Chasing Gold off Fujairah in the Indian Ocean with Martin James

Martin with a stunning dorado

Three miles out an escort of dolphins joined us; these big beautiful and powerful creatures looked magnificent in the early morning light. In the east a huge red ball had slowly emerged from the ocean, the sun was rising

I arrived at the Le Meridien Al Aqah beach resort at Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates having booked a week of offshore blue water fly fishing. I chose the Le Meridien as it offered a superb service where you are treated as a very welcome guest and friend and not just a number as I have experi-enced at some hotels.

The Le Meridien

I planned to fish for various members of the tuna family, trevally and queenfish often known as five fingered jack or talang. I believe the latter name is the Arabic word for this fish. I also hoped to target dolphin fish, not to be confused with our friend ‘Flipper’ the bottle – nosed dolphin.

The Spanish call the dolphin fish, Dorado, the golden one, in Hawaii it’s known as the Mahi Mahi. It’s a pelagic schooling migratory fish of deep water. Though it inhabits the surface of the ocean, it’s an extremely fast swimmer. Its favourite foods are flying fish and squid. Of course it will eat all the bait fish species when they are in abundance.

This great game fish has a liking for cover, buoys, seaweed, logs, and planks of timber, in fact any floating object could hold the dolphin fish. I well remember seeing a three foot square piece of cardboard in the Pacific Ocean off Mexico with a dozen good size fish underneath it.

The dorado – the ultimate game fish?

In the 1970’s and 80’s the Sea of Cortez in Mexico was the place to hunt these fish. Today I feel the Indian Ocean off Fujairah could rival Mexico. Sadly this fish is rated highly as a table fish, but not in these waters of the UAE. In other parts of the world it’s being slaughtered by the commercial fisherman.

I say now “It’s worth far more in the tourism dollar when it’s swimming in the ocean, than in the fish market.”

Many of these commercial fishermen could be trained as guides for sports fishing, where they could probably make a better living. Most of the commercial fishing boats with their centre console only need a few slight modifications to be ideal for the fly fisher or light tackle angler. It’s believed a hooked dolphin fish can reach speeds of fifty miles an hour in short bursts. Having hooked into some very fast swimmers I can believe this figure. 

My day started around 3-30am when the alarm sounded its strident note, throwing back the bed cloths I staggered off to the shower room switching on the kettle as I did so. Unless I start my day with porridge, toast and tea it’s not going to be a good one. Having had my shower I dressed in shorts and tropical shirt. A light knock on the door heralded breakfast. 

I left the Meridien hotel around 4-30 for the drive to the Fujairah marina where Wayne De-Jager of East Coast Sports Fishing was waiting on the slip. As I made up a Thomas and Thomas Helix ten weight rod with an Aaron reel, we discussed the day’s prospects.

I decided to use a Teeny .400 grain line, too which I attached a Gamma Bluewater leader with a 20lb tippet using an Albright knot. This knot was designed by the late Jimmy Albright of Florida. It’s perfect for joining leader to a fly line or leader to wire. I then attached a size 3/0 white Clouser with some red super hair tied in at the throat.

My other outfit was a Thomas and Thomas 12 weight Horizon with a Tibor Gulf stream and a Teeny T500 line again I used some Gamma Deep Blue leader material to make an eight foot long tapered leader with a 20lb tippet. I then attached a size 4/0 Sea Habit buck tail. This second outfit was for the big dolphin fish or tuna should I get the chance of chucking a fly in their direction. With rods made up and tackle stowed. The bow and stern lines were released. The ignition switched on.

Somewhere in the Indian Ocean

The hum of the twin outboards was music to my ears as we moved slowly across the harbour for the open ocean. Once clear of the harbour Wayne opened up the twin outboards. The bow lifted; soon we were skimming across the smooth glass like surface of the Indian Ocean heading in a southerly direction. I stayed up in the bows keeping a lookout for fishing nets and pots.

As we cruised the ocean I could see a few flying fish and the odd small group of queen fish attacking bait fish. Today the queen fish were left in peace. I was on a mission to seek the ‘Golden Ones’ unless we spotted some yellowfin tuna. Then I would change my mind. Off the port bow I could see a big ball of orange emerging over the horizon, though it looked as if it was coming out of the ocean. Through the haze on my starboard side I could just make out the Harjar Mountains. 

The twin motors throbbed and purred not missing a beat. I suppose it was half an hour, perhaps forty minutes from leaving the harbour when we changed direction heading for the horizon. Hopefully not too far, I didn’t want to end up in Iranian waters.

Thirty minutes later and some fourteen miles offshore Wayne pointed then shouted “Feeding fish two hundred yards off the starboard bow at about 3 o’clock.” Wayne made a big swing to port to put us upwind of the feeding fish. I felt the bow dip as the engines slowed down to a steady tick over, slowly we moved within casting distance.

