Oman Part 2: African Gold and Dirty Queens

Finding myself back on a familiar beach got me thinking. Had I over-reacted? My mother would probably say no. I had left an unwalked beach, that I had been spying on Google for ages, early. Were the Perms there today? Smashing crabs and snails in the shore wash? Did my rush out cost me? One cannot help but second guess their choices when sitting in a safe place removed from the previous motivators!

But it was done and despite these thoughts I happily filled a bowl with cereal and lazily took up position to watch the sun rise. Watching the sun slowly extricate itself from its watery hiding place is always a treat. So much energy. So much potential.

I never finished that bowl of cereal. What the gulls didn’t clean up are still scattered, dry and stale, on those rocks.  A sudden and violent reaction caused my breakfast to disappear in arc of milk off to my left. I didn’t see where it landed.

TAILS?!?! My mind screamed as my eyes strained in the dim predawn light.

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And there in the wash, I saw them!
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Between sets, look closely!

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In the wash, between waves and over the muscles several sickle shaped tails swung in the air over the whitewash. My mind, woken far too quickly from the lazy revelry of the sunrise, counted manically: one, two, three(!), is that four(!!!!), no more of them! Tails and dorsals. Yellow tails and dorsals!

Permit? No man! And then, in same moment as the sun broke water on the edge of my visible world, the piscatorial penny dropped:

AFRICANUS!

Shit! Rod! Move it Davis!

The little fisherman in me got me going. I felt my toe catch the rough rock and a chunk of skin was left flapping. The instant blood and flash of pain didn’t deter me – I’d worry about patching it later. I raced down to Sayara, cursed the locked back door, fumbled it open, pulled the #9 out, checked the leader.

Fly? It was a light #6 crab. It wasn’t going to do in that wash. Flybox? Where the hell is it? Rip open the backpack. No, not there. Tackle box? No. Under the passenger seat? In I dove, like a person possessed. Found it. Precious seconds were playing on my mind. Heavy crab. Grab it. Nip off the old crab. Try to tie it on.

How the hell are my hands shaking so much? That fish fuelled adrenaline had my whole body in a state of agitated awareness. Knot. Tighten. Test.

I somehow remembered that shoes were going to be a necessity. I cursed my toe as another bright flash of pain ran up my leg. I literally had no skin on the end of my big toe. And I could feel every grain of sand in my shoe.

I was back on the rocks quickly, despite the fact it felt like ages. I scanned the edge of the rocks and wash. A flood of relief permeated through the intensity of the last few minutes. I had to focus now. I was standing on the top of a large, flat top and sided granite boulder. Below me was another submerged flat granite boulder about knee deep in water, about the size of a tennis court. The waves would wash over this reef, hit the boulder I was standing on and wash back into area where the Africanus were feeding. The collisions would cause a plume of water to reach skywards. A photographers dream in light of the breaking dawn. A fly fishing nightmare. I made a cast, and another. But for every cast I made, I could not find a pause in the water movement for the fly to even settle for a moment.

I was dropping the crab amongst backs and tails. But before the fly could even begin to settle, the wash picked it up or picked up my fly line and drag it all off point. Frustration set in. Only one thing for it. Climb down onto the shelf below me into the wash. Cap and shirt off. Sunnies off. This was going to be interesting. I checked my swim routes back to the beach just in case I got washed off. The swim didn’t worry me. But didn’t want to get dragged over the muscle encrusted shelf. That wouldn’t be ideal…

I climbed down. Fumbled through a narrow channel and found my footing in the endless wash. I was close now. Maybe 6m away. This was better. False cast. There they are. Prese… BOOM! Two waves met between my legs. The resultant plume engulfed me. I was left dripping and laughing but more importantly; standing. Let’s try that again.

I wish I’d left the video running. The scene of me waving a fly rod between waves must have been hysterical. I managed to get my fly into the shoal with a good drift at least six times before the group moved off.

The tide was dropping, and for moment my spirits were too. Climbing back up to my perch I scanned the neighbouring rocky outcrops. There they were, feeding on an impossible to reach, half submerged reef. Damn it. I sat down a thought.

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The backwash catching the incoming wave – it was one of that these that exploded under me 😀

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I decided that a heavier crab was needed. I’d glue a few extra beads onto a crab and set myself up in the same place tomorrow morning.

