass rod, in the middle of the Everglades; and I got to share that moment with the two buddies that I first fished the park with 9 years prior.

 

The Pinnacle Series: A Study on The Big Three is a series of artworks focused on the grand slam.

A Collection of sketches leading to the final three pieces that are acrylic on stretched canvas. The Pinnacle Series is available for purchase. For Information, email me at Eric@EstradaArt.com

 

 

Until next time!

Eric Estrada

The Pinnacle Series: Silver Bullet & The Bonefish & Tarpon Trust

posted in: Art, Bonefish, fly fishing | 0

It start’s with a distinct sound; the sound of something slapping the waters surface. I begin to scan around in search of where the sound is coming and then you see it; a big tail slapping side to side. Every time I take a friend out in search of bonefish, they confuse everything for a bonefish tailing. I always tell them no, that’s not a bonefish; when you see one, you’ll know 100% without doubt that it’s a bonefish. It’s almost like a majestic middle finger being waved at you from across the flat. When bonefish tail, it’s almost like a pack of wild hogs; scavenging across a grass flat, neurotically. They won’t quite tail along a straight path, it’s almost like a side to side, back and forth motion. Ultimately, they’ll make their way across the flat, after they scavenge through the grass in search of shrimp and crabs.

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The bonefish, my favorite fish to catch on a fly rod. Once you spot them tailing, you have to try to position the skiff ahead of them quickly, for as quick as they show up and start tailing, they will be gone. Next thing you know, they now popped up tailing 50 yards away facing the other direction. Once you finally get the shot, you have to put that fly in the right spot. Not too close, as they will spook easily, but not too far so you get a chance for them to see it before they change directions and swim off away, never even noticing your offering. Then comes the strip. I personally like to do long slow strips, they tend to pick it up the moment I stop the strip. Then, I learned quickly not to strip set; instead, I just kind of slowly come tight. And just like that, that very moment is like you tied a bullet on the end of your fly line and shot it out of a pistol. Reportedly, bonefish swim up to forty miles per hour. They make a long, fast run, and then they stop for a second. Good, you somehow managed to clear your fly line and got it halfway into your backing now. You start to reel in a bit and then it decides it wants to take another super long, fast run in the opposite direction. Now, you find yourself in a great position. You’ve made it this far, you’re finally reeling that fish in and it’s almost at the skiff. But you have to be very careful at this moment, for as the fish first sees the skiff, it will make an even stronger, quicker run to get away. Once you’ve got that fish in your hand, a feeling of success sinks in. It’s a rush of glory, you want to high five everyone on the skiff, but make sure you keep the fish safely in the water. Take a couple quick photos and release it safely.

Bonefish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few years ago, it almost seemed as if bonefish disappeared completely over night. I went from catching and releasing a couple dozen bonefish in a day, to catching two bonefish in a year. All the same areas that held large numbers of fish were now without a sight of a bonefish. The weather, tide, everything seemed right, except the fish never showed up. The Bonefish Tarpon Trust focused their efforts in finding out why there was such a decline in the Bonefish population. They determined that our bonefish population actually comes from Cuba and Mexico. Commercial fishing overseas was potentially impacting our fisheries largely. And just like that, Cuba decided to ban commercial fishing for bonefish in their waters, and our population of bonefish immediately showed it. It’s not anywhere near where it should be, but the fishery is rebounding. Coincidence or not, the decline of our bonefish population and rebound coincide exactly with the commercial fishing of bonefish in Cuban waters. The BTT has found spawning patterns that indicate that the bonefish that spawn in our region, get washed away in the currents and head north. Whereas our bonefish are spawned in the Caribbean and via currents make it to our estuaries where they will live and grow into a hopefully healthy South Florida population.

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[The Pinnacle Series: Silver Bullet]

 

I choose to support the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust as their mission is to save and protect our fisheries, as well as enhance them for the future. The science has led them to look globally to figure out the issues we are dealing with. Working with foreign governments to help them understand not only the ecological impact, but the economical impact these fish can have on a region.  So here we are, the 2017 Bonefish & Tarpon Trust membership shirt, manufactured by Estrada Art, LLC. It is a super light weight, high performance microfiber short sleeve tshirt. The artwork on the back is of the first piece of The Pinnacle Series: Silver Bullet. To get the shirt, you must become a member of a great organization. So make sure you head over to BonefishTarponTrust.org and join today, if you aren’t already a member!

