This was my first visit to Oman for 5 years. The plan was to get in some decent trips fishing for yellowfin tuna, weather permitting, and to catch up with some old friends. The trip was precipitated following discussions with my friend, Mohammed Jahwari. Mohammed and visited Malaysia with his family a few years ago, and when we met up we discussed fishing in both Oman & Malaysia – Mohammed was going to let me know when the tuna run was good in Oman; and I was going to host a sailfishing trip on his next visit to Malaysia! That was at least two years ago …….! So, no good news on yellowfin tuna from Oman for quite a few years. I’d realised that, with various news snipets coming from Oman, and from Ray Montoya’s (http://notemapez.tumblr.com) & Kamal Busaidi’s (http://feedmemon.tumblr.com) blog sites, only mentioning occasional tuna catches or activity. So, I was very interested when Mohammed told me that his fishing Captain, Sahim, had caught tuna in January.
“The tuna are in town”, he said, “fancy a trip to Oman?” Well, that was enough to get me interested. If the tuna were already showing up in January, that was promising for a good run of fish in February – March; and they are usually big at this time of year.
So, here I was, flying up the east coast of Oman, over the potential fishing grounds, as I approached Muscat for a week of R&R, mainly planning to fish as much as possible.
Oman (As Sifah) from the air (27.02.13)
Upon arrival, I was met by friendly immigration and customs officers, probably the most friendly that I’ve encountered (aside from in Cape Town, South Africa), and it felt familiar and good to be back in Muscat. After clearing immigration formalities, I was met in the arrivals hall by one of Mohammed’s staff, who drove me to the company staff house in Al Hail, just 10 minutes north of the airport. It was a beautiful clear day, blue skies, 25°C and a gentle breeze. I was going to stay in the Midwest Company Villa, and Mohammed also gave me the use of a company car – a top end Volvo. Excellent – I was going to live in style!
After settling in, unpacking my fishing gear and getting orientated, Mohammed arrived and took me to his company (Midwest) for a tour. We then pulled up Windfinder to check out the offshore forecasts for the week. It looked ok for the next day, February 28th, then it was going to blow for a few days before a really good 3 days with minimal wind and flat calm seas forecast for the 3rd – 5th on March. So, the plan was set – an exploratory fishing trip tomorrow, a visit to Mohammed’s farm in the mountains on the weekend and 3 days serious fishing after that.
Fishing Sifah (28.02.13)
I met Captain Sahim (Mohammed’s boatman) at Bander Al Rowdah Marina at 9.00am. The weather was too choppy to run offshore for tuna. Instead Sahim decided to run to Sifah to try for kingfish. We stopped en-route at an abandoned marina complex just past Banda Jissa, where we easily stocked up on large scad livebaits. We then spent the day trolling lures and livebaits off Sifah. I got some good views of the Sifah mountains and cliffs, and the new village and marina (built in the years since I left Oman), but we got no interest in our offerings at all.
On the way back, we stopped at a large bouy to try for dorado (this again was new to me, installed since I left Oman). We spent a short time casting various lures and livebaits, but it’s a little too early in the season for dorado, and nobody was home. So, we called it a day and returned to the marina early.
Mohammed’s Farm (01-02.03.13)
The farm is Mohammed’s new project. And it came as no surprise that he’d already made significant progress in the 7 months since acquiring the land. The farm is located just into the Al Hajar Mountains in a wadi next to the village of Ja’arah. It’s a decent swathe of land, now walled in, bordering the main wadi channel, and home to a menagerie of goats, cattle, Arabian gazelles, koi carp, and various birds – peacocks, partridge, a variety of breeds of fighting cocks and miscellaneous other exotics. The farm also boasts date palms, and Mohammed is currently trying out a range of crops – corn, carrots, onions, peppers, eggplant, to name a few.
Whilst there I climbed a nearby mountain, which I’ll name “Mount Ja’arah”, and also went into the wadi and enjoyed a typical Bedouin meal of goat stew and rice with dates, and finished off with local honey and Omani coffee – it was excellent.
I’ll let the pictures do the talking:
Tuna Fishing in Oman 03-05.03.13
“Tuna fishing in Oman” sounds a bit like a recent movie, starring Ewan McGregor ……, except that this is the real deal. At least, it used to be when I lived here up until 6 years ago! When I first met Captain Sahim, on the 28th February, he told me “the sea not same like before”. Which was a bit down-heartening, to say the least. It transpired that when Mohammed called me back in January, that Sahim had started seeing and catching yellowfin tuna, but since then he’d had nothing in the boat, at least no pelagic game fish, and certainly not tuna. So, the scene was set, and it didn’t look promising. Except for the sea conditions which, according to the Windfinder website, were going to be perfect starting from the 3rd of the month.
Day 1 (03.03.13)
I left the house in Al Hail at 8.10am, a little later than planned, and was startled to drive up onto the motorway into a big, slow moving traffic jam! It was slow moving to the outskirts of qurum, and then started to clear, but it took me 1.5 hours to reach the marina! The conditions were perfect, the sea had a skin like oil, it was so smooth with scarcely a ripple and with only a very gentle swell. The air was still. Captain Sahim was waiting and was a little bit pissed-off. “I’m normally in the deep water by now”, he said, alluding to the perfect conditions. I made my apologies & we set off, in silence, heading at full speed south-east into the deep offshore waters.
