Faraway Dreams: An Omani Tail
By: Kyle Schaefer
Published By BADFISH, Fall 2019
As we pack for the trip of a lifetime, routines, rituals and hallucinations set the tone for the anticipation of moments to come. These are the purest of times, where an optimistic mind has the power to shape an unwritten future. Sure, Mother Nature will undoubtedly weigh in but why not have faith and know that magic waits for us on the faraway beaches of Oman; we have nothing to lose.
As I grow older and tuck a few choice pieces of wisdom away for the long haul, I realize the importance of the relationship between expectations and happiness. While Dylan and I prepare for this bucket list trip my expectations are low, but in my heart, I know we are stepping into waters that are capable of producing the fish of our wildest dreams. Permit, bream, queenfish, multiple pelagic species, and the world’s largest GT’s traversed these inshore waters. The Oman coast is home to the only resident humpback whale population in the world where less than 100 individuals remain in their dwindling population. This is a special part of the world and to explore it, being guided by our fly rods, is a true privilege. Of course, I’m driven to bring some of these magnificent fish to hand but simply showing up and exploring these waters defines my happiness.
As we touch down in Salalah we met Ed, the owner of No Boundaries Oman. Ed has made his name by putting anglers on the biggest GT’s in the world, jigging and popping dozens of fish over 50 kilos on conventional tackle each season. Since day one Ed has seen huge potential for fly fishing in these waters.
Oman greeted us with unseasonably rowdy seas and a ripping wind out of the East. The swell was building as we arrived and peaked on our 2nd day. Our first few days were spent fishing the cliffs, battling 30-knot winds and getting rocked by the waves. The seas were coming from the southeast. The swell would pass under the boat, smash into the cliffs and then refract back out, making the texture of the inshore waters even more confused and choppy.
Through the wind and waves our confidence did not waver. We had no clue when our opportunity would arise to boat a big bream but we believed that our chance would come; we just had to put the work in.
As we fished through another challenging section of cliffs and structure we went empty handed but in the distance we saw birds… lots of birds. They were tight to the cliff walls, continuously diving into the water below, coming up with beaks full of bait. Henk and Robbie, our South African guides, got the boat in position and we started a down wind drift, perfectly aligned with the big ball of bait ahead. We could see bream cruising just under the water’s surface, looking for vulnerable pieces of bait that were separated from the pack. Some of the bream cruised slower than I expected, swimming high in the water column, making them the perfect target for a well placed fly. We got into range and I released a cast in the direction of a single cruising fish. I led the chunky bream by about 6 feet and got my baitfish pattern moving just as it hit the water. Bream are fussy eaters known to follow and follow without committing. The key is to keep these fish interested by increasing the pace of your fly as your target closes the distance. My fish followed for 10 feet and gained speed with every strip of the fly. She finally exploded and quickly turned, heading to the rocky structure below. I was on and morale was high. We earned this opportunity and despite a few tough days on the water we kept our heads high. If we let the conditions get the best of us we would never have come across this willing school of bream. Dylan and I celebrated as we successfully brought the first bream to boat that No Boundaries Oman had ever caught on the fly.
Landing those first bream released the pressure valve on the trip. We all felt a little bit lighter. The guides were able to finally exhale. Things were coming together despite the challenging conditions. Meanwhile, the seas were calming and the days ahead called for lighter winds and full sun. Our ambitions begin to shift towards permit and other species that cruised in the surf. For Dylan and I, that meant walking the beaches, sight fishing in the waves and waiting for the opportunity to cast at Oman’s most elusive fish; the yellow-bellied permit.
We walked miles and miles of carefully selected beaches where we intersected with camels, cattle, flamingos, and native Omanis that had likely never before seen a fly rod on their shores. We peered into wave after wave and walked through the wash keeping our eyes constantly vigilant for tails, fins and shadows. It’s easy to let your guard down in this element but we remained convinced our permit was just seconds away from waltzing into casting range. We never did find our permit on our first quest to Oman but as we walked the beaches we sight fished bream and other species that surfed the waves feeding on bait. We caught smaller bream that were forced to swim on their sides because they swam so skinny in the wash looking for shrimp and crabs. We caught big pompano that tricked us into casting because our brains convinced us that they were permit. Even flounder found our flies as we sight fished anything with fins that cruised those beaches and created a shadow.
Though our permit never showed up, this fish gifted us with focus and hope. If we hadn’t chased our dreams and believed in our pursuit we would have never crossed paths with bream, countless reef species, trevallys, and queenfish. As I reflect back at our time on the water I am reminded that at the confluence of hope and excitement lies a reality that’s ours to mold, however we’d like, we just gotta believe.