Up in the bows I picked up my ten weight outfit, stripping off some line I let it fall on the deck as we got within casting range of my target fish I made a couple of false casts and shot the 3/0 white and red Clouser minnow out some fifty feet. It dropped six feet in front of my target fish.

As I made a fast strip, the bull dolphin nailed the fly before I had moved the fly twelve inches. A firm strip strike set the hook He shot away like a missile the reels screamed the line cut through the water leaving a rooster tail eighty yards away he leapt clear of the water then dived. 

A few minutes later he leapt clear of the ocean again, then again. By now he had taken one hundred and fifty yards of line. I was well into my backing then he went deep, very deep then swam slowly but powerfully away from me. The reel drag was tightened down as much as I dare. The rod was hooped over; occasionally I felt a big hit on the line either caused by the tail of the fish or another fish bumping the line. I have seen dolphin fish do this on other occasions.

Martin In Action

Wayne my South African guide said “That’s a hot fish Martin” I had to agree. I just wished I had hooked this fish on my twelve weight rod and not my ‘ten’ I would get a bit of line; the fish would take it back.

Several minutes later the pressure started to tell, slowly by winding in as I lowered the rod, then smoothly lifting, I started to gain a few feet of line. I was winning. Suddenly it dived the reel grudgingly giving line. As I fought this ‘Big Bull’ I could see a dozen more fish. This is the time when another angler can often get a hook up. After a long slogging scrap lasting some twenty plus minutes, I had the fish ready for netting. Yes, my arms ached but it felt great. A quick picture and the fish were released.

As the fish was released all the other dolphin fish went deep with it. During the fight the fish gave sixteen big jumps. It was awesome fishing.

During that day I caught fourteen fish between ten and thirty pounds, some near the surface others down some ten to fifteen feet. I used a selection of flies from size 1’s up to 4/0’s I found I had to change the rate of retrieve, the size and colour of fly throughout the day. I was certainly happy to have a big selection of flies so I could swap the changes.

When I couldn’t see the fish, I used the countdown method. Not all takes were aggressive some fish gave a tentative pluck more like a trout. This from one of the quickest and most aggressive fish swimming in the ocean.

Hooked up to a Tuna

The incredible tuna

Changing to a size 3/0 white Clouser with red tinsel tied in at the throat, I made a long cast letting the line sink twenty five to thirty feet, on my second strip I felt a hit. Strip striking I set the hook, a powerful fish dived for the bottom. The reel screeched like a scolded cat, line peeled off the spool. I was well into my backing before the fish stopped on its first run. Every now and again the rod tip stabbed below the surface. I could feel a lot of head shaking.

All I could do was hold on and increase the pressure, hoping all the knots would hold. This wasn’t a dorado. It was a tuna, the power was awesome. It was going to be a long work out. Ten minutes into the fight, I started getting some line back on the reel, only inches though, but I was winning.

With the temperature in the 90’s Fahrenheit it was hot, tough work, perspiration poured off my brow, I gulped down ice-cold water at every opportunity. Slowly I got more line back on the reel, then the fish would take it back. I could feel the action of the fish, a distinct throbbing through the line.

I then got the first glimpse of my adversary. Cramping on the pressure to then lowering the rod tip I managed slowly but surely to gain some line. I then lifted in a smooth movement, lowering the rod tip once more, gaining more line back on the reel. Never ever jerk the line, make sure all your movements are smooth.

Soon the fish was once again on the surface and this time it was quickly netted. I punched the air with delight. It probably weighed some fifteen sixteen pounds. It was quickly returned to grow into a thirty pounder. I hope I am around when it reaches that weight.

Back at the hotel I was welcomed with a cup of tea. After a shower I spent some time chatting with a few of the guests. Dinner was in the world famous Thai restaurant where the chef performed miracles in providing me with an excellent meal designed for someone who is diabetic and cannot have any fats or creams.

Another Adventure in Fujairah

I had planned a few days stay at my favourite hotel in the UAE. The Le Meridien Al Aqah beach resort at Fujairah. It’s a place where you immediately feel at home. The staff are the most pleasant I have ever met in my travels worldwide.

Through the hotel I’d booked several fishing trips with Wayne De-Jager and Roger Ledeboer of East Coast Sports Fishers.  Both were experienced boatmen and anglers. I had a 30-minute drive in the pre-dawn darkness along deserted roads, to the marina I was quickly out of the car with my tackle bag and 2-rod cases.

Thanking the driver, I said, “Please pick me up at 6-30 tonight.” I then headed for the ramp down to the boat dock. Roger and Wayne were waiting ready to go. Stowing the gear, the ignition key was turned immediately the two engines purred into life. The sound of outboard motors in the light of a false dawn is music to the ears of a fly fisher going out on the ocean. Removing the bowline I stored it safely in the centre console.

