Oman Q1 2007 The pelagic game fishing continued to be poor into 2007, with very little of note caught. During February, I took the opportunity to take the boat out of the water get further boat maintenance done (anti-fouling). Prior to this maintenance I only made two trips offshore. The first was with the family, in early January (6.01.07) when we managed to find limited yellowfin activity but were unable to get a strike. The second trip (19.01.07) was made to target kingfish off Sifa, after hearing reports of some catches being made. Me and Siôn had a full day pulling red & white rapalas in 10-25m of water. We got two good strikes, but lost both fish after the initial run. The lures came back with regularly spaced pin-point tooth marks and I’m pretty sure that these were from kingfish (an elusive species for us in Oman)!
In February (14.02.07), I put the boat back into the water after work on a Wednesday evening, and ran out to give the engine a run and the batteries a charge (I brought along a Penn Slammer spinning rod & some lures, just in case ….). I immediately encountered Omani boats catching tuna about 1km off the marina amongst pods of dolphins. I tried trolling various lures, but only managed a garfish. The locals, however, were catching yellowfin to c.30kgs on live bait. I took the opportunity to scour the dolphin pods with my fish finder, and, for one of the first times, managed to get good returns on small, fast moving schools of tuna at depths of between 10-20m. This was valuable information which I would use to good affect over the coming months!
Hunting Giants #1 (February 2007) Date: 17.02.07 Location: 3-4km offshore, between Banda Khayran & Sifa Weather: Flat calm AM, choppy PM Water Temperature: 23°C Time: AM-PM
Following the results from the annual Sinbad Classic Game Fishing Tournament, held the previous weekend, it was clear that seriously big yellowfin tuna were in town. After attending the weigh-in sessions each day I was already planning a trip to target these giants at the next opportunity. And here it was, the first day on the week, Saturday 17th of February – I’d taken a day off work to fish. I headed off to hunt giants with the experienced crew of myself, my wife Mako and my 2 young sons, Siôn and Ceri!
Finding live-bait was difficult, we searched all over the marina & around CatIsland before finally ending up with 14 scad and 2, larger, mackerel scad after 2 hours! This would have to do!! We left the marina and followed Omani fishing boats heading in the direction towards Banda Khyaran. We finally found around 25 boats working a pod of dolphin. We started out by trolling lures around and through the dolphins – I studied the fish finder carefully and started marking small schools of large fish at around 30m down. I noticed though that the surface action was very slow. Now, following my earlier exploratory trip a few days before (14.02.07), I’d come prepared to try dropping live-baits down deep to try to improve my chance of catching tuna. My set-up was as follows:
– 50-80lb class trolling rod. – Shimano Tiagra 30WLRSA spooled with 65lb line. – 20’ 150lb wind-on leader. – 5oz trolling lead rigged on 170lb wire with a swivel at one end & heavy duty snap clip on the other. – 6’ of 130lb hook length with a 6/0 offset circle hook.
Conditions were perfect – there was now tidal drift and no wind. I got the boat ahead of the dolphins (in their line of travel) and dropped a live-bait down. I’d read that a weighted line drops at approximately 1 foot per second. I counted to 90 (lightly thumbing the trolling reel to prevent a bird’s nest forming), set the drag and put the rod in the rocket launcher. Almost immediately, we got a strike that turned out to be a medium sized kawakawa – although not what we were after, it was very encouraging and I felt that we were in the (depth) zone. After a quick release, I re-positioned the boat and re-set a large (mackerel scads)live-bait at c.30m depth. The line went vertically straight down. We’d positioned the boat well – the pod of dolphins came towards us and passed either side of the boat. As they did so, bam, my line took off past the bow in the direction of the dolphins (my first strike that actually ran forwards!). I picked up the rod and immediately felt the power of a very large fish.
My wife helped me into the harness and I commenced to fight this very large and powerful fish. The fish made repeated runs against the 20lbs of drag at the strike setting. After around 40 minutes I got the fish up to the port side of the boat. It came up tail first, wrapped in the leader and apparently tired. My wife was watching over the side. As she saw the size of the fish, she panicked, and ran to the other side of the boat. There was no chance of risking letting her gaff the fish at this stage. I untangled the leader with the rod and the fish got a second wind and immediately took off on another scorching run. The fight then turned into a tug o’ war, with alternate bouts of me regaining line and then the fish making slow, sustained runs against high drag settings (I’d pushed the drag lever between strike and full).