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Until next time!

-Eric

Introducing The Pinnacle Series: A Study on The Big Three

Pinnacle: The most successful point.  Unanimously amongst fly fisherman, the pinnacle is known as the grand slam. The most difficult feat to achieve, and not something done by many. It takes the perfect combination of skill, knowledge of a specific fishery, and luck in order to achieve this feat. To successfully target and catch a tarpon, bonefish or permit is not for the faint of heart. Now set your eyes on capturing all three in the same day, on a fly rod, is borderline impossible for most highly skilled anglers.

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I find myself writing this in a bedroom of a house in Key West; just a block away from where I spent my childhood summers growing up, riding my bicycle to the pier with a rod in hand in hopes of catching anything. Just a few miles away from the seawall where I first saw a tarpon, at the young age of 7. In 1992, my grandfather, a Baptist Reverend had packed up and made his way to Key West to become the Pastor at the White Street Church. It was there where we spent most of our time, just a short bike ride away from the ocean. At this young age, I was fascinated by saltwater; something about the unknown had an affect on me. And then I saw these giant chrome-armored giants that were twice my size. My parents complained as they couldn’t stop the tarpon from eating their bait, as they tried to catch snapper. Now, the child inside of me saw two things, the fact my parents told me it was a bad thing to catch one along with the simple fact they were giant, silver and jumped like crazy made me want to catch one even more.

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But here I am, twenty-plus years later, just a block away, with tarpon still on my mind. Mix in some bonefish and permit and it brings me to the impossible. Having caught many bonefish and tarpon on fly throughout the years, I have yet to catch a permit on the long rod. If there is any place in the world to do it, it’s here in Key West. This has inspired me to focus my new series “The Pinnacle Series” on the big three. The series consists of three fish, the Tarpon often referred to as the Silver King, known as a fierce fighter full of explosive acrobatics and pure strength; the Bonefish “The Gray Ghost”, Invisible to the common eye and one of the fastest fish to roam shallow waters, said to peel line off a fly reel excess of forty miles per hour, and then there’s the golden ticket of the flats, the Permit. With eyeballs the size of a basketball, probably the pickiest fish I have ever tossed a fly in front of. Their broad bodies magically disappearing under water. The Permit is my arch nemesis, It’s because this that the permit is also my favorite fish to paint. In this series, you will get a look into my mind when I think of these fish. One month in Key West to take it all in and focus on these fish, both on canvas with a paint brush and on the water with a fly rod in hand. My mind is set on these fish. I will post updates to the series as I go along. Keep checking in to stay caught up!

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[Bonefish on the 5wt]

 

 

Before paint hits a canvas, I sketch my ideas onto paper. The past few months, I decided to sketch these in a sketch book rather than loose sheets of paper. The bright side to doing it in a book is that I focus more on the drawing, but the downside is I spend a lot more time on it, instead of just dropping a loose concept sketch.   Here’s a look into that sketch book, specifically the three sketches that began to bring this series to life.

 

When ink hits the paper:

PermitPartsSketch

[Permit Parts]

TarponSketch

[Tarpon Sea Wall]

 

And the Bonefish.

BonefishSketch

That’s all for now, I will update regularly.

Until next time….

-Eric

The Tarpon are Coming!

posted in: Art, fly fishing, Tarpon, Travel | 0

The time is now! Tarpon season is here! Technically, there are tarpon year round in these parts; so it’s always tarpon season. But as the time of year changes, so do the methods to target these fish. Rainy season brings life to the back country. Where all the juvenile tarpon flourish as they grow up, before joining the big migration. But that’s not what this is about, this is about spring time tarpon pushing up and down the coasts of Florida. In hopes of a successful season, I have began to gear up for the grand event. I have upgraded my skiff game up a notch, upgrading tackle, and a getting my head in the game.

 

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Tarpon Studies: In hopes to better understand the fish, I like to break out the paints and canvas and have at it. It probably doesn’t really make a difference, but it helps me understand the process and get comfortable making a cast at the fish without nerves getting the best of me. After all, these are mythical creatures from prehistoric times making their way down the flat.

 

The battles with small fish are just practice, and as they say, practices makes perfect. We target the little guys with 5wt’s, to equalize the battle field. When targeting the big fish, the 12 weights are out in force. Here’s a nice surprise from this past weekend while snook fishing. A string of tarpon came by, the biggest was about 60lbs; but this little guy beat the bigger ones to the fly.

