My calves burnt as I sprinted over the soft hot sand. The dry air ripped at my throat. How the hell could a 100m sprint take so long. Behind, left strewn along beach in between the bones of long dead turtles and the month’s fare of washed up bottles lay my light spinning rod, camera still tucked safely in its cover and my cap.
The hot sand that was burning my still open toe gave way to sharp dune grass; at least I was close to the cars now and I slowed to avoid another food injury. Last thing I wanted was to be patching holes in my soles.
“Permit…” I was a half question half statement that Ray calmed mouthed as I franticly ripped my flyrod from Sayara.
“Ya! And it was big! In that gutter close to where we were getting the Shad!”
“Yip. Saw them too. That’s why its taken me slow long – getting the fly rod setup.”
“Them?!?” “Yip, two.” How the hell was he so calm!
I motored back across the sand. My heart thumping and calves stretching into agony. I’d later think about Frank Smethurst’s comment in ‘Running Down the Man’ about last doing shuttles or suicides at college. That’s how I felt: unfit and buggered. Panting just as hard! I slowed down well back from the gutter. The crystal blue water looked so good but no longer did any Permit float wraith like in the inshore wash.
I had met Ray up the beach the previous afternoon. My drive from the south had brought me back through winding passes and under huge overhanging sandstone cliffs. I passed the Wadi where, on the trip in, I had shared a meal with an Omani, a Saudi and their Bengali gillies. They had been fishing all night and felt an early lunch was in order. I had been exploring the wadi and the beach and found them setting up their cook close to where I had parked. Given no option, I was included in plans and over a meal of fish, seasoned rice and fresh salad we shared Vodkas (despite appearance and laws, men are simply men and enjoy a drink with a meal) and stories of fish and travels. It was just one of many examples of true hospitality I found on this coast. In their broken English thay lamented about the deterioration of the fishery over recent years, they unrest to south in Yemen and state of world politics. Interesting well versed men. I left when they fell asleep in the shade of the palms.
Almost a week later, I was about to experience the hospitality of Ray Montoya. After a long walk down the Shuwaymiyah beach and having my first shot at a Permit, I was sitting in the cab of Sayara catching up on family Christmas wishes and news. Dad was hell bent on hearing about the fishing – although the question about Permit still remained unanswered – and the family was keen to know how the whole adventure was going. Just I was finishing up, Ray pulled up in his white Patrol with yellow kayak on the roof. If you ever find yourself on this coast, you can be sure that it’s Ray with that yellow kayak on the roof.
I was as stoked as nuts – isolation and lack good conversation catches up to one! We touched on drive in, where I had been, so far and other introductory topics. It was when Ray mentioned that he had Champagne and Pork sausages for dinner that I knew for sure we were going to get on fine we were going to get fine!
The topic of family and being away from them came up at some point during the day. My reply to a question along the lines of what they thought about my adventuring instead of being home for Christmas: Well, they understand me. Was the simply answer. And this as good a time as any to thank the parentals for instilling in me a thirst for knowledge and experience (and love for water and all forms of recreation around it, foremost fishing and surfing. From my early camping trips to the Drakensberg and every other adventure since, my folks have given my brother and I the ability and willingness to get out there, and they understand it better than most – even if means the odd missed Christmas or birthday!
We found a spot for a camp. A little exposed to the lights of Shuwaymiyah about 6km down the beach – it’s a bloody long beach – but the sound of sea and sand between the toes was exceptional nevertheless. We made a quick recce for some driftwood to cook the sausages and while sharing cold beers (I can’t quite explain how good they were after a week of fishing and camping without them!) got stuck into a game of Bocce (Boule for us back home).
I got well beaten during those first few games. Ray has been throwing those balls for a long time, the scrapes and worn surface of the balls are testament enough. There was an entertaining moment when a local family arrived to kick a football around and the father came to inspect what these strange foreigners where up to. I don’t think he quite appreciated the finesse of underhand throws and, despite his friendliness, left shaking his head at out strangeness! That evening was spent chatting; two wandering people sharing ideas, stories while getting to know each other. And of course the meal of Pork and Champers was a great way to finish Christmas Day. How haram of us!
The following morning found us in front of a beach with near perfect conditions – the surf was a little big (not quite big enough for a surf) but the light offshore made for clear water. I walked north and Ray headed south. But we were a little early and the angle of the sun lit up an ugly glare that made seeing anything difficult. I got over it after squinting through my Smiths for a good kilometer and decided to head home and grab some breakfast.
Half way through pouring cornflakes into my bowl, I saw Ray leaning back with a bend in his spinning. Another breakfast interrupted, I grabbed the light stick a jogged slowly down to join Ray. The next 45 min or so was was non-stop fun with fun sized shad on the light spinning sticks. They were holding off the back of a deep channel. Out of reach of a fly line but within range of the light spoons and 15lb braid. I managed a stunning wave garrick between the shad – one of the prettiest fish I’ve caught in a long time. Eventually the action subsided and turned to catchup with with Ray who had headed back to replace a spinner that had been lost to a toothy critter. He’d taken quite long and I figured breakfast had won him over.
It was as I quietly headed back down the beach, immersed in my own thoughts smiling about the great fishing, that saw that wraithlike yellow Permit floating in the crystal water.
