In the fishing world, possibly the highest achievement that anybody can reach, is to genuinely 'decode' a species. Basically this is to take a species that has not been caught before on fly or lure and figure out how to regularly catch that species using one or both of those methods. Usually this is a collaborative effort, involving a group of dedicated fishermen, who spend time trying to figure a species out. In many cases it is not possible to give full credit to any one angler, as there has been input from a number of guys. A good example of this is the guys who have been trying for years to find a way to regularly catch spotted grunter on fly in South Africa. They are figuring it out, and getting pretty good at it, but it is difficult to give full credit to one individual, as it appears to have been a collective effort, by many anglers over many years.
It is a huge achievement to get this right as an individual, as people have been trying to catch fish on earth in different ways for hundreds of years, and most species have been figured out by now. So when somebody does manage to decode a species and catch the first few himself in a certain way, and then shares that knowledge and experience and allows others to do the same, he or she has made a very significant contribution to the world of angling.
Generally speaking fish that are being decoded in recent times are difficult and finicky species, which have up to now been considered un catchable on artificial or fly. Good examples are milkfish, grunter and permit.
The fish known as permit are those of the Trachinotus genus that feed by tailing. That is, they feed on the bottom, with their heads down and their tails breaking the surface in shallow water. When they do this they can be sight cast to. There are species that have been known to regularly display this behaviour and are caught on fly and lure; T. blochii, T. falcatus and T. anuk.
Another species, which we get in South Africa, but which we cannot target by sight casting to, due to the rough conditions where it feeds is Trachinotus africanus, the southern pompano.
This species feeds more over rock, pulling mussels off, which it then crushes in its throat. It also eats crabs, sealice and other crustaceans, so it can be found feeding over, or around rocks, often in very shallow water. I witnessed this myself years ago while snorkeling at Cape Vidal.
Brandon King, of Arabian Fly, is a young, but highly respected fishing guide, with guiding experience in places such as Mozambique, Zambia, Seychelles and Madagascar and fly fishing experience in Mexico, Australia, The UK etc, decided to set up a small guiding business in Oman along with his new wife Clare. They spent time exploring the Oman coastline, looking for a place where they felt they could settle and guide clients to good fish. They finally chose Salalah in Southern Oman, due to the great fishing potential, and close access to airport and good accommodations.
Brandon has plenty of permit fishing experience, having guided at Alphonse in the Seychelles for a few seasons, he has caught many of the blochii there, as well as falcatus in Mexico, and narrowly missed getting an anuk in Australia, so he is passionate about his permit, and good at catching them.
While exploring the Omani coastline and fishing for a number of species, including Trachinotus blochii, which are fairly common in the region, Brandon discovered that there were also Trachinotus africanus feeding in the shallows, usually over shallow, mussel encrusted rocks. He started applying his mind to catching these fish, as they were displaying the same behaviour as they do in South Africa, yet in much calmer conditions, making it possible to sight cast to them.
What he had to figure out was; where to find them regularly, when to find them feeding, what to cast at them, how to present the fly etc. No easy feat and something that nobody else had managed to figure out before, ever. Brandon set about his task in his normal quiet and unassuming way, and slowly a pattern started to emerge.
With plenty of effort and perseverance, Brandon became the first person ever to sight cast to, and catch an africanus on fly. He then did it again, then guided his wife Clare to catch some too, and then some of his clients. He also guided a friend, Gareth Coombes, to catch what I believe is the first africanus ever sight cast to and caught on an artificial lure with light spinning gear.
Brandon was very excited at his discovery, and contacted me to tell me about it. Within days I had a flight booked to Salalah, to come and see for myself what was going on, and to hopefully catch one of these fish myself. I was amazed at how much knowledge Brandon had managed to accumulate in such a short time, but then that goes to show his skills. I have aways known that Brandon has something special when it comes to fish sense and water sense, and it was incredible to sit with him and listen as he told me in his quiet and unassuming way, what to expect and how we were going to target those fish.
Brandon guided me to my africanus, I caught it on an artificial crab, cast with a spinning rod. It is a fish that I have fantasized about catching for years on artificial, and Brandon made that a reality for me. I will tell that story elsewhere, this piece is a tribute to a young man who has achieved something great, he deserves to be in that very small and elite group of fishermen who have decoded a difficult species, and he deserves full recognition, as he did it all by himself. It takes somebody with a special fish sense to decode a species, especially a tricky and finicky species. Things look easy in hind sight, and most anglers can catch a fish once someone has shown them the way. The one who first figures it out though, deserves special credit. I couldn't think of a nicer person to get that accolade, as Brandon is one of the quietest, calmest gentlemen on the water. He is not the type to bang his own drum and shout his achievements from the rooftops. Luckily he married a spectacular girl, who is not only a great flyfisher, but also an excellent photographer and writer. Between them they should carve themselves a place in fly fishing folklore and their company, Arabian Fly, will make many permit hunters very happy, by adding a new species to their life list.
Brandon with one of his first africanus caught on fly
Clare Carter King with the first africanus caught on fly by a woman
Brandon with another fly caught africanus