Arabian Fishing Adventure
A trip to Oman yields bucket-list catches, camel encounters, and a GT close call that leaves one angler gasping for air.
By Katka Svagrova

Camels abound in Oman, and many are seen roaming freely throughout the country.

Oman’s coastline combines desert landscapes with rocky cliffs and vast, white-sand beaches. That’s part of the reason I’d traveled to Oman, to learn about the fishing along its south coast, towards the border with Yemen. Sunshine, endless, sandy beaches, welcoming locals, good food, and chances for a few fishing firsts. What’s not to like?

Getting to Oman, which is located on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, at the confluence of the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea, was easy. I first flew directly to Doha, the capital of Qatar, where the airport is enormous and modern, and I had no trouble connecting quickly to Salalah, in Oman's Dhofar province. Everything went like clockwork.

I fished with Arabian Fly Sport Fishing, an operation run meticulously by Brendan and Claire King, a charming and well-prepared couple. Aside from being my fishing guides, they arranged incredible accommodations for me, conveniently located right next to where my boat would be moored every morning.

My main focus on this trip was to land a Trachinotus africanus, as Oman is the only place in the world where you can target this permit species on the fly. I also had my sights set on Indo-Pacific permit (Trachinotus blochii), along with mahi, queenfish and, possibly, giant trevally. I’d heard that some of the biggest GTs in the world live in Omani waters, and since I only had a small one to my name (despite several attempts in the Maldives), this was an enticing prospect.

While the Kings also specialize in marlin fishing, the ones they regularly land are way too big for any fly rod, so I opted not to try my luck with the billfish. But not all my goals had to do with fishing, I also had one other ambition: to get close enough to a camel to photograph it. I assumed it would be tricky, but that assumption proved wrong, very wrong. In Oman, camels were everywhere. In fact, many are raised by local farmers for their milk and meat. I soon had my photo, and just a few days later, I even tasted my first camel stew. It was delicious.

The Alphlexo Crab fly is an excellent choice for both permit species that are found in Omani waters.

My first day of fishing was spent looking for Indo-Pacific permit along the area’s seemingly infinite, sandy beaches, armed with a 9-weight fly rod, a matching reel and a floating line.

As previously mentioned, in Oman you’ll also find africanus permit, although usually in bigger schools and mostly near the cliffs, where you have to fish from a boat. But since one is never completely sure of when or where either species will show up, and both take a crab, I tied on an Alphlexo. And in case we came across a cruising GT, I also had a 12-weight outfit rigged and ready.

Though the surf is mostly calm in Oman, fly fishers looking for fish are bound to take on a few waves.

As many anglers have learned, catching permit is not an easy feat. And the Indo-Pacifics might just be the toughest of all. Their absence on the first day of fishing certainly didn’t boost my confidence.

Covered in SPF 50 sunscreen, I walked up and down the beach, took on a few waves in the surf, drank some cold beers and enjoyed a fantastic lunch. The permit, however, were a no-show. Brendan assured me that it was simply one of those days, and I believed him. But I know that, in fishing, luck can change quickly, and that’s precisely what happened.

Protruding tails and dorsals give away permit feeding along rocky sections of Oman’s shores.

On our next outing, we set off by boat shortly after sunrise, heading west towards Yemen until we reached some towering cliffs marked by the haunting hull of a freighter that marooned on the rocks after breaking free from its anchorage a few years ago. Fortunately the wind was calm as we inched our way along the coast, staying no more than 10 meters from the cliffs.

Timing is key in the pursuit of africanus permit because they apparently only eat around high tide, and locating them requires carefully scanning the water’s edge, where the waves are breaking, looking for the tails and fins of feeding fish. This takes some skill, and Brendan is a master. He spotted the pack of fish in this photo from a considerable distance.

Precise casting from a rocking boat is a prerequisite for catching africanus permit feeding along coastal cliffs.

For success with permit accurate casting is critical, and the fact that the fly must land gently, just in front of a feeding fish, ups the ante. You must then let the fly sink a little and draw in the line ever so slowly.