With the sun getting higher, I headed to Sayara, repoured my cereal and sunscreened up. There was a beach to walk and the birds were starting to work just offshore. My plan was to walk the beach and then up the point to see if I could connect with a few more Queenfish. I wanted one on fly. I set up the #9 without wire, knowing full well I was going to lose flies to Shad, but with such big Queenfish around, I wanted as few joins as possible in my leader. So I went with a 40lb straight Maxima Ultragreen leader. I love Maxima Ultragreen monofilament. It’s tough and abrasion resistent. The leader was a GT style line to fly affair: no joins. With #7 in hand and the #9 and spinning rod tied onto my pack, I headed towards the point.

I slowly made my way down the beach. The beaches down there have a very fine sand and this tends to cloud the inshore. I think I saw two fish, but I’ll be honest; it could easily have been me wanting to see fish that created them in the swirling plumes of sand. When I got to the reef in the middle of the bay, I clambered slowly along exposed front. A flash of blue caught my eye. A fish, brilliant blue, came rushing into the shallow gully and absolutely went beserk on the little crabs and bait left by the low tide in the shallows. I instinctively flicked my crab in front of it. A quick movement and fish on! It took a moment for it comprehend that it was hooked and then ducked back into deep water. I held tight as I saw him head into a cave in the clear water of the rocky gully. And then, it all went slack. My crab came back to me on the end of a frayed leader.

I changed leaders and fished slowly along the reef. Nothing more. Not in the rocks or on the last section of beach. I’m still not sure what fish it was. Either a parrot or a wrasse. Who knows!

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That’s all bait!

 

I’d sped up on the second section of beach; the birds had been moving closer to the point. Already, a local was spinning at the end of the point. As I climbed to a vantage point I realised just how much bait there was in the bay. There were several patches of reef dotted along the sandy bottom and I wondered if I could reach them with a paddletail. Seemingly endless dark shadows smudged a blue ocean under a cloudless sky. And they were being pushed towards the rocks. Best I get moving. I found a good spot half way up the point. Just as I rechecked the #9, mayhem erupted about 80m from where I was perched. The baitfish were getting destroyed but this shoal was moving out to sea. I put a long cast in with the spinning and on the second crank it all tightened up. A second later a massive Queenfish came crashing down leaving hole after hole in the ocean. I pulled hard; there was another bait ball moving down the point and it was going to get close. I landed the beautiful fish, let recover it a narrow gully, confident it would swim back as soon as it was recovered.

The next bait ball was close now. I grabbed the #9, positioned myself at the end of short spine of rock. 60m, 50m, 40m, start casting. I dropped the fly short of the ball. Strip Strip. Chase. I saw the shad inhale the fly. Fly gone. Quick retie and recast. Stripping back I saw another Shad heading in intercept the fly but I ripped the line back off the water and managed to avoid the knashers of the shad. Strange, a Shad like that would be a trophy at home – here I wanted to avoid them!

The next cast put my fly right in the middle of the mayhem on the far side of the bait ball, where the big chases were. Strip! Crash! I strip struck several lines to set the hook. The fish tore off. Fly line was almost immediately replaced by backing. Seconds later I could feel the line rubbing against rocks. This wasn’t good! Then that sinking feeling of a slack line. It was a lot of backing to retrieve. The fly line was all there but I could feel the abrasions from the rocks. The 40lb leader had frayed off about half a meter from the fly line. The had fish taken me through one of the rocky reefs that I had seen from the vantage point. It must be full of barnacles, corals and other sharp critters.

During the time it took for another bait ball to arrive in fly casting distance, I retied a 60lb leader and landed another beautiful Queenfish on the spinning rod. And then it was fly time again. This time, after putting the fly into the craziness I hooked another Shad. And again was soon tying on another fly. Cast, another fish. Shad again. This time I hooked it right in the scissors. It came to hand after great account of itself. The baitball had moved on so I managed a quick selfie. Shad are slippery guys and are not well behaved for photos. It took two sets of self timed shots to get the job done. I watched it swim off and imagined the fish cursing me for wasting his feeding time.

Catch!
Catch!

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A few minutes later another bait ball came in close. This place is mental. I was laughing. Cast. Inside. Another Queenfish. I cranked done the drag and held on. This one also found a shallow rocky section and absolutely dismantled my flyline. What came looked back like it had been put through a cheese grater. I couldn’t cast it. I didn’t really want to fish the new Rio Intermediate that Nick had given me Dubai. But it was loaded on a spare spool in my bag. So, despite the fact I wanted it for the beach fishing, I loaded the spool and set up another 60 lb leader. There would be no messing around with the next fish, I decided.

It was while until the next bait ball came within fly distance. I entertained myself with two more Queenies and countless Shad. And then, as the day was getting long, I had my next shot with the long rod. About 50m down the point from me, a ball of bait was hard against the rocks getting decimated by large Queenfish. I clambered over oyster and barnacle clad rocks to a casting position. I stripped off line, cranked the Nautilus’ drag to up as tight I dared for the initial take (This wasn’t a 70lb core GT fly line after all!) and sent the blue over silver SF Clouser into the melee.