Finally, after a further 1 hour and 20 minutes, some 2 hours of fighting this giant, we had the fish near the boat. I had virtually all the wind on leader on the reel, with only 6’ of line out. I had the 130lb leader in my hand and passed the rod to my wife as she passed me the gaff. The fish, a yellowfin tuna in the 60-80kg class was 3-4 feet away. As I swung the gaff over to make the shot, the line snapped and the fish sank into the depths. The offset circle hook and caught inside the fish’s mouth and the hook length had slowly chaffed through during the prolonged fight. I couldn’t believe it. I sank into the boat, exhausted. It was now mid afternoon, and the afternoon breeze had started to chop up the sea. We’d also lost sight of the fleet. Demoralised, I decided to cut my losses and call it a day. Initially, I didn’t count this fish as a release. However, upon reflection, I decided that it was a valid release – I’d fought the fish for the full duration, got the wind-on on the reel and had the leader in hand – I believe that this satisfies the criteria for a legal IGFA release (although it still felt like I’d lost that fish)! In addition, if I’d had an experienced mate on board, the fish would have been in the bag after 40 minutes. My time would come, I hoped, over the coming few weeks!
Oman Q1 2007
Location: c.5km north of Bandar Khayran
Weather: Choppy (10mph winds)
Water Temperature: 23°C
After the unscheduled “release” of the big tuna the previous Saturday, I was desperate to get after the giants again. This was the first chance, Friday 23rd of February. I was joined on this trip by my friend, Bob Whitelaw. Bob had lived in Oman for many years and, although he was a pleasure fisherman, had not had the experience of landing a yellowfin tuna (although he had lost an unseen big fish almost exactly a year before – almost definitely a big yellowfin, so he knew of their awesome power). As with the previous trip, live bait was hard to come by and we headed out with around 20 baits laboriously caught in and around the marina. On the way offshore, I made a call to Mohammed Jahwari – he was already with the fleet about 5 clicks off BK. With that information we were set, and we soon found the action.
We arrived to find a pod of dolphins moving in a slow circling pattern. The Omani boats were scattered over a wide area and there was a lot of bird activity. This was exactly how I liked it – the slow moving dolphins meant slow moving bait (and slow moving tuna). This was the easiest scenario to fish. We made a recce of the area and marked occasional big fish at c.20m depth, so we set out two rods and tried dropping to 20m. The wind made for a steady drift, so I had to change up from 5 to 12oz of lead. I dropped my bait down for a count of 120 to allow for the c.45° line angle. I hoped that this would put my bait at around 60’ (20m). anyway, I reasoned, if mybait was at 15m or 25m, it was still nearer the fish than at or near the surface, where activity was limited and sporadic.
Finally, after a number of drops, after about 2 hours of fishing, my reel suddenly screamed and my rod strained under the weight of a big fish. I donned my harness, took the rod from the holder and clipped it on. I also clipped on a safety line attached to my rod, just in-case I made an unscheduled trip over the side! And so the battle commenced. I started off on the port stern side, but quickly moved across to starboard and then towards the bow. As the fight progressed, Bob adjusted the boat’s position to keep the fish off the starboard side. I kept steady pressure on the fish, which fought with tenacity. I was careful, scared to lose it, but also aware that I didn’t want to go through a protracted fight. Since the previous trip, I’d upgraded my terminal tackle to a 200lb hook length and a non-offset circle hook. Even with this beefed up rig, I knew that the longer the fight progressed, the more chance that wear on the tackle could result in a lost fish. Eventually, after c.1hour, I could feel the fish tiring. Then, after a futher 15 minutes, I had the fish at boat side. Bob was ready with the gaff but seemed to hesitate. “Gaff him”, I yelled to Bob and after a first miss, Bob got the fish in the shoulder. I loosened off the drag, put the rod down and picked up the second gaff which I placed in the fish’s jaw. I then took the safety line off the rod and threaded it through the fish’s mouth – I wasn’t going to lose this one! After a quick breather, we worked together to pull the fish on board. After almost an hour and a half we had finally triumphed!
