Oman Part 1: Smuggler’s Bay

After a whirlwind of Saudi transitting, catchups with friends in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, it was time to head to Oman. I had met with Nick Bowles from Ocean Active for a quick coffee – there had been a mess up with a fly line order and Nick has kindly and efficiently organised me four lines. For nothing. Huge thanks again for his hospitality and generosity.

It was then on Al Ain, the UAE border town with Oman, for a quick coffe with Matthew ‘Beefy’ Cocks who had route options and info on the coast for me. Another show of expat hospitality – many thanks.

Once through the border post – I must say that the Middle East border posts were, when compared to my African experiences, extremely efficient and friendly – I found myself in world different to that of the Middle East I had so far experienced.

It’s hard to explain but those who immerse themselves in the [laces they travel will understand; every country has its unique character. This character is defined by the countries colours, smiles and frowns of its people, folds of its mountains, smells of its markets, taste of its food, the architecture, animals and space… The further into Oman I drove, the more I realised that this country had a character that is truly its own.

It was a long drive to the coast and my continuous stopping to see, hear and taste didn’t help. My original plan to go via Salalah had changed and after a haul and several military checkpoints I found myself in the dark, on a beach in Oman. The sound of the surf soon sent me swimming into dreamland.

I awoke to a swim and decisions. The rocky coastline to south held bays, coves and beaches that very little is known about in terms of fly, and even spin, fishing. To the north was Permit land.

I woke up somewhere down that beach, otherside that Sheik's palace...
I woke up somewhere down that beach, otherside that Sheik’s palace…

Time was limited and I knew that everyday spent exploring the south meant one less day to have shots at Permit. And those of you who have fished for Permit anywhere will know – Permit need patience. And patience needs time. I would be cutting it fine.

But my spirit of adventure prevails and the shores to the south needed exploring. The distance cliffs called to the adventurer in me. I was here to discover Oman so I might as well do it properly, even if it might cost me a Permit!

So south I drove up the into the plunging cliffs and deep wadis that make this coastline so inhospitably beautiful. Between the headlands and cliffs of the dramatic coastal edge lay the odd sparse village, inhabited mainly by camel herders and fishermen. Some coves gave shelter to fishing skiffs and dhows others were empty and begged to be fished and dived. I stopped often and soaked in the scene. Strangely, I took few photos – quite unlike me.

One of the big wadi gorges - I felt like I was on the rim of the Fish River!
One of the big wadi gorges – I felt like I was on the rim of the Fish River!
Exploring
Exploring

Despite the pollution, I found the coast exceptionally beautiful.

I’ve always struggled with the fact that the its always the most remote beaches that show the plastic epidemic the most clearly. It’s easy to hide the pollution on city beaches and tourist destinations. But on the beaches, far from the madding crowd, you’ll find such an array of plastic waste it’ll make you realise just how deep in the shit our environment is. Oman was no different; those remote and hard-to-get-to beaches (much like the unwalked tropical islands and huge areas of the world’s oceans) had plastic strewn from storm high water mark to the current tide. Much the rubbish is local; plastic, tins, nets dumped or lost by fishermen and old tyres abandoned by Bedouins. But a fair portion is foreign; symbols from the Far East adorned much of the flotsam and jetsom and other items were still wrapped in their faded by readable wrappers. Almost all regurgitated from the sea during the south eastern monsoon winds of the Khareef.

And despite the pollution, I was drawn to it!

I had a destination in mind. A  beach; well off the beaten track. The drive in would take me through dry wadi beds and over terrain that made me think of the Richersveld in NW South Africa – hard, barren land washed by a stark beauty. The beach, on Google Earth, looked promising and the route looked slow and challenging.

I was heading there when I got horribly distracted. Entering a small but sweeping bay that hugged the main road and coastal cliffs, I looked out to sea only to see the dark shadows of balls of baitfish lying in the bay, some embroidered with the white streaks of marauding predatory fish. And some of these bait balls were close enough to throw a spinner into. Like a thirsty man to an oasis, I simply had to stop and cast a line.

Bait!!!
Bait!!!

 

I strung up the #9 and the spinning rod and identified a rocky vantage point that would allow me to cast a fly should a bait ball be pushed within fly reach. I tied a casting spoon on to the 50lb leader of my spinning setup and let rip. The dull splash out deep showed that I had dropped the spoon right where I wanted it. Crank, crank, crank EXPLOSION of white right where I knew the spoon was. Shit that was big!

Another cast, same story but a smaller splash and fish on! Good pull. Suddenly the Shad (Bluefish or Tailor elsewhere in the world) come cartwheeling out the water and threw the hook! Shad that jump! Never in my life! Another cast and again, another Shad threw the hook on its second jump. Then another huge splash, and a good 40m braid peeled off the reel before everything with slack. The bait moved off and I was left, rod in hand with thumping heart, to wait for the next bit of action.

My knees had barely stopped shaking at the wonderings of what the bigger fish were – GTs? It wasn’t season. Pelagics? Or maybe King Mackeral. Queenfish? That big! Phoaaw – when the next ball of bait was pushed into reach of the spinner. I dropped the spoon into the middle of the shoal and half a crank in it all went tight. Line again peeled off the spool of the Stradic and the rod which I thought may have been too heavy bent to the butt. Well into the first run, with the drag heating up the spool the fish jumped. Once, twice, a third time. Big body shakes leaving big holes in the ocean everytime it crashing down. Monster Queenfish!

Please come in range of the fly rod was my first thought.

I eventually, while wishing I had fighting bucket, landed the fish. Stoked, I setup a quick selfie and got the fish swimming again. Such a good feeling letting a big fish go. Two casts later; same story! Another big queen.

