My body was tanned a nice mahogany colour from being at the waterside in the very warm sunshine day after day. The seven weight rod hooped over for probably the twentieth time in as many casts, so good was the fishing. But beware of the Queenfish, it has several spikes situated around its body and gill covers. The fish will do their best to stab you in the hand. They are also classified as venomous and can be quite painful when you have been hit several times during a days fishing. The use of barbless hooks makes the problem of unhooking the fish quite easy; in most cases it can be done in the water, either with forceps or by giving the fish some slack line.
The words "Arabian Gulf" will probably conjure up visions of War, Sadam Hussain, Bin Laden, US aircraft carriers with their protective cover of frigates, destroyers and aircraft. Desert sands, camels and oasis.
There is of course another vision of the Arabian Gulf. It's one that has been created by the United Arab Emirates with it's beautiful hotels, parks, shopping centres and sandy beaches; also the azure blue warm waters of the Gulf contain many species of fish, big and small. I left Manchester in late October for a four week fishing and golfing holiday in Dubai where the sun shines all day and the fish keep pulling the string and you can get a pint of Guinness or gin and tonic. It's all available.
The United Arab Emirates is very westernised and pro British, In fact Brits are the only nationality that don't need a visa to visit the country. Dubai is the capital, catering for commerce and tourism. With it's tall office blocks, beautiful hotels, golf courses, restaurants, night life, shops, markets (known as souks) and it's good motorway network, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in a Western City. When in Dubai you must visit the Irish Village. A pub that was dismantled in Dublin then shipped out to Dubai and rebuilt. It serves Guinness and other beers - and you thought it was a dry State. There's live music with good food every night of the week with lovely Irish colleens to serve you. In fact you can get a full Irish breakfast. Another pub is Thatchers, which is a very popular watering hole with the ex pats. For the youngsters there are several night clubs and discos
If you enjoy Chinese food, I suggest you visit the Le Meridien Hotel where they have a very nice Chinese restaurant. My daughter Sharon and her boyfriend Mike took me there for my 64th birthday. It was excellent. Why not try the sweet and sour prawns, you won't be disappointed. Whatever your interests, you must find time to visit the fish, gold, and material souks. The latter with finest silks in the world. The souk's are fascinating. Don't forget to visit the museum at Bur Dubai which is situated down near the waterfront.
Dubai is a shopping paradise for you ladies. You can buy the material of your choice then get your favourite blouse or dress made up for about five pounds sterling by one of the many local tailors. For the angler, the one place to visit is the fish market. In fact, whenever I am on a fishing trip to the warmer climes I always visit the local fish market. You can learn so much with reference to the species in season and the sizes. There are several tackle shops in Dubai but sadly, as I write, they do not stock any fly fishing gear. I feel this will change in the not too distant future as more anglers take up saltwater fly fishing in the Persian, Arabian and Oman gulf areas.
I stayed in an apartment in Dubai during my four week stay but there here are many fine hotels to choose from. You can get a city centre hotel or one situated on the beach front. Without doubt one of the best is probably the Jebel Ali on the gulf coast between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The hotel has it's own private beach, gym, tennis squash and badminton courts. There is also a magnificent shooting school, catering for the pistol, clay and rifle shooting enthusiast. It also has an excellent golf course where recently Tiger Woods played. There are water sports for all, swimming, skiing, wind surfing and snorkelling. But the most important sport of all is the fishing. Which can only be described as being very good for this writer, who has had many exciting trips out into the Gulf hunting Tuna, Trevally, Jack Crevall (probably the street fighter of the aquatic world), Kingfish, Queenfish (often known as Talang by the Arabic speaking people), Barracuda, Mia Mia and Sailfish.
Staying at the Jebel Ali hotel doesn't mean you have to miss the delights of the city. The hotel runs a courtesy coach into Dubai every hour for those who wish to shop. Visit Thatchers, The Irish Village or one of the many restaurants. Why not take a trip on an Abra, a wooden boat which is used as water taxi. They cross to and fro the creek all day long. You will certainly enjoy a trip along this picturesque creek, a natural inlet from the Gulf which bisects the city into Deira and Bur Dubai. From the creek, traditional wooden dhows set out for the ports of India, the Gulf and East Africa, just as they have for generations. On it's banks, the bustle of loading and unloading makes it a fascinating sight and journey along this waterway.
While your partner is going around the souks, you can fish the Dubai creek which runs through the City. It's great fun, a bit like fishing the Thames at Richmond. As you catch the fish, a dozen pair of willing hands are there to relieve you of your catch. The immigrant workers are very poor so they welcome any fish you catch. I always take a selection of hooks and some bulk spools of line and weights which I give away to many of these poor people. I often sit down with them and watch how they successfully fish with their hand lines, I don't see them miss many bites. In fact they hit more bites than I do with rod and reel.
I know this is a fly fishing column, but if you like watching a float now and again you can have some great fun fishing in the many small harbours with fish from a few ounces to four or five pounds. I would often watch and chat with the Egyptian anglers fishing their 30 foot pole and float tackle fishing bread paste on a size 12 hook. You will catch lots of different species, including mullet which are great fighters.
