We try our hand at sea fishing in the Arabian Gulf and discover that catching sailfish and shark is not easy
‘Anyone can be a fisherman in May,’ wrote Ernest Hemingway. Well, it’s nearly June now, but I’m hoping it still holds true as I arrive at Abu Dhabi’s Al Bateen Marina on the stroke of 6am. I’ve come to meet my Canadian skipper, Greg Heinricks of Arabian Divers & Sportfishing Charters, a former helicopter pilot turned fishing enthusiast, who has been cruising these waters for 25 years.
Our prey is anything from sailfish to shark, he explains and, once we’ve hooked some minor fish as bait, we drop anchor in sight of Lulu Island. It’s not long before we hear a splash. Greg grabs a rod and gives it a tug, but our underwater assailant proves slippery. Hauling the line up, he points to where the bait was: ‘Look, it ripped the lips right off him.’ A sad little mouth remains clinging to the hook where our live bait used to be.
Moments later, there’s a louder, more violent thrash. Greg looks pumped. He jumps from one side of the boat to the other, but again hooks and line prove no match for piscine cunning. ‘Yeah, that was a shark alright.’ He lifts the line up to reveal the bait, utterly decapitated – sheered clean through with one bite. ‘Probably a bold shark,’ Greg mutters, suddenly a hive of activity. He begins reeling in lines, redirecting (hurling) bait to where the most recent action has been and thrusts what looks like a large, plastic codpiece into my hands. ‘Get ready,’ he says. The belt in question is for balancing the rod when reeling in bigger prey. Our blood is well and truly up.
Time edges on but our prey shows no sign of return. Instead, I am urged to hunt for more bait as Greg prepares the chum (a stinking mass of semi-frozen fish, sunk with stones to attract predators), but not even the squab are biting now and a fresh approach is required.
A couple of manoeuvres later we again drop anchor and, as if on cue, the sound of loud splashing proves my captain a shrewd judge. It’s time… Greg hands me the rod and I jam it into the belt holster. Freud and symbolism be damned, it’s pretty much the most manly I have ever felt. Never mind that my prey goes by the slightly camp name of the queenfish (I would have preferred ‘deathfish’, or something equally dramatic). As far as I’m concerned, on the end of my hook is two feet of swimming fury and it tugs on the rod as if it didn’t know this was meant to be fun.
‘Let it play a bit,’ I’m instructed, and I wait for my prey to settle before reeling like mad. After a short struggle, I get it close enough for Greg to lean over and scoop it up into the boat. There is a little blood, but nothing gruesome, and he hands me my still wriggling trophy. The queenfish lives up its name.
It is a beautiful creature: blueish and silvery in colour, a distinctive row of black dots along its back. Before long I lean over the side, and set it free, placing it gently back in the water and watching as it slowly jerks back to life.
There’s no time to savour my victory, though, as the process repeats itself once more with another queenfish, and then again a third time. But with the last fish, its gory struggle appears as if it might be its last. After my obligatory trophy photo pose, Greg emerges with what resembles a small, metallic baseball bat. ‘No waste. The boys’ll eat that,’ he says, but stops himself at a flicker of life. Back in the water, the fish soon regains its swimming mojo, and – with that – my fishing adventure ends.
We stick around for a while, but little else is biting. The sea is peaceful and serene and I leave its briny embrace for dry land with regret. I’m damp, tired and I smell like fish, but I’m all the happier for it, and like all good fishing stories, I’m left to contemplate the one the got away. Arabian Divers and Sportfishing Charters (050 6146931) www.fishabudhabi.com offer full day (eight-hour) for Dhs2,700 and half day (four-hour) fishing charter for Dhs3,700. Five people max, equipment hire included.
RAK to Ajman While several big hotels operate deep sea excursions, with the chance of pulling out barracuda, sultan fish, the occasional tuna and a big ol’ catfish, this is still largely untouched territory and the waters are more popular with divers than fisher folk. Hamra Fort Hotel and Beach Resort, RAK, offers four-hour fishing excursions at Dhs420 per person. Call 050 487 6813.
Dibba to Fujairah While the East Coast may have been blighted by a persistent algae bloom (‘red tide’) in the past year, and oil in the water continues to be an issue, this area is still ranked alongside some of the best fishing spots in the world. Pull out a jumping, fighting dorado (mahi-mahi), a sizable kingfish or a queen mackerel. This is the perfect place to reel in your first big one. Le Méridien Al Aqah Fujairah offer four-hour trips for maximum six people at Dhs 1,850. Call 09 244 9000.