We ran for an hour and a half, further than I’d ever been offshore in Oman, about 60km from Muscat and out off Tiwi. The sea was dead – no birds, no baitfish, no dolphins, nothing, except for the very occasional small flying fish breaking surface and gliding away as we sped past. It was nice to be offshore, but it was absolutely dead. We stopped at a number of pieces of floating debris to cast surface lures for dorado, but nothing was happening. And that was the pattern for the rest of the morning as we moved from point-to-point between previous productive areas that Sahim had logged on the GPS. We were constantly scanning the horizon, with the naked eye and with binoculars, for any signs of activity.
Then, just past noon, Sahim saw a solitary Omani fishing boat in the distance – I couldn’t see anything, even with the binoculars (I realised then that we were looking at two different seascapes ….. Sahim’s reading of the sea, the shadows, current lines, etc had been honed over a lifetime of professional fishing, he was seeing what was out of place, reading the sea. I was astounded, I really struggled to see, I don’t think I saw anything before Sahim. It was fascinating and humbling to watch).
We immediately headed towards the fishing boat. When we arrived, it was manned by a lone young Omani fisherman, some 40 km’s offshore in a small open boat! The fisherman was chasing a small pod of dolphins (maybe 8 – 10 dolphins). Sahim talked to him, and said that he’d caught “4 pieces” (4 yellowfin tuna), all a nice size, associated with this pod of dolphins.
We immediately hooked up live-baits ready, and headed to the front of the dolphins. We had made a number of sets without a touch. Sahim told me to use the casting rod (A Daiwa Expedition – Shimano Stella 20000 combo) and we got into position. I dropped a live-bait on free spool in the wake and almost instantly got a take. I let line peel off of the open spool before flipping the bail arm – I went tight to a good fish and then felt the line pop. Sahim wasn’t happy, he said my knot was not good. But when I wound in, the line had broken on the 70lb wind-on leader above the 130lb trace. I was shocked, it had happend too easily – I suspected that the 70lb line, although new off the spool, might be too old (I’d had it in the cupboard for 6 or years). I quickly changed it out for 100lb Varivas line as my wind-on leader and retied my trace. Meanwhile, Sahim had repositioned the boat and dropped a bait ….. and hooked up a fish, which I fought and brought to the boat in quick time, using the heavy Penn Tuna Stick – Penn International 70 set-up. It was a decent sized fish of around 25kg, not the giant that we were looking for, but a decent fish never-the-less!
Yellowfin Tuna No.1
The first fish was followed, about half an hour later, by a second fish of slightly larger size, again on the Tuna Stick.
It was relentless fishing – run and gun ahead of the dolphins, try to anticipate their path, and free-spool livebaits in their path. If the dolphins changed direction, or passed quickly by, it was rewind and start all over again! I was now using my casting rod to throw livebaits at the front of the dolphin pod, and was soon rewarded with a good fish of c.25 kg, which came to boatside green, and ripped the gaff out of Sahim’s hands and down into the deep :
Yellowfin Tuna N0.3
I quickly followed this with another on the casting rod – I captured the whole sequence on my new GoPro Hero 3; from running ahead of the dolphins, casting the livebait, seeing it hit on the surface, through fighting the fish to the gaff. This was another fish in the c.30 kg class:
Yellowfin Tuna No.4: POV Raw (Full catch sequence)
Yellowfin Tuna No.4: POV (Edited)
We finally finished up with our 5th fish of the day at about 4.00pm. This one was taken on the Tuna Stick, again in the 25 – 30kg size class.
We fished on for a further hour without luck before calling it a day – we were far offshore and had a long run home. But we’d had a good day – 5 yellowfin tuna from 7 strikes. These were the first fish Sahim had on the deck since January, so he was very pleased and looking forward to seeing what price these tuna would fetch in the fish souk at Muttrah!
Day 2 (04.03.13)
I started the day full of anticipation – the weather was perfect, we had a good day’s fishing under our belts, so we knew there were fish around, and we left the marina at around 9.00am. It wasn’t long before we saw something on the surface which we managed to catch – my first Omani White Shark ……!
After the shark diversion, we commenced to run east past Bandar Jissa out to the deep water, initially to start in the same area that we’d caught fish the day before. We started at that point and then continued to search, hitting various way points in Sahim’s computer. But it was pretty dead, with very few signs of life or boats.
Finally, by mid afternoon, we started to find a few birds and the odd flying fish. We trolled a bucktail jig for a while, hoping to pick up a longtail tuna, as we continued to search, but with no takes. Eventually, we encountered a huge pod of dolphins, probably in the hundreds, which we fished with livebaits and trolling rebel lures. But we saw no signs of fish.
Oman: Dolphins at the Bow
Just as we were leaving late afternoon, we were joined by two Omani fishing boats, who were preparing to fish this pod into the night. Sahim got information later that they’d caught a number of good sized tuna from this pod not long after we’d departed!
So, a skunk for yellowfin. But I was happy to have taken some good video footage of the dolphins – in all my years in Oman, with all the dolphins I’d seen, I’d never actually recorded any good quality video before!
Day 3 (05.03.13)
The final day’s fishing followed the same pattern as the previous days – much of the day spent searching, with very little sign of surface activity. We eventually found a small pod of dolphins being worked by two Omani fishing boats – they’d picked up a couple of tuna, but action was slow. We commenced working the pod, but the wind was picking up, the sea was getting choppy, and the dolphins were hard to follow. It was already mid afternoon. We worked this pod for a couple of hours with livebait and trolling lure, but without a touch. Eventually, time was against us and we had to head in, reaching the marina at sunset.