I can't tell you the names of these many numerous species of fish. It seems that everyone has a different name for the fish. Depending on the nationality of the person you talk with. One fish you will come across is the saffie. Don't touch this fish. It's sting is extremely painful. It will make you go dizzy often causing a minor blackout for a second or two. Imagine poking your hand down a wasp nest then multiply the experience a dozen times, that probably sums up what it feels like to touch a saffie. I learnt the hard way.
If you're a reservoir trout fisherman then Dubai Creek is made for you with it's excellent head of fish especially if you choose to visit during October and November when the creek seems to be full of Queenfish from a pound to five pounds. They offer excellent sport. Any seven weight rod with a floating line and a nine foot tapered leader down to a 12lb point will be most suitable, though I do strongly advise you purchase a Cortland tropics line; the normal cold water lines we use in the UK are not suitable for use in the warmer climes. Make sure on your return home from fishing the creek or any other saltwater fishing venue that you thoroughly wash down your rod, reel, line and flies. DO NOT NEGLECT THIS JOB FOR EVEN A FEW HOURS.
The place to head for is the Dubai Creek park. It's a magnificent place to spend a day or a week. I feel it's one of those places you never tire of. It's perfect for all the family, from three year olds to ninety year old great grandmothers. It's a real credit to everyone connected to Dubai. Go to gate 2, pay your five Dhs (that's about one pound sterling) and the place is yours for the day and the gates don't close until 11pm. Wednesday is ladies day at the park which is strictly observed. From gate 2, walk about fifty yards and you're at the creek with a beautiful sandy bay. There is no swimming so you won't be bothered by people, only fascinated watchers as you cast your fly and hook another fish. Inside this delightful park with its magnificent flower beds and lawns are a variety of wild birds. There are places where you can have a BBQ or buy a cold drink or hot food. There are several clean toilets throughout the park. Dubai creek park is certainly a delightful quiet place to spend a day catching fish in the sunshine.
If you have children I suggest you visit the Snow World at Gate 8. If you and the kids like snow, the snow world is for you. Snow storming and a whole lot of fun events to keep your temperature at minus degrees. So whatever you do, don't miss the excitement that's taking place at Snow World, if you have young children or perhaps you're young at heart. I couldn't spare the time from catching fish.
Boat Fishing The Creek
On occasions, when fishing the beach, you will see bait fish erupting from the water some twenty thirty feet further out than your best cast. It's certainly exasperating seeing those fish feeding and not being able to do anything about the problem. Except hope the fish will move in closer. Not all is lost though, for about twenty five pounds sterling you can hire a boatman for six hours and have him anchor within casting distance of the feeding fish. These boats have an excellent casting platform at the stern and being high above the water you can often see the fish following the bait. It certainly makes for some exciting fishing.
If you hire a boatmen, treat him with respect. Try to explain the type of fishing you are doing. Remember most people have never seen fly fishers in the Middle East. I always take an ice chest with lots of cool drinks including water and soft drinks, some fresh fruit, sandwiches and crisps - making sure the boatman is well fed and watered. Apart from a tip I always make sure I give my boatman some hooks, spinners, line etc. and perhaps a tee-shirt which they treasure as a special gift. I have noticed that gifts are often shared out among their friends, especially soft drinks, food, line and hooks. They enjoy having their picture taken. I always shoot a few pictures of these migrant workers, then when I get back home I send the pictures to their families back in their country of origin. Remember these guys only get to see their families once a year. Most important of all, don't forget the sunscreen, When you're out in a boat you need to use more of the stuff than you would on the beach.
Have A Day Out On The Ocean
Some years ago I had a day's trolling for barracuda and kingfish. I must be honest and say it wasn't for me. I find trolling very boring. I didn't enjoy it, I feel watching the paint dry or the grass growing to be more exciting. Trolling with artificial baits, the use of dead or live baits, spinning and float fishing were the types of fishing in the Gulf. That was, until I went afloat with my fly rods
Fly and spin fishing in the ocean is so exciting. Some of the fish you can expect to catch are, Kingfish, barracuda, tuna, queen fish, jack crevale dorado, cobia, bonito, wahoo, sailfish and sharks. I have taken many hundred pound plus sharks on a fly rod. From late October through to February, there is a wonderful run of sailfish in the Gulf region, though January can often be windy. I am told the average is 60 to 80lbs. If you want to fish with bottom baits in deep water over wrecks or reefs, then you have the chance of catching a big grouper, snapper, sting rays and sharks. But this is a fly fishing feature so I will say no more on other ways of angling except perhaps spinning.
My first choice method of fishing is with a fly fishing outfit. Should the wind be too strong I will use a spinning outfit rather than not fish. Though I really do love chucking big bits of fluff in the salt. Especially when the fish are big and I can fish a floating or slow sinking line. This for me is the ultimate in angling and something I could do for the rest of my life, if I was a millionaire.
