And then the captain cried: It’s not an island! It’s a giant fish that has been asleep since the days of old, but now your fires and your shouting have awakened it; it’s about to dive into the depths, and those who won’t make it to the ship will be lost!
Even from the Sinbad the Sailor stories one can easily see that the people living on the banks of the Arabian Gulf were into fishing – and were truly enthusiastic fishers at that. No matter how far out you stretch your hands showing the size of the one that got away or the one that your grandpa caught on this lake thirty years ago, how can you beat the story of the fish that’s as big as an island? That’s a fishing lie of the topmost level!
The truth is, however, that United Arab Emirates are one of the world’s fishing hotspots. Commercial fishery is an important part of both the economy, and the lifestyle, as people who live in UAE consume more fish and seafood per capita than anywhere else in the Middle East. Recreational fishing is no less important, as it gives the residents of a quickly developing country a much-needed opportunity to rediscover their ties to nature.
United Arab Emirates are located on the peninsula that separates the Arabian Gulf from the Gulf of Oman. These warm and nutritious-rich waters abound in marine life, with over 300 species of fish recorded in the country’s waters. The Gulf of Oman, directly connected to the Indian Ocean, is deeper and offers better opportunities on deep sea pelagic fish species such as tuna, mahi-mahi, and marlin. If you want to fish it, you should consider booking a trip with a charter based in Fujairah, or elsewhere on the eastern coast of the country, as you’d have to sail for over 100 miles to pass the Strait of Hormuz if you start out from Dubai.
Most operators based in Dubai and Abu Dhabi take their clients to the Arabian Gulf. It is shallower, and offers a better experience with nearshore and offshore fishing for such non-migratory fish as barracuda, gilt-headed bream and snappers. It doesn’t take a long trip to have fun fishing near Dubai and Abu Dhabi: a peculiar feature of the Arabian Gulf in those parts is the abundance of artificial reefs, that not only protect coasts from storms, but also provide excellent habitat and cover for reproduction.
Recreational fishing trips
Fishing in United Arab Emirates is a regulated activity, with several measures in place to protect overfished populations. While most of these regulations apply to commercial fishing, there are some that should be abided to by recreational anglers as well. A fishing license is required and can be obtained for the client by the operator. Fishing is not allowed in marine protected areas; note also that fishing in some of the ports, as well as on certain areas on the shore, is prohibited for public safety reasons. While most fishing in United Arab Emirates is keep the catch, catch and release is mandatory for certain threatened species.
Traditional fishing in the Arabian Gulf, like in many other places, depends on the use of nets and fish traps, some of which are quite ingenious. Recreational fishing is mostly boat-based. There are two major types of boats used. One is a smaller type, about 30-40 ft., with a large open deck and outboard motors, stems from a traditional local type of boat known as tarad. Fishing charters that specialize in big-game offshore fishing have the craft that is typically used for such outings. This bigger craft, equipped with a cabin, with big, 70-80 ft. yachts with powerful engines that can take you well out into the deep seas in search of tuna, marlin, and such.
What and when to catch in UAE
Among the hundreds of marine species recorded in the seas near the UAE coasts, some have more importance for both local and recreational anglers than others. Hamour, or orange-spotted grouper, is the favorite fish species in United Arab Emirates. The stocks of this fish have been depleted, but an ambitions hi-tech program is in place to help reverse the trend. Migration of kingfish, which arrives to the waters of UAE at about September and hangs out there until March, is a big event for local fisheries, and offers exciting opportunities for the recreational angler as well. And as far as the big game fish is concerned, UAE is said to offer second-to-none options for sailfish; mahi-mahi is also abundant.
While such species as barracuda and red snapper can be caught all year round, overall, the best time for fishing in UAE is believed to be the winter, especially for kingfish, queenfish, cobia and groupers. One can’t also fail to mention trevally and such local specialties as spangled, sweet-lipped, and snub-nosed emperor fish. In the hot summer months, the local experts say, most fish species escape from the heat into the deep, where they are harder to catch. Another local tip is not to shy away from anchored supertankers – big predatory fish likes to rest in the shade of those giant vessels, and great catches may be the result.
Fishing types and techniques
Fishing from the shore in UAE is mostly the domain of the country’s residence. It involves a considerable amount of local knowledge of best times and locations – including fishing under the enormous highway bridges, which attract fish with the shade they provide. For tourists, as well as anyone who’d like to fish from a boat, there is no shortage of excellent fishing charters and captains.
Like any well-developed fishing industry, operators in UAE can offer something for everyone. Families will enjoy shorter trips to the reefs, where handlining, bottom fishing, or jigging from an anchored boat will provide frequent bites from a less-demanding fish species. Both trolling, spinning, and fishing with dead bait can be used to target bigger fish like barracuda, trevally and king mackerel, and big game deep sea fishing boats are equipped with heavy tackle for sailfish and other pelagic fish. A combination of a sea trip, where a part of the company simply enjoys the ride and cold drinks while the anglers focus on tuna and mahi-mahi? You got that, too.
Captains provide rods, lures, and bait; they typically carry high-quality rigs well adapted to the local conditions, so you don’t have to bring your own rods along. Soft drinks and lunch are usually included in the price of the trip, and many operators offer an opportunity to dine on the fish you’ve caught. All in all, while the fable about fish as big as an island is not true, the truth is that fishing in UAE can be fabulous. If your business or vacation plans ever take you there, book a trip with one of the fishing charters and see for yourself!
Main photo credit: Champion Yachts