Capt. David Esquinaldo is making custom built fishing tackle a family tradition in Key West.
by Capt. Ted Lund
After more than 30 years as one of Key West’s most successful light tackle fishing guides, one thing became apparent to Capt. David Esquinaldo: He couldn’t buy fishing rods, gaffs and other custom angling accessories as good as he could make himself.
And so, Esky Rods was born, taking its name from Esquinaldo’s nickname that he’s had from childhood. With a new storefront and the addition of Esky’s son Harrison to the staff, the duo are producing a wide range of high quality fishing equipment for discriminating anglers all over the world.
“We do a lot of very specialized fishing here in Key West, whether it’s fly fishing for blackfin tuna and cobia or chasing world records on 2- and 4-pound test,” says Esky, wrapping a Sage fly rod blank for a customer getting ready for a trip to New Zealand. “Outside of the South Florida fishing scene, people just don’t understand what we need in terms of actions, hardware and durability.”
To prove the point, Esquinaldo shows a hand-machined fly reel seat that he crafted out of exotic tropical wood.
But for Esky, the signature touches are more than just skin deep.
“Our line of Esky Rods, available on our website, is a production series, but we build each one ourselves to the same exacting standards of our custom rods,” says Esquinaldo. “We tried to standardize the colors, the hardware, the thread wraps and such so we could offer an affordable range of rods built to my exacting standards.”
What started as a cottage industry for Esquinado in between fishing charters, slowly grew into a thriving business. As a tenant in part of a now defunct tackle shop in Key West — Conchy Joe’s — Esquinaldo quickly earned a reputation not only for rod building but also for repairing common and collectible fishing reels.
After the former owner ran the business into the ground, Esquinaldo started looking for a storefront, and settled into one just around the corner from K-Mart on the Island City in 2011.
The rest, as they say, has been history.
“We’ve just been growing day-by-day, week-by-week,” says Esquinaldo, who first learned the rod building craft when he was 14. Growing up, the Key West native married and had four kids. Rod building wasn’t a mainstay for him. He fought as a semi-professional and professional boxer to pay his way through college.
Returning to Key West, Esquinaldo started working as a physical education teacher at his alma mater, Key West High School. In addition, he refereed boxing and youth soccer and worked part-time in construction as he built his fishing business, guiding clients for both inshore and offshore species.
Tackle craft wasn’t something that Esky learned on his own; as a child, he’d make the ride from Key West propper out to Key Haven, where he learned the trade from Bill Miller and his wife, who made fishing rods in his home. Later, he started building for Gulfstream Rods, a shop that opened in downtown Key West.
Over the years, Esquinaldo says the fishing business has changed.
“I’ve been chartering for close to 30 years,” says Esky. “We’ve got so many people doing it now, and the BP oil spill has really changed things as well.”
Although he still maintains a healthy clientele, Esky is limiting his time on the water due to the high demand for his services and custom tackle.
“I can fix any type of rod, any type of reel. I can wrap anything — you name it we can fix it,” says Esquinaldo. “We can make a custom rod complete with Florida Gators colors and logo. I can hand shape the grips and fit the rod to the customer. I cut the length to the length of their arms so they are not leaning forward. If the butt is too long it makes you hunch your back. I make it comfortable for the individual.”
Esky says he guarantees his work, not the blanks.
“Funny things happen, but I’m always amiable when something happens out of the ordinary,” he says. “It’s better for me to do that rather than chince on it. People are looking for value because the economy is tough. They want somebody to stand behind their products. If we don’t do it right the first time, you bring it back and we’ll do it right.”
For more information on Esquinaldo his shop and his unique fishing charters, visit his website at www.eskyrods.com.
Original Source; Sportsmans Lifestyle.com