Flying to warmer climes can be very risky when you have to rely on the baggage handlers at the airports to treat your rods with kindness. With new restrictions in force at airports, it's now an even more worrying time for the travelling fly fisher. Over the past three or four years I have spent a small fortune on travel rods. In future when I need a new rod I will probably switch back to 2 piece rods, they are cheaper. It will be interesting to see how the rod builders in the future try to sell four and five piece rod to us travelling anglers. In the past, fishing warmer climes, I had my travel rods on board as hand luggage. Sadly not today. I can always buy a few clothes should my luggage get lost, I can't usually replace my rods or reels at most venues.
I remember vividly flying from Canada where I had been salmon fishing to the West coast of Florida via Miami to fish the Gulf of Mexico for a week. Arriving at this infamous airport I checked my luggage then noticed my rod case was missing. After reporting the loss to the airline I decided to have a look around. Showing my press pass to the so called security I was allowed to wander around with ease. I found my rod case hidden behind a small office door. That rod case wasn't going on my flight. On my recent trip to Canada with Northwest airlines from Gatwick to Calgary all my luggage was lost. After a week I had the airline fly me back home. My luggage turned up two weeks later with my Nikon cameras missing. Not once did the airline call and give me an explanation.
To get the best out of fly fishing in the Gulf you need three outfits. For fishing in the harbours and from the small rocky outcrops and shoreline for the smaller species of fish, use a nine foot six Red River rod from Masterline International and a floating line. Many of these fish probably average around the pound mark but they offer some wonderful sport. Better than the average stocked rainbow trout. My two most often used rods are a nine foot nine weight Abel, also a nine foot ten weight Thomas and Thomas. The latter is also a super pike fly fishing rod, casting big pike flies with ease. In the past I used a nine weight, but after a long tough fight with some big jack crevales I switched to a Thomas and Thomas ten weight. The following is one of the reasons why I uprated to a ten weight.
I had gone out with young Hussain, a Filipino who worked from Jebel Ali Marina in the hope of hooking into some good fish. Conditions were near perfect for fly fishing. After moving out of the harbour into the Gulf, Hussain opened the 150 horse motors and soon we were far off shore. Hussain throttled back the motor and we slowly cruised around looking for signs of diving birds which would show the location of the feeding fish. For some twenty minutes there was nothing. Then Hussain pointed to some birds off our starboard side. As he did so he opened up the motor, the bows lifted as we quickly moved off in the direction of those diving birds and hopefully feeding fish.
As we came in close Hussain throttled back the motor then moved upwind to give me the best possible chance of shooting line. I cast some sixty feet, three quick pulls then a good fish hit hard and dived for the bottom. The backing seemed to disappear in a blur, then I noticed I was down to the yellow backing and realised 150 yards of red backing had gone. I shouted to Hussain to back down on the fish so I could get some line back on the reel. At one time I had perhaps no more than a dozen turns of line left on the reel.
The fish decided to slow down. I cramped on a lot of pressure. Soon I was able to gain some line. This jack crevale I had hooked into gave no quarter and asked none. I thought about my knots; would they hold? Had I tied them right? Would the 15lb leader be strong enough, was the fish rubbing its body on the line as it twisted and turned in its bid for freedom?
All was quiet on the ocean. The seabirds and feeding fish had disappeared. It was a battle between man and fish separated by a few ounces of carbon fibre rod and some line. For perhaps twenty minutes but what seemed an hour it was give and take but slowly I was gaining the upper hand. First all the yellow, followed by the red backing was on the reel. At last I was taking in the first few turns of fly line. I knew then, barring knots letting me down or the hook pulling out, I was going to win this fight.
Hussain shouted "There it is. It's a big jack" as he pointed downwards. I lowered the rod taking in line then lifted again, there was a huge swirl on the surface. I had my first glimpse of my adversary. With his last burst of energy he dived but only for a few feet, then I had him back on the surface. Hussain didn't need a second chance - he got hold of the fish and it was mine. A jack crevale weighing in at 25lb 12 ounces. I slumped back on the padded chair, punched the air with joy and grabbed a can of cold drink from the freezer box. Time for a rest before the next round.
I take a selection of Cortland lines designed for the tropics. All are weight forward. Both floating and slow sinking. I also have a fast sink shooting head. The new clear slow sinking lines on the market are excellent for fishing in the clear waters of the Gulf. I would advise you not to use the fly lines you would normally use in the UK. They are useless in the tropics. Go out and purchase some lines designed for the warmer climes. They cast and fish a lot better which means you get better sport.
Make sure you wash and polish your lines after a day fishing in the saltwater. I first wash my lines in hot soapy water then thoroughly rinse them off in clean cold water. I then give them a good polish with Cortland XL from Masterline International and available in most tackle shops.
Flies are quite a simple choice, Go with a selection of surface flies such as Poppers, Sliders and Gurglers. I always take a big selection of Sea-Ducers Bend backs, Clouser minnows and Lefty Kreh Deceivers in sizes from 1's through to 4/0's in various colour combinations. Some bright reservoir flies on hook sizes 12's through to 6 hooks will also do the trick when fishing the creek and harbours.
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Have a good months fishing and join me again next month at fishing.co.uk. If you live in the North of England why not listen in on BBC Radio Lancashire Thursday evenings at 7-30pm or Sunday afternoons at 5-30pm and check out my web site www.martinjamesfishing.co.uk