Silence descends on a tiny boat off the coast of Fujairah. We’ve been fishing for a good half an hour and it’s been a little quiet. Above us, a Greek oil tanker looms as we cast our line into its shadow. The crew of the tanker hangs over the edge and watches, but they’re starting to lose interest. Just then there’s a nudge, a strike, and the rod twangs double as my reel whirrs into desperate life.
As I brace against the side of the boat, a huge yellow dorado, shining like neon in the morning light, leaps up before crashing into the water. She’s got my line and is trying to make off with it – and would be more than happy, I suspect, if I came along with it too. There’s a satisfying chorus of ‘Fish on!’ from the rest of the party, who chuck down their gear and make for the nets.
Now this sort of excitement might seem a little alien to anyone who’s never fished in decent waters. It doesn’t help that anyone with a vague desire to give it a go is usually greeted with a consensus that fishing in Dubai is laden with doom. ‘They’re just not there anymore,’ is a common remark from fishermen. ‘Loss of habitat has driven them away’, says another; ‘You have to go so far out to catch anything,’ one more.
This was the sort of thing that Martin James, a highly respected fisherman and BBC broadcaster, suggested when we met up with him. When the British fisherman and naturalist first arrived in the UAE seven years ago, he would roll up at Dubai Creek with his flies and expect strong fishing. But, he noted, the catch started to fall by the wayside. ‘Then I moved up to the waters off Jebel Ali and it was good for a while but not as it had been.’ But James believes he’s found a new, massively overlooked spot only a couple of hours from Dubai that should get people catching, if it’s done correctly.
Throughout December, James was teaching recruits the finer details of saltwater fly fishing from the Le Meridien Al Aqah resort in Fujairah. The lessons, and James’ fellow fisherman crew who stay on and run fishing trips in the area through the rest of the year, put an essential focus on how to do things in a sustainable way. ‘This
area needs to be strictly catch and release,’ he explains. ‘A fish is too valuable to kill these days.’ James brought us to the East Coast to sample what he deems to be one of the best fishing spots he’s dipped into in years. He’s quite jubilant about the place. ‘You get ’em all in these waters, see,’ says the Englishman in his Kent-as-they-come accent. ‘Kingfish, various kinds of tuna, loads of dorado. It reminds me of the Sea of Cortez as it was back in the ’60s.’
That’s quite a claim. Mexico’s Sea of Cortez was once famed for its plentiful catch and some of the world’s biggest and strongest fish but, like the waters off our own fair city, poor management and a rather severe case of commercial overfishing has depleted the seas drastically. Later this year Fujairah will host the East Coast Classic, the first ever game fishing competition of its scale in the country. The competition is designed by Intevents, who also host Oman’s own big game competition, the Sinbad Classic (February 16), and should follow in the sustainability through sport agenda they established in the Muscat event.
But we needed to catch to be convinced, so with the sun peeking in on a chill December morning, James and his crew chugged us out in the direction of the vast, ominous tankers on the horizon. ‘Fish like the darkness, see,’ says James as we bounce over the waves. ‘So we’re going to be fishing in the shadow of those tankers.’
Most trips from the Al Aqah resort take place under these tankers and, while a little surreal, it does make for exceptional fishing. Quickly baiting up, the crew gave us a crash course in casting and what to do should we get a bite. Soon after that first catch, half an hour in, the rest of the party of beginners were ‘pulling ‘em in’, as James put it – great fighting dorados, some that took nearly 20 minutes of battling to get them alongside the boat. If you’re yet to know the knackered satisfaction of dragging in a decent sized fish, right now, the East Coast is one of the few places in the country that you’re in with a good chance. Fish on, we say.
Le Meridien Al Aqah Resort in Fujairah run fishing trips daily. Starting at Dhs1,800 for four hours, call 09 244 9000 for info