We were recently invited by Brandon King, of Arabian fly to come and join him in Salalah, Southern Oman for some fishing. Not one to pass up an opportunity to fish new waters, I started packing my tackle immediately. Brandon was excited to have a chance to fish too, as he normally guides his clients and leaves his rod at home. That is the downside of guiding, you don't get to fish very often yourself!
After a lengthy flight from Johannesburg to Doha, then Doha to Salalah with Qatar airlines we landed at 3.45 am. Brandon collected us in his Ford Ranger double cab and drove us to the Juweira Hotel, in a complex of hotels on a stunning marina. Despite our heavy limbs and bleary eyes, we quickly unpacked our bags, set up tackle, and headed for the boat.
Brandon told us that the queenfish traditionally frequent the area during the Omani winter months, from February to April. He told us they had just arrived in the area, and that some local guys had started catching on spinning tackle with poppers from the break wall at the marina mouth.
We were on the boat before first light and puttering out of the marina at idle speed. The water surface was dimpled and pocked with tiny swirls as shoals of sardines moved below. Gulls swam in the water or hovered above, using the very first hint of the early light to grab an unwary breakfast snack.
A local panga with two men on board drifted by in the darkness, with the odd splash of a cast net as they collected live bait to take out to sea with them. Brandon told me that they travel about 40 or 50 km out to the grounds where yellowfin and longtail tuna roam, to fish with handlines for fish up to 80 kg’s.
Passing through the mouth of the marina, we saw Philipino guys on the break wall, casting poppers, headlamps reflecting off the water. There was the occasional exclamation, or shout of excitement as some of them hooked up with fish. Humpback dolphins worked the area right outside the marina entrance, porpoising quietly, taking a breath with a soft sigh, while eating sardines, seemingly at their leisure. The water was about four metres deep there - a sandy bottom, with no reef.
Gulls searched the area, wheeling in the dark sky and swooping down over patches of surface disturbance, picking up stray baitfish. The sky began to lighten as the sun prepared to rise. A swirl in the water behind my popper, then another and finally a smash. Game on, the queenies had arrived!
After a fast run, I saw my line coming up quickly and knew that the fish was about to jump. It took to the sky in spectacular fashion, kicking and twisting in the air, before falling back into the water. These fish fight hard on light tackle and provide great entertainment with their spectacular jumps. One thing about the fish in Oman, they are oversized. The queenfish are some of the biggest that I have seen, anywhere!
Something that is evident with queenfish, is that they are more excited by fast moving lures. They will seldom have a go at a slow moving artificial, but rip it through the water with speed and they are all over it. The best is when a pack of aggressive queenfish homes in on a surface lure. The excitement of seeing the fish trying to shoulder each other out of the way to get at the fleeing prey is incredible. The trail of boils and swirls behind the lure sometimes looks like the prop wash kicked up behind a moving boat.
The window of opportunity to catch the queenfish each day is fairly narrow. There is a specific period around sunrise in the morning when they become aggressive and smash lures on the surface. Before and after that, they will follow and make slashes at the lure without actually connecting. It is important to make the most of that narrow window, and get in as many casts as possible during that prime time, in order to catch a few of these amazing fish.
Brandon rigged up his fly rod and started casting a foam popper, looking to get into the action on the long rod. He had a couple of spectacular smashes, as fish tried desperately to engulf the popper, but the weightlessness of it kept it from going into their mouths. The fish would charge in, opening its mouth and trying to eat and the popper would be pushed away by the bow wave, driving the fish (and Brandon) crazy.
Finally one managed to gulp the popper down, and Brandon was on, his flyline streaming out through the guides as the fish took off. A fish from the same shoal hit my popper and we had a double header, with our hooked fish jumping on either side of the boat, what a way to start a morning!
It was an incredible experience to watch the sunrise on that first morning, all feeling of tiredness long gone. A spectacular welcome by the queens of the Arabian Sea.
We had queenfish action every morning that we were there, landing some absolute bombers in the process. It was really great to start each day with a couple of hard fighting, spectacular fish, then head out to go and start the exciting search for other species.
Above is a pic of that first queenfish, caught within three hours of our plane touching tar in Salalah. I am tired, but happy!
Reviving another early morning Omani queen, before releasing her.
Some of those Queenfish were absolute bombers!
Brandon King with a beautiful queen caught on a fly.
The beasts kept coming!
Brandon having a ball with the flyrod!
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