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To combat these larger creatures, it will take  a little bit of preparation.  I just picked up my new skiff this past weekend. This skiff is a bit larger than my previous skiffs, particularly to chase ocean migrating tarpon in the Florida Keys.

I present to you my new Heron by Salt Marsh Skiffs. I am beyond stoked to say the least to add this to the fleet!

 

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A new set of rods with Nautilus Silver King reels will round out the outfit before setting my sights on the atlantic flats of Biscayne Bay and the Florida Keys. This is the big leagues, I hope I don’t strike out!

 

 

Until next time,

Eric

 

The Journey…

To me, fly fishing is much more than simply getting a fish into my hands. It’s looking on google earth for places untouched, places unseen, areas that may or may not hold hungry fish. There’s a little bit of luck and gut instincts into figuring out what spots will produce and those that wont. The process is what gets me. From tying a fly, making a leader, pulling the fly line through the guides to feeling the line shoot through my finger tips as I make the first cast of the day. Some days end with many notches in the belt, while others end notchless. But there’s always a feeling of accomplishment as the sun sets.

DSC_6982We all have the “go-to” spots; you know, the spots that will produce fish 80% of the time. And even though there is always the urge to go straight to those spots, the desire to find new areas, new fish – is always there. Some friends are cool with us searching for new waters, while others want the sure-thing. The desire to find new spots has lead me to some really cool areas. Some really cool looking places with zero fishing opportunities, while others that lack ‘coolness’ are filled with many fish. I try to always keep a camera, and fly rods with me and just drive.

DSC_9560From climbing under fences, walking down abandoned railways to broken down buildings, we’ve ended up in some sketchy situations. Running away from a pack of wild dogs, to sketchy druggies giving us the evil eye. Wild Hogs and Florida Panther encounters – but the bad situations are balanced out by the great ones. With little effort comes little reward.

DSC_9567[The sun setting in the distance over farm lands that will become pavement.]

 

Throughout the years, some of the random lakes in the middle of the woods have become private lakes in communities, with zero to little access. From trekking through mud, hoping not to become the next meal for a black bear or panther, to hoping to scoot passed the one house that the new tenants always call security. Is it really bothering you that I am catching a releasing a fish, no where near your property line? I was catching these same fish years before there were even houses on the property. It’s part of the struggle. Life outside the water has changed drastically; but the fishing is still incredible. I keep searching for these areas, hoping to find more hidden gems years before developers. Some of my best spots are now part of the new plans and site for “the largest shopping mall in north america!” where they will have a full “Ski mountain feature!”. I mean, I’m sure indoor ice skiing in Miami would be cool to some, but I’d much rather that still be untouched land with snook, tarpon, and peacock bass roaming the dirty brackish canals. I sometimes stop and take a glimpse of what is left. The sun setting in the distance over farm lands that will become pavement. These areas are being wiped out and graded for new construction at an alarming rate. Will this be the last time I can get a photo of this sunset here?

When it’s all said and done, I’ll still find a way into that lake, that canal. Even if it’s now a community park in a country club. The peacocks won’t know the difference.

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And with that, I am out!

Loading up the SUV to hit the road in the am.

Until next time!

-Eric

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Create, Cognize and Recognize

posted in: Everglades, Georgia, Tarpon, Travel, Trout | 0

Well, here we are; another year in the books. Another year of new artwork, new films, new adventures, and new friends.

This year has been great, and it brought on many new challenges and rewards. I got to see and explore areas I had never before. From fishing the flood tides for tailing redfish in Charleston, to big rainbows and browns in the famous Soque River. Catching my first Tiger Trout in the Georgia Mountains, to winning an award at The Drake Mag Fly Fishing Video Awards. I put many miles on the Benz this year. Countless trips to the Everglades, Blue Ridge, Charleston, Crisfield Maryland, Jacksonville, Daytona, Key West, Helen Georgia, and many more.

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[Levee Road, Florida Everglades]

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[Raven Cliff Falls, North Georgia Mountains]

 

I got to share great times that have become incredible memories. I’d like to thank a few people I got to fish with this year, Chris Karwacki, Travis Duff, Ryan Rice, Steven Lester. And of course Ty Loyd Jr, who’s always down to jump in the car and just go wherever the road takes us.   Here are some pictures of some of those trips:

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Here’s to a new year, for new memories & more life. I leave you with some great scenes we encountered along the way.