After the madness that ensued, I stared hard and for a long time. I wished, hoped, walked down the length of gutter and eventually cursed. I had broken my own cardinal rule: When there are GTs around: carry a rod ready for GTs. In this case it was Permit and I wasn’t armed or ready.
I headed back to Sayara to finish breakfast.
Ray and I then packed up the gear and headed north. A quick stop for some fresh greens and reds in one of the many coastal towns before heading to what I rate as my favourite camp of the trip. The rocky sand stone and coral coast here made for some stunning coves, bays and gullies. Ray ducked off and found himself a perfect low tide tub and a bandana full of muscles. I managed to bag a zebra while diving in search of lobster. It was going to be a good dinner.
The evening bocce game commenced, accompanied by a few beers and a dhow disappearing into the sunset. I got closer to to beating Ray but he’s got some skill and kept the youngster at bay. Smiles and laughter accompanied a fresh seafood dinner. Ray thought there’d be muscles left for breakfast – he hadn’t eaten muscles with me before! We fell asleep under a blanket of stars.
We awoke again to stunning conditions and grabbed fly and spinning rods and proceeded to explore the gullies and coves towards the cliffs in the south. I had a close encounter with a golden trevally as it came marauding over a shallow shelf. By the time I had a fly in the water – half a false cast later – it had gone in mess of little fish ducking for cover. We landed a few shad on the spinning sticks. They are such fun to hook – more often than not they throw the hook on one of their mad jumps!
I slowly worked my way up a small beach. As I got to the rocky point at the end, where I had seen some action, I saw it… Again just off the shore break wash; yellow fins first and a jet black eyeball. Slowly I dropped to my knees, swopped spinning rod for fly and laid out cast. I thought it perfect. The perm disagreed. It was gone moments later. In the next bay, I was treated in a similar fashion by another similar sized perm. This one at least gave me a flutter of hope when it had a good look at my fly but in the end I was left with shaking hands and another close call. Permit…
Later that morning we moved camp further north, a little way up a long beach under a stunning, flat topped sand stone plateau. Later exploring this formation revealed oyster shells embedded in the sand stone top and pumpkin shell fossils in the sand below the cliffs. This truly is a land that is still, in many ways, untouched by human hands and shows clearly how the passage of time has wrought change on climate and geography.
We fished hard that afternoon. It was by far the best Permit fishing I had had so far. Ray and I split up. This type of permit fishing is a solitary affair. The lack of fish – which are already shy and suspect by nature – and tough conditions make shots at them scarce. It sometimes pays to fish on your own and share beers in the evening. Plus, the moments of solitude allow for some serious introspection and reflection. It’s good for the soul.
I delivered damn good presentations to the first three fish I saw. I had two follows but strangely, and for no apparent reason, they spooked mid follow. Strange in my mind – even for skittish permit. Puzzled, I slowly walked up the beach and climbed a steep sand bank for the height advantage. And thats when the penny dropped! I had my #9 strung up and ready with a heavy crab, just in case. I was carrying it, antenna style, on the side of my pack. It’s shadow made me realise what spooked the two perms. 9 feet of carbon fibre makes quite a flagpole. And Permit don’t like flagpoles!
I came close again. A proper full follow another fish before it slunk off into deeper water. Then two poor presentations cost me. Then in shallow water I saw two feeding fish. I stayed low, presented well. The lead fish turned and followed, almost nosing my crab, right up until it swimming almost completely on its side. Shit, cast again! Good cast, again follow follow follow. So shallow!!! But the damn fish just wouldn’t commit right at the end of my strip it spooked and disappeared in splash, taking its mate with it.
Seven fish. No hook ups. Gutted.
Ray makes a good point here. The angle of these beaches means the sun is out over the ocean the whole day, putting you square in the light of the sun. You’re far more visible than when the sun is silhouetting you. Add to this the ever present glare you need see through and you compound the the difficulty factor several fold. Ray said that I had chosen the toughest route to chase perms by coming this far south. He wasn’t wrong!
By the time I met Ray that afternoon, he’d seen eight perms. None hooked. Fifteen between us. That’s great numbers but shit conversion.
Another evening of bocce, beer and stunning sunsets left Permit half forgotten. We scavenged the beach for oddities between our rolls of the ball and I eventually made off with a win! These untouched beaches hold odd treasures and I’m always amazed by what one finds. From old rusted boilers and intact fluorescent light tubes to homemade cuttlefish lures, turtle skeletons and old pieces of teak from long forgotten dhows.
The next morning, we fished hard again. I was feeling confident. Surely after the sightings the day before and the fact that for every fish I missed up the chances of hooking one grew, today I’d put in hook in. Ha!
I didn’t see one the whole morning. Typical.
My time was running out, I had a couple of nights left. After much discussion and the knowledge that I had almost 2000kms of driving to get home, I decided that it was time to head north with detour via Camel or Raz Markaz – Ray’s favourite permit beaches. Matt ‘Beefy’ Cocks was fishing somewhere up there I figured it would be good to meet up with another DIYer.
I cannot thank Ray enough for his hospitality, cold beer, bocce lessons, conversations that ranged from philosophy to politics to religion and for the unguarded sharing of knowledge that he taken years to build up. It was an absolute treat. I’ll be back to fish with Mr Montoya again.