No doubt looking for an early breakfast. Once clear of the marina, Wayne opened up the twin motors which roared and throbbed as we accelerated, the bow lifted.

Soon we were skimming across the glass like surface of the ocean leaving a rooster tail in our wake. We headed for the world’s second largest bunkering area about 12 miles offshore, only the Singapore bunkering area is bigger.

Three miles out an escort of dolphins joined us; these big beautiful and powerful creatures looked magnificent in the early morning light. In the east a huge red ball had slowly emerged from the ocean, the sun was rising. All too quickly we were within a mile of our first location where we hoped to find some bonito or albacore as they call them in the United States. I could see flying fish skipping across the ocean.

Into The Killing Zone

I had with me 4 Thomas &Thomas rods, 2 Helix models in 9 and 10 weights, and 2 Horizon 11 models in 11 and 12 weights I had the latter 2 rods in case we found some big tuna, perhaps big dorado, these latter 2 rods I stowed away until needed.

On the 9 weight Helix I had a Tibor Riptide reel with a 350 grain Teeny line, My 10 weight carried a Tibor Gulf stream; this time I chose a 450-grain shooting head. Out target fish were going to be the bonito where I would use the nine weight, should I find some extra big bonito I could easily switch to the 10 weight.

I would suggest if you are going to fish these waters, you only have one rod make it a 10 weight, but make sure your fly lines are designed for tropical waters. Forty five minutes after leaving port we found a group of diving and screaming gulls, bait fish were on the surface trying to escape from what can only be described as a killing zone. The bonito were tearing the baitfish apart; bits of dead fish littered the surface.

Wayne throttled back the twin motors; we slowly moved within casting range, and then the engines were cut.

We had just the sound of ocean birds and flapping bait fish. On my fifth or sixth cast I had a hit, line was quickly taken off the reel, and the fish dived deep. Having fished for these tuna for several years I knew I had a scrap on my hands. This one lasted for several minutes.

Albacore tuna

Albacore or bonito certainly give you a work out. It was tug of war, first the fish would take line then I would retrieve it. If the fish took ten feet I would win back fifteen.

Eventually the fish was netted. Slipping out the barbless hook, we shot a quick picture then plunged the fish head first into the ocean from about five or six feet. Do not’ hold these fish by the tail then wait for them to swim off. They will die.

In the next 2 hours we had a dozen or more fish, this was then followed by a quiet spell. Though we did have the pleasure of seeing a rather large green turtle close up. After a sandwich and cold drink, we cruised the ocean looking for diving birds.

Occasionally spotting small groups of tuna on the surface, but we couldn’t get close enough to get in a cast. I do find it difficult at times to approach these small groups of tuna, I reckon it’s because they are feeding on a small school of bait fish, by the time we are within casting distance the bait fish have split up leaving the tuna to go off elsewhere and hunt.

Sight Casting To Dorado

I suppose it was around 12 noon and I was up in the bows of the boat on lookout duties. I spotted a single dorado about ten pounds heading off the port bow at about 10 o’clock. I called “Single dorado heading towards the small tanker anchored fifty yards away.”

Twenty yards from the tanker I spotted several more dorado. They were not big fish, but well worth chucking flies at, hopefully they would want to eat. I chose to use a 9 weight replacing the size 2/0 Clouser with a size 3/0 red and white Deceiver.

Another stunning dorado

While I sorted out the business end of the tackle, Wayne lined me up for a drift, and then switched off the ignition. It was that quiet you could have heard a pin drop. I stood poised up in the bow line coiled neatly on the deck. With the rod in my right hand, the fly between thumb and finger of my left hand ready to shoot cast if I should see a fish.

I peered intently into the clear water, with beads of perspiration on my brow; I was like a coiled spring. We drifted some thirty feet, then as we were coming out of the shadows into the sunlight I spotted a cruising fish.

With one false cast I shot the line. Twelve feet in front of the cruising fish the fly landed with a quiet plop. I watched it sink down 3 feet then made two; one foot long fast strips, the fish moved towards the fly, its pectoral fins changing to an electric blue colour. In the next instance the fish grabbed the fly. With a firm strip strike, I set the hook.

The fish dashed off at a fast rate of knots, and then about fifty yards away it leapt clear of the water. These fish are certainly the greyhounds of the ocean. It then dived, I cramped on the pressure and two or three minutes later it jumped three times in quick succession. Then cart wheeled across the ocean. This was blue water fly-fishing at its best. It couldn’t really get better.

After five more jumps and ten minutes later the fish was ready for netting. What a great fighting fish these are. If you should be lucky to hook up to one of these fish, please return them to the water. They are too beautiful to kill for the table and the fighting quality is second to none. In the next three hours I reckon I had a dozen follows, eight or nine hook ups and landed six fish the best at about 25lbs.

It had certainly been a great day. In fact this Dorado fishing is as good as anywhere in the world and better than most locations.

Writing & Images – Martin James MBE