Presentations both accurate and gentle are not exactly easy to achieve from a rocking boat, so it took many attempts to get the hang of it. But Brendan was patient and, eventually, I made the perfect cast and retrieve, and my first-ever africanus permit was on.

Catching a permit, any permit, on fly is quite the feat. Landing a Trachinotus africanus, one of the rarest species, is extra special.

It was a slow strike, almost a nibble, followed by a powerful run. Brendan quickly put the boat in reverse and backed away from shore, but the sight of lobster pots, and the knowledge that the ropes keeping them in place were hidden below the surface, made me doubly anxious.

Somehow we avoided disaster and, though the fish put on a good fight, we eventually coaxed it boatside and carefully led the 10-pounder into the landing net. We got the customary picture-taking over quickly, returned the fish to the water, and watched it swim away unscathed.

Mahi, also called dolphin and dorado in other regions, are one of the most colorful and acrobatic species fly anglers can target.

My next species of the trip was mahi, which are abundant in Oman and pretty easy to catch on the fly. They love to hang around buoys and flotsam, so we cruised from one floating object to the next, also scouting around various anchored vessels, searching for the fish.

To draw attention from any mahi in the vicinity, a teaser was cast beyond every buoy or floating object and retrieved rapidly back to the boat. Attracted by the splashing teaser, mahi often surged from below to investigate, and I simply cast a fly in their direction. Aggressive by nature, these fish pounced on my offering the instant they saw it. And since they tend to grab the fly on the run, getting a solid hookset was easy.. We saw schools of dozens of mahi and caught plenty, enjoying every acrobatic display from the colorful gamefish.

This is how the author hoped her fight with a trophy GT would have gone, but…

As we returned home one evening, happy and exhausted, we spotted an enormous GT cruising along a beach. It was the biggest I had ever seen, by far. Brendan estimated its length exceeded 140 centimeters (55 inches), undoubtedly a potential record, especially on the fly. So he turned the boat and sped some 300 meters down the beach, in the direction the GT was traveling.

With my heart racing, I grabbed my 12-weight and spied the water intently. But after 10 minutes, we gave up hope of the monster reappearing and prepared to head for home. Suddenly, however, Brendan saw our target. The GT was moving swiftly, just below the surface, in 10 feet of water over a sandy bottom.

I had a mere couple of seconds to balance on the bow of the rocking boat and take my shot at the leviathan. My Mullet Brush fly tied on a strong, 6/0 hook landed a bit to its right, so I stripped in line quickly in hopes of getting a second shot. And then lightning struck. The GT turned and shot sideways to grab my fly. I strip-struck and felt the hook take hold. I couldn’t believe my luck, I finally had a huge GT on.

The author proudly shows off the battle scars attained during her bout with a giant trevally.

The monster took off. I mean it really took off. And that’s where my story turns from triumph to disaster. The loose fly line at my feet jumped up from the deck. And as I tried to clear it, a large loop somehow wrapped around my neck. In a flash, the line tightened like a noose and started to cut into my neck. Was this how the GT was enacting its revenge?

I didn’t have time to think about it. I simply jumped and dropped my rod as I entered the water, immediately struggling to the surface to catch a breath. Fortunately the line slackened. The GT had severed the 120-pound shock tippet — probably on sharp coral — and I was able to untangle myself as my companion recovered my fly rod. My first big GT, a potential record, had vanished.

Katka Svagrova

Growing up in a fly fishing family, Katka has been casting a fly rod since the age of four. In addition to being one of the top guides in Europe, she is a world-class competitor, winning the Czech women’s championship 5 times in 6 years. She has also competed internationally, helping the Czech team place 4th in the European fly fishing championship. After a trip to Australia in 2014, Katka started travelling the world, fly rod in hand. Within 3 years she had fished more than 10 countries including Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Norway, Belize, The Maldives, and Guatemala. Katka currently works as a fly fishing guide for Hreggnasi Angling Club on Laxa í Kjòs, one of Iceland’s most prestigious Atlantic Salmon rivers.