Three strips and I was on! The first run bent my #9 deep into the butt. I actually loosened the drag fractionally because I was worried about breaking the rod. The fish won line at first but I put the pressure on hard and it never got nearly as far as the first two. I could feel the strain on the Rio as it sliced, guitar string taut, through the water. Then the fish exploded into a full backflip. Rod tip down and knees bend, I allowed the bend of the rod to take the violent shakes. Four more times I dropped the rod tip as the fish cartwheeled in panic. But the stars remained aligned and I remained connected to the fish. I pumped the rod and reel and slowly brought won back braid. Then line and braid seesawed through the tip as the Queen decided she should have another go at throwing the hook. But her runs and jumps were weak now and head shakes unconvincing. I felt that I was winning.

The last part of the fight had me stressed. The #9 didn’t have the power to lift the fish over the ledge in front of me into the slack water of a protected gully. I could clearly see the fly, looking precariously attached to the chin of the fish. How much longer would it hold? And the bigger waves that had been bugging me earlier and would have allowed me to easily slide the fish into the gully had disappeared.

I considered trying to tail the fish there but knew the the angle required of the rod to get the fish under me would probably break it. So I waited, for want seemed like an eternity, for a wave. But the set eventually arrived and on the second wave I got the fish into the little gully.

I can still taste the relief that flowed from its tail and into my body as I tailed it. I sat right there, chest deep in the gully and cradled the fish over my lap. I absolutely marvelled at this fish. A trophy for sure. On foot from the bricks with a #9. I’m sure that I’ll go many years without another fish like this. It markings, white belly and silver flanks will remain etched into my mind for many stories. In that moment, I didn’t give a damn about permit, that morning’s Africanus, or anything else really. I did wish there were a few close friends to share the action. I decided there and then that that was my fish of the trip.

I’m not sure who was more buggered – me or her! I got her out for a few selfies. Swam her until I could feel the strength return to her kicks. And then quickly carried her to the ledge and sent her back to terrorise the other little fishes.

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As I sat there, content, I heard footsteps approach from behind. A local Omani man had come up behind me with his fishing bag, I returned his greeting in my broken Arabic and our conversation continued in broken English and sign language. He asked if I minded him fishing here – he often fished this spot but would be happy to move up the point if I wanted. I insisted he stay. He was fishing a spoon on a handline. I had a few more casts with the spinning but ended content to sit and watch him ply his trade. Geez could he throw that spoon. He’d swing around his head and let fly. And he was accurate! He lost two Queenfish before landing one on that setup and I couldn’t help but be impressed. That fish didn’t get released.

“God is willing, we shall eat well tomorrow.” he said as he sat he down. I was invited to share a meal of stewed camel with him before the sunset. We spoke of fish and I could sense his deep respect and love of the ocean. It is after all God’s gift and provides much food and a livelihood.

And then he told me about the GTs he catches every March, right from those and other rocks in the area. (May have to come back for that!) We laughed about me being such a light skinned African – he never knew that Africans were “so white”. “Who would believe!” A simple man with a gracious heart. There was no talk of politics or religion, just of the ocean.

He left to his evening prayers and I made my way back to camp. I too had much to be thankful for.

The next morning I had another shot at the Africanus. But they remained uninterested in my ‘improved’ offerings. The sea was rougher and I couldn’t get onto the ledge. I packed up camp, ate a lazy breakfast and turned Sayara north. It was Christmas Day and I was off to meet Ray.

Oman Part 1: Smuggler’s Bay

 

6 thoughts on “Oman Part 2: African Gold and Dirty Queens”

  1. Michael Gradidge says:

    Great account Fred! Thanks very much! Queenies are a great fly target. Hard to be disappointed with a fish like that!

  2. Andre Van Wyk says:

    Bruuuuu… amazing piece… and unreal fish from the stones… what an adventure.. and loved the finish, spending the final hours of the day with a great and generous soul, the love of the ocean and its beauty and bounty bringing together two worlds… beautiful!

  3. Ray Montoya says:

    What the hell is it with surfers and shoes? That toe scar will be a nice little reminder of an amazing day. Really enjoyed reading this one, mate.

    DIY or Die

  4. Sam16 says:

    Great story, great writing! Thanks. Can’t wait for the next instalment from the Gulf.

  5. Matthew Cocks says:

    Awesome write up Fred, this is your best yet!!! Was so stoked when you sent me that picture on whatsup!!!

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