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I’d also like to thank all of you who have supported me throughout the years, it’s because of you that I get to do this for a living.

 

Until next time!

-Eric Estrada

A South Florida Fly Fisherman’s Guide to Hurricaning…

Hurricane, a storm with a violent wind, in particular a tropical cyclone in the Caribbean. Often a threat, but we have seemed to be lucky these past few years; and have just dodged some pretty nasty stuff. A little jot, left or right, by a storm could have been catastrophic. I write this as I sit here with cabin fever, indoors, in my bedroom; as Hurricane Matthew slowly crawls across the Bahamas, less than 100 miles east of me. Thankfully, it somewhat appears to be just scooting on by us down here in Miami, but appears it will devastate many in it’s path. So far, we’ve only lost the top to one of our car ports and the power has cut in and out a couple times, but it’s pretty much just been a lot of rain.

During the Hurricane, I find myself with a lot of time, and not a whole lot to do. So I break out the sketch book and pen and start doodling random stuff. I come up with ideas for future paintings, or films. Then, as soon as the coast is clear, I am ready to get out and stay outside as much as possible.

 

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With all the rainwater, as a fisherman in South Florida, what does this mean?

Moving water!

The same canal system that was created to drain the Everglades (which is the root of all evil when it comes to the problems we are dealing with in the ‘glades right now) will likely keep us dry during a storm. It prevents most of south Florida from flooding, as it was intended to do. All that rain water must go somewhere. That somewhere? Unfortunately no, not the Everglades where it belongs, but most of it will be pushed through the canal system via a series of spillways and pump houses; ultimately being dispersed throughout Biscayne Bay. With all this water flow, there will be plenty of snook, tarpon, and peacock bass near these spillways with the strong current flow. Certain spillways hold certain fish. I don’t know what exactly drives only tarpon and snook to this particular gate, while just up the road there are peacock bass, and jack crevalle at the other gate. But, one can hit specific gates if they choose to target specific species. I won’t name any spots in particular, but these can be found throughout all of South Florida. Some are in the heart of the city, while others are in less populated areas.

 

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Lately, I’ve been fishing a particular spillway. It has yielded me a lot of bigger peacock bass ranging in the 3-7lb range. I have seen even larger ones, but they keep coming off. A few nights ago, I was going to a local lake for some late night bass fishing. Along the way, I decided to make a pit stop at one of the spillways and grabbed the spinner out the back of the SUV just to make a few quick casts. On the 4th cast, my lure got exploded on by a nice snook. After a good fight on light tackle, I released it and went on my way.

 

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So what are the essentials? Dark colored flies that push a lot of water. The water is going to be dark and dingy. This is all rain water mixed with mud, and a lot of water flow. You want to use a dark fly that moves water so the fish can key in on it. I personally throw a 5wt, as it is a lot of casting and swinging flies down current; a big rod will wear you out. I am using Nautilus’s XL reel, so it really puts the brakes on these fish quickly.

 

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I usually will start off at local spillways then explore out to further ones more distant, less likely to have been fished by others. It doesn’t necessarily have to be fishing the actual spillway it self. But fishing small culverts that have a lot of water being forced through them will create enough current to hold a few quality fish. Ultimately, the fish are there because all the small bait cannot withstand to swim into the strong currents, so they get swept into these areas where the predators are waiting for them.

 

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So with that said, I hope everyone stays safe throughout these next few days. This storm looks to be a bad one that will destroy many in it’s path. Let’s all keep our heads high, and help someone in need. And when it’s all over, explore. Explore new areas, explore new things. Because all that comes from exploring is finding things, you might just end up finding yourself.

 

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Until next time!!

 

-Eric Estrada

Attention Maryland!!! CCA Red Trout Tournament coming up!

posted in: Art, Bass, Saltwater, Travel | 0

Hey guys,

I had a blast last year at the CCA RedTrout, and I will be there again this weekend in Crisfield, Maryland!

Last year, I was able to go out fishing with David Sikorski and caught my first striper on the 5wt. Hope to get some more fishing in this year.

 

Here’s a photos of my first attempt at painting a striper, or “rockfish”.

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See you all there!

-Eric Estrada

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