Andrew Griffin (slowly) gaining line from a large yellowfin tuna
We were both tired. I asked Bob if he wanted to continue, but after seeing me struggle he said that he was happy enough with the days events. We headed back in to weight the catch and take some photos. I called my wife – my she and my sons headed over to the marina to see the fish. Unfortunately, on the way, she got into a minor road accident and called me from the police station. We had to put plans for a beer on hold and proceed to the police station to sort everything out (fortunately, the police officer was a fisherman – I turned up covered in blood, and, by way of explanation showed the officer my fish. After that, he was on our side & helped resolve the issue in our favour!). I ended up taking the fish to the PDO fish hut for butchering. I called my friend, Peter Van De Wouw, to come and help with the promise of fresh tuna as an incentive. Peter brought a few beers that we enjoyed whilst working on the fish. I arrived home tired, but happy, at around 9.00pm.
What a memorable day! This more than made up for the previous unplanned “release”!!
Hunting Giants #2 (March 2007)Date:16.02.07 Location: Muttrah Canyon Weather: Choppy, with 3’+ swell (10-15mph winds) Water Temperature: 25°C Time: AM-PM This was another trip hunting giants, this time with my mate (and experienced fisherman) Kamal Busaidi. We quickly made bait – the scad were very obliging in the marina, and headed out. Conditions were far from perfect with a swell and a snotty chop, but we soon found a small pod of dolphins. I tried to mark fish on the fish finder, but shortly after leaving the marina the thing packed in and stopped working. We had another equipment problem – I’d left the starboard rocket launcher rod rest in the horizontal position and it had been hit by a boat temporarily berthing next to me and had sheared off the locking pin. We couldn’t use this rod holder and it made deep dropping more difficult on this side of the boat. Anyway, we persevered, and noted that the few Omani boats working the pod were picking up the odd good sized fish. The pod eventually dispersed, so we moved west and found another, smaller pod. We worked this for the next few hours, but they were moving quickly and erratically and we were unable to get the positioning right. Finally, in mid afternoon, we set a drift and the pod of dolphins moved towards us, with the pod splitting and moving either side of our boat. Bang – my rod (on the port side, set at c.15m depth) went off. After my experiences of the past few weeks I picked up the rod with a mixture of excitement and fear! It had been hard fishing in the chop and I was tired. I didn’t want a prolonged fight with what was obviously a big fish. After the initial run, during which I moved from the starboard to the port side, I pushed the drag lever to “full” and started to put serious pressure on the fish as I pumped it to the boat. I also had an audience – a dolphin watch boat full of tourists stopped to watch and take photographs!
It didn’t take long to get the fish moving towards the boat, and after a few half runs (under very heavy drag), I got the fish to the surface. Kamal took the leader, got the fish under control and quickly brought it to gaff. A very healthy looking 100lb+ fish, landed in c.15 minutes! The fish was still a little green though, and was still fighting on the gaff. I put the rod down and got a second gaff in it. We then stunned it with the fish bat and brought it aboard. This one was for Kamal and his family. That was our only action of the day – 1 strike, 1 fish. When we returned to the marina the fish weighed in at a healthy 52kgs, although it looked quite big, it was a slim specimen!
I was very satisfied with the fishing over the past month or so – 3 ton plus tuna baited, caught and brought to the boat. It had been a huge learning experience. I was also glad that we’d “released” a giant – I would not have wanted (or needed) another big tuna for a while. If the one that we’d lost boatside (on 17.02.07) was the 3rd fish, we would have tried to release it anyway.
Banda Jissa Striped Bonito Attack (23.03.07) Date: 23.03.07 Location: Yitti, c.1km off Shangri-La hotel Weather: Calm Water Temperature: ~25°C Time: PM
This was intended to be another trip hunting giant yellowfin tuna, this time with the family. However, we arrived at the marina later than planned and, although there were reports of big tuna, they were being caught far offshore. Whilst loading up the boat, my friendly neighbour at the dock told me that there was a lot of bonito activity just offshore off Yitti. This sounded foun – it would be good for the wife and kids to catch some of these fun sized fish. I was also slightly relieved that I didn’t have to pit myself against a big tuna again!
We collected a few live baits and then headed off to nearby Yitti. When we arrived we found huge schools of sardines turning the surface into a throth. We deployed two rods, one with small white squid lures, the other with a small Yozuri minnow lure and commenced to troll around the bait balls. We got periodic hits from these small, but hard fighting fish. We all took turns at catching fish. Ceri (who has not been the keenest of fishermen) caught his first game fish on light spinning tackle – he seemed very proud of this catch. We ended the day with 4 striped bonito and a kawakawa, before the wind picked up and we headed back to the marina for dinner and drinks. A very pleasant day for all involved.