East of Hidd

20180324 Hidd Kayak (4)

I rented a kayak to explore some places beyond reach from the shore.  This video shows it went pretty well.  Video: East of Hidd

 

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Shamal

It is on an island nation in the Arabian Gulf that I find myself. Just another deployment in a career spanning three decades. I didn’t come for the fishing, I came to serve. However, I’ve been researching golden trevally, queenfish, hamoor (local grouper), barracuda, dorado, and kingfish (king mackerel) as they are what I hope to catch when I’m off duty. The only way to find out what’s in the water is to get my fly rod out of my sea bag and get to it.

Across the spectrum of writing about fishing, I find little about the Arabian Gulf (formerly the Persian Gulf), let alone fly fishing. I know this because I have searched for it. I’ve even had documents translated from Arabic to broaden my search for info. Nothing is much more than a cursory mention. There are opportunities in the region, though half the gulf belongs to Iran. It is a shallow and warm subtropical body of water with species found in the Indian Ocean, so I believe there is potential.

The waters around the island of Bahrain are heavily worked by fishermen with nets and traps. From what I can tell, there is not much regulation of commercial fishing and the fisheries are in serious decline. The fisherman are poor third country nationals who only get paid when they bring in fish, no matter the size. It is a system which will eventually implode as the fish stocks evaporate.
This winter has been very cool and wet compared to past years. It currently stands as the second wettest on record with nearly six inches of rain in February. To put that in perspective, the normal annual rainfall is three inches. This has kept water temps very cool (low to mid-60s F°) which in turn keeps the fish in deep water off shore. The normal weather pattern feeds a predominantly north wind called a shamal. The potent winds carry dust and moisture down the gulf. They are the blame for the slow fishing. Just like I experinced in Belize with El Norte. The wind sucks.
The weather will change and soon the lows will be in the 90s with triple digit highs. Even better, it is not dry heat but sweltering humididty that hangs out in the high 90s as well. But at least there is little wind to cool things down because wind means dust. Dust in clouds so thick it dims the sun and coats everything in a fine layer akin to talcum powder. It is not a destination I would choose, but since I am here, I may as well fish.

I’ve caught a few fish, mostly small black spotted snapper. The only thing spectacular about them is the coloring. But they willingly take flies and small fish are better than no fish. Some small spotted trevali and a needlefish have also tugged my line.

The water surrounding Bahrain is clear and beautiful. There is a lot of trash, but in reality it is aligned with the levels I’ve observed in most countries besides the US and Canada. Much of the coastline is private with limited access for fishing. Very litttle of the coast is natural and whatbia natural is not accessable to the public. A great deal of the north end is reclaimed seabed held in place with quarried stone. This industrial land building also has to effect the fish, compounding the problem with commercial fishing.

Arabian Gulf water

Fishing is popular with Bahrainis. The island began as a farming and fishing culture. Bahrain means “two waters.” There used to be a large inland lake in the island but all that remains of it is the countries name. While some Bahrainis use conventional gear, most use a handline on a spool or bottle, a size 4 or 6 hook baited with shrimp, and a sinker. They are certainly intrigued by my fly rod.

The culture is Islamic colored by a large number of foreign workers. The ruling family and goverment are Sunni with close ties to Saudi Arabia. The majority of the Bahrainis are Shia. The work force is a mix of Indian, Pakistani, Bengladeshi, Thai, Phillipines, and Africans. The souks are filled with shops selling everything this churning collection of cultures wants. It is racaous – not only audibly but physically, visually, and olfactotily too. People in large numbers striving to get what they need without the structured politeness we enjoy in the West. It can quickly overload the senses and cause the timid to seek the comfortably familiar modern malls.

I don’t want to paint too idealic a picture though, for it is the Middle East and there is friction. Unrest fills the poorer Shi’a neighborhoods. Protests, high lighted by fires fueled with furniture and tires, often lead to clashes with the police, who are all Sunni. Occasionally the violence peaks with gunfire and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The hostilities are localized and limited to the Shi’a protesters against the police. Coalition forces have not been involved, except as bystanders. Still one has to be aware of surrounding, location, and escape routes. Fortunately my fishing takes place far from any hot spots.

