“It’s all about the birds” Nick said. We were in Dubai and for a brief moment I was wondering what the association was between people lying on the beaches and catching queenfish. Of course he was talking about the sea birds and he was right, it is indeed all about the birds.
There is now a British Airways direct flight between London and Mahé, Seychelles but with five seriously good destinations in the Seychelles now, the direct flight (London/Mahé on Wednesdays and Saturdays arriving the next day in the morning and Mahé/London on Thursdays and Sundays as a day flight – subject to review in October 2018) does not work for all of them unless you want extra nights in Mahé (or elsewhere in the Seychelles) beyond the one we recommend before you fly out to your chosen atoll. That means flying on Emirates via Dubai or Qatar via Doha with the former being the easier of the two. Yes, you do have to switch planes in Dubai and have a two to four-hour layover depending on your schedule but it is not that bad. However, there are guests who want to break the journey and I can understand why. Ta Da!!! Dubai and fishing for queenfish with Nick is undoubtedly the answer. On my way to Astove I decided to check it out so I could comment and make recommendations.
I arrived early evening, took a car to the Address Marina Hotel (one of the two Nick can pick you up from by boat – the other is the One and Only Royal Mirage) had dinner and went to bed. All pretty easy. If you fly Business Class, remember to ask Frontiers or Emirates directly to book you a car to your hotel from the airport and back for onward flight to the Seychelles – it is free! The following morning, Nick, or one of his top guides, will want to pick you up around 7 am. You do not fish a whole day, it gets too hot, so you’ll fish until about lunchtime. Nick picked me up and soon we were headed out looking for those birds to find bonito tuna which had been working the baitfish about a 30-minute run from the main Dubai marina/hotel areas over recent days, typical for this time of year. They run three custom-built, centre-console boats ranging from 27ft-34ft powered by Mercury or Yamaha engines with cruising speeds of 30-40knots and are all fully rigged with Garmin electronics, safety gear, Yeti Coolers, and all the requirements to have a fantastic, comfortable day out on the water.
Before I tell you more about the fishing let’s look at how well this all works. For a start, this is not just a stop-off destination. By creating all the amazing islands and building complexes such as the Palm and the World, Dubai has created amazing reef habitat. By creating habitat, there is a new home to millions of smaller species, call them baitfish. If there are baitfish, it is not long until the predators follow. It is only going to get better. The key species at present are queenfish, golden trevally or ‘goldies’, milkfish, yellow-dot trevally, orange-spot trevally, barracuda, cobia, king fish and many more. At certain times of year there are also good numbers of bonito. It is not going to be too long before milkfish and even permit establish themselves as well, perhaps, further species of trevally. My point is that Dubai is becoming good enough to be a fishing destination in itself not just a stop-off destination. In fact, what could be better – take the kids to Dubai for half term and fish in the mornings and meet up back with the family at lunchtime? Having a blank is unlikely which is even better.
But there is more that makes a lot of sense whether passing through or staying in Dubai. Either do not bother to get the rods and gear out at all if passing through or, if staying in Dubai, why bring them at all? They have all the gear and it is top notch not some beaten up retired tackle. We are talking Thomas and Thomas rods, Abel reels etc. You do not even need to get the flats boots out, trainers, boat shoes or no shoes at all will work perfectly. I do recommend some hot weather clothes, a light waterproof, a cap and sunscreen.
As I see it, there is one final positive about Dubai if stopping on the way to the Seychelles. Few of us are doing the whole 10 to 12 weight rod gig very often nor are we strip-striking our trout or salmon too often. Consequently, it is inevitable that we are rusty and Dubai gives you a chance to not only practice and make your mistakes but you have top guides to coach you as well. On a normal day, there should be a decent number of opportunities to make and correct errors on the take and there is plenty of time to shake the casting cobwebs away and feel much more ready and confident for what lies ahead; a trip of a lifetime which we want to maximise.
Back to the bonito, we just crossed the dhow shipping lane where all the dhows make their way in and out of Dubai. We began to see birds and under them feeding bonito up to about 20 lbs. We got the odd cast in the required proximity. No result. As the morning developed the bonito came up more and more to the point where we all felt we could not miss. We were casting our clousers into a maelstrom of feeding tuna and it seemed to be just a matter of time. I did hook one which came off but that morning and the next, which was almost a repeat, the tuna seemed so fixed on one particular bait, they would not look at our multiple variations of clousers fished in an equally varied manner from dead and sinking to high speed. I was lucky to have Nick and Brenton, his head guide, with me and there was some serious head-scratching going on. We were all well and truly defeated.
It was very exciting and the fish I did have on was mighty powerful but we decided that we could go on being teased like this and waste the whole morning so we headed back into the hotel area of Dubai to look for queens. At the time of year I was there, late January, it seems there is a perfect time to look for queens, once it has warmed up but before it is too hot. Later in the season, you simply fish until it is too hot for fish and fisherman. It is pretty cool being surrounded by all the major hotels with of course the 7-Star Burj Al Arab and Atlantis hotels standing out amongst the backdrop of over 200 skyscrapers in the Dubai Marina.
We killed the engine and just drifted looking for working birds again and the puff of white under them that signifies feeding fish. Soon enough, thanks to the birds, we spotted fish. We putted our way into position and cast to them. Happily, most often queens are free taking and it was not long until we had our first fish on and then another and another. We were using a 10 wt as described and these fish, which weigh from about 8 to 25 lbs give a very good account of themselves jumping and diving deep as well. The best part is sometimes you can see the fish as you cast to them, other times you are casting to the breaks but most of the time, either way, you see the take unless you have let the fly sink for a specific reason. It is all wonderfully visual and that makes it good practice too. Sometimes you will see golden trevally ‘goldies’ feeding. In this case, you need to cast to where you are seeing them and let the fly sink a little deeper so it is unlikely you’ll see the take but you’ll feel it! The retrieve is slower and more deliberate. Other times you’ll spot the goldies under the queens feeding on a bait-ball and again, sink the fly to them and you have a great chance of a fish.
We headed for lunch at the 101 Pier restaurant at the One and Only Palm Hotel. Did a little more fishing on the way home and then I returned to my hotel before we all went to Pier Chic bar overlooking the Burj Al Arab and then had a hell of a hamburger at Black Cap. The next day was the same basically, another frustrated attempt at the bonito before some great sighted fishing to queens and a good lunch. We then went shopping for some items I had forgotten, did some interviews with Nick at his home and met his family. It was a great couple of days and I certainly felt ready for what lay ahead with all cobwebs ironed out! I also arrived into Mahé feeling great at a civilised time. All was well with the world and a big thank you to Nick and Brenton for a great time.