A few hours later I had landed 5 Queenfish and countless Shad had thrown the hook or come to hand at the rocks. This was crazy fishing. I had throw poppers and stickbaits and I had totally lost track of time. The butt of the rod bruised my stomach and thighs. I was tired, hungry and happy with the only regret being that the fish had stayed off the backline out of fly range.

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These chaps are SOOOO fun to catch!
These chaps are SOOOO fun to catch!

My mission to the beach of Mystery had been put on hold. My camp on the beach was not 50m from the breaking waves and where I had been fishing.  The campsite being so close to a main road did annoy me. I don’t like the background zoom of the odd car, the headlights in the distance, the not quite private nature of it – no matter how safe a place is, I will always prefer the out-of-the-way places. But I had fished late so I braaied fresh Shad and then fell asleep with a smile on my face to sound of the sea.

The next morning I ignored the possibility of bait balls and headed south again along the winding cliff and beach bound road that is the new main Salalah-Muscat route. It’s very quiet for a main route; often there were more camels and goats than cars. I found the turn off for the dirt track that would lead me to the wadi bed. Then I found the road the wadi to bay – it was a torturous road that switch-backed, made steep ascents and had sharp exposed rocks. In several places I had to engage low range to get down. Big rocky steps threatened sumps and diffs. I took it slowly. Surely there would be fish at the end of this road!

I was headed for a spot somewhere under that mountain.
I was headed for a spot somewhere under that mountain.

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It was evening when I arrived in the bay. Three clapped out old fishing vessels were anchored in the bay, taking shelter from the wind that had been building all afternoon. The scene seemed a little surreal, almost ancient. In search of a campsite I passed an old fishing camp, built of floatsom and jetsom. It looked more the type of fort we used to try to build as kids down at the farm on Cape South Coast. I found a campsite, got dinner simmering and watched two big Spotted Eagle Rays go through the rituals of reproduction.  The moon shone brightly that night and I was repeatedly woken by chunking of generators and engines on the old ship.

I woke after a restless night, spooned in my breakfast, got the pack filled with necessary fishing gear, food and water and set off. The beach was another good 4kilometer walk from where I was camped. The water along the rocks good. Tropical blue in the morning light. I was bouyed by potential of the day. How many fly fishers had walked here before? Not many, if any.

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Views of the bay from the camp.
Views of the bay from the camp.

I took my time along the beach. Waited, watched and slowly got frustrated. Surely this far out there must be fish of some shape? Eventually a mullet got me a little excited for a moment. By the time I got to the end of the beach, the sun was high and the only thing I’d caught was a tan and a hunger. After a lunch of crackers, tuna and humus, it was nap time. Drifted to dreams of Permit in the shade of sandstone overhang.

So much time spent watching.
So much time spent watching.
The view from the nap spot.
The view from the nap spot.

I awoke to a pushing tide. Change of fortune? Surely. The walk back left me equally disappointed. No joy in any fish form. The circling osprey did happily distract me for a while as did watching a hunting saker falcon. Fishing wise it was a fail. But that is fishing and tomorrow something might change. The plan was to spend tomorrow on the beach again and head back the following day before heading to meet Ray further north.

Back at camp I swam, had a quick bath and decided to walk along to point to see what I could see. There were still a good few hours left of day and I’m not one to sit idle in such empty places.

Close the old fishing camp, which was clearly still used,  in gully not easily visible lay an old boat. Wooden and different to usual fibreglass Panga style boat used by local fishermen. I casually walked up and peered inside. Strange boxes lay inside, cardboard covered in yellow duct tape. Four in the boat, one outside. All ripped open. Spilling from these odd boxes where packets filled with water.

What? That’s weird…

And all of sudden I had a cold shiver. I didn’t want to be here anymore, no matter the fishing potential, I couldn’t get away from this place fast enough. Every book, movie and news report I’d ever read led me to the conclusion that something that shouldn’t be in Oman had arrived right here. A flood of strange thoughts coursed through my mind.

My solitary position suddenly made me feel exposed and at the mercy of anyone.

Those old ships last night. Where they really fishing boats?

Calm down Davis. No one is here.

This didn’t alleviate the knot that was growing in my gut. There is no romantic illusion to how pirates or smugglers would react to finding a lone white boy in their bay, so far from anywhere.

My plans to stay another night vanished into thin air. I turned tail and packed camp.

I left Smuggler’s Bay in my dusty rearview and Sayara’s low range whined as I took to the torturous turns and hills out of the bay.

Maybe I’ll find myself on that beach again. Maybe it’ll even produce that Permit. But for that night, I was very happy sleeping close to the road!

Happy to be back at my spot close to the road...
Happy to be back at my spot close to the road…

Oman Part 2: African Gold and Dirty Queens

8 thoughts on “Oman Part 1: Smuggler’s Bay”

  1. Richard Morton says:

    Epic mate. Looking forward to the coming reports!

  2. Ray says:

    Good stuff Fred, the anticipation is palatable. I thoroughly enjoyed our days together and look forward to seeing you when it heats up.

  3. Rex fey says:

    Epic adventure! Looking forward to part 2

  4. Kevin Cox says:

    Very very sweet

  5. Andre Van Wyk says:

    Loved this Fred… can’t wait for the next instalment man..

  6. stephen says:

    Enjoyed that read Fred..thxs for sharing

  7. Matthew 'Beefy' Cocks says:

    Nice first episode, looking forward to the others….typical that Ray cracked awesome Merkaz conditions and caught Permit. Great to spend a night and morning fishing together….
    P.S. Caught my PB trout at lake St. Bernards 3 days ago…at the dam wall.
    Beefy

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