If you’ve read this far, I thank you. Your reward is a fish tale. The weekend across the Middle East is Friday and Saturday. It has stormed almost every weekend in March. This past weekend I took a chance that a favorite spot might be in the lee. I went as the tide was rising and was right, the wind was blowing hard but the bank and buildings afforded me some fishable water. It was the power plant outflow, labled “sewer,” which doesn’t always mean human waste. Its clean water a couple degrees warmer than the gulf. A friend of mine had caught some small queenfish here and that is what I wanted to catch. Queenies are strong and agressive predators prone to acrobatics. What more could an angler want? I rigged up my TFO BVK 6wt with a sink-tip line and a bucktail. I let the first cast sink and swing in the current before stripping it in along the seam. Bang! Got a strike on the first cast but no hook up. Same for the second and third. I could see the torpedoes as they attacked my fly. It seemed seemed they were short strikes so I changed to a smaller fly. That was the ticket! The first drift ended with a violent stike that turned into a silver flash clearing the water. Soon my first queenfish was in my hand. They are not a user-friendly fish. A mouth full of sharp teeth and needle-like spines will leave an angler with wounds to remember the battle by. It was a small queenie but still the largest fish I’d caught in Bahrain.

I fished my little hot-spot for the next hour, landing four more leaping queens and some bigger black spotted snapper before I packed up. It was a great afternoon on the water, I’m glad I took a chance.

Desert Isle Fly Fishing

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Queenfish with a TFO BVK 6wt.

Bahrain is a small island nation. It is truly an island, its only connection to the Arabian Peninsula is a causeway to Saudi Arabia. Prior to that bridge the only way here was by boat or plane. It is home to the only permanently built US Navy base in the middle-East and serves as the headquarters for the Commander of US Navy Forces Central Command. It is hot here, no surprise, but it is not dry heat. It is wet and oppressive heat. The kind you expect in a steamy jungle, but it is hotter here without the foliage providing shade. The heat is best measured with a heat index which much like wind chill captures the feel of 15°F as feeling like ten below with a 15mph breeze. 100°F with 60% humidity feels like 129°F – in the shade! Your body tries to cool, but since evaporation fails with the air full of water, your sweat just stays on your skin and soaks into your clothes leaving you feeling like a steamed clam. The water is not refreshing either, it climbs to over 95°F and in the shallows can reach 100°F! Wading on the flats is akin to wading in a hot tub. The hot tub will also have about as many fish as they all head for deeper water far from shore out in the Arabian Gulf. To round out the delights of spring and summer, the air is filled with dust, picked up in the deserts of Iraq and Iran and carried down the Gulf. Even on a cloudless day the sun is blurred by the particles dancing in atmosphere. On the up side, sunrise and sunset can be quite stunning with all the reflection and refraction going on with the water in the atmosphere.

I did not come to Bahrain to fish. It is not on anyone’s list of top places to go for fishing adventure. I have other business on the island (called “orders” in the Navy), but as long as I’m here and just happened to have a fly rod (or four) in my sea bag, I tried out the fishing. Like any traveling angler I did my homework. The waters of the Gulf hold many game fish. Spotted and golden trevally, kingfish, tuna, cobia, grouper, barracuda and queenfish all swim in the tropical waters here.

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Blackspot Snapper

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Baby Golden Trevally

Bahrain started as a fishing community and that is still a large enterprise herse. Possibly too large. Every shallow bay on the island is filled with fish traps and nets. Dhows and pangas ply the deeper waters with hooks, nets, and traps. It seems if it swims it is caught and soon ends up in the market. So what survives is pretty small. Fishing here is challenging to say the least, but I do not mind a challenge. I’ll make the best of my time on this desert isle.

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Permanent fish traps.

Here is a glimpse into fishing here:

Fly Fishing in Bahrain (YouTube video)