Sunday, May 27, 2007

Something Fishy For The Weekend?

Just got back from an excellent weekend in Bahrain: the short-break getaway of choice for anyone who needs to get out of Saudi for a bit. It seemed like half the Riyadh expat community was there with us: we went with friends from the Embassy, there was another Embassy couple there too, and several other friends, some of whom were there just for a break like us, and some who were there to perform in a concert by The Manama Singers and The Bahrain Concert Sinfonia.

The concert was on Friday night and the centrepiece was a superb performance of Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, complete with professional soloists, a junior school choir, and dancers.

The highlight of the weekend -- for me and Elliot at least -- was Thursday's fishing trip organised by Adrian, a friend of ours at the Embassy. Adrian is a keen fisherman and had been trying to organise sea fishing trips for a while, but in the past there had always been something last minute to scupper his plans: bad weather, technical problems with the boat's engine, that sort of thing. Nothing of the sort this time though. The hotel's new Beach Club Manager had made an investment in their fishing package, including nearly-new outboard motors for the boat and some new rods and reels, so when we arrived on Thursday morning everything was ship-shape, Bristol fashion and raring to go.

"All aboard Shipmates!" Oops, I'm lapsing into Pirate again.

We boarded the boat and were introduced to our crew -- Ali and Rahman -- before casting off and setting out to sea.

Adrian and Tom speculating about who's going to catch the most, as we speed away from the Manama coastline.

We were heading about twenty miles offshore to a couple of likely spots the crew had saved in their SatNav system. Apparently you have to go this far out from Bahrain to find good fishing, because the waters around the coastline have all been dredged for landfill projects, rendering the seabed flat and lifeless.

There we were, bombing along, when there came a high-pitched whistle from the cockpit: one of the engines had set off an alarm.

Rahman doing some outboard troubleshooting

We stopped straight away so the crew could investigate the cause of the alarm. They inspected the engine for propeller fouling, air, fuel and oil leaks, but found nothing wrong, so we started off again. This went on for around 45 minutes. We'd just get up to speed when the alarm would sound and cut the engine, then they'd look for trouble, find none, and we'd get going again. We never did find out what was causing the alarm and were delayed getting back because of the frequent stops, but the boat got us there and back in one piece so no harm done.

"Look Tom -- another boat."

We passed a couple of these traditional Dhows on the way.

After over an hour we came to the first likely spot for fish, and started getting the tackle prepared.

Adrian and Ray getting ready for action.

Adrian and Ray were both experts, and Adrian went through the operation of the tackle with Elliot and me. I used to fish as a kid, but that was on the River Thames near Windsor and a very long time ago, so I was glad of the training session. We all cast our lines into the water and waited with baited (sorry!) breath for our first bite. Five minutes went by, then ten, then twenty, and after half an hour we'd still not had a single bite between us.

"Wot, no fish??"

Nothing for it but pack up and move on to another spot.

No joy so far, but spirits remained high as we went in search of richer pickings.

We sped on for another twenty minutes before stopping once more, at another likely spot. Out came the gear again and we settled in for the long haul. It was about 40c and the sun was beating down on our heads, but we were drinking plenty of water and covered in sun cream, and after a while Ali unfurled the canvas sunshade so that we could get out of the sun and fish at the same time. My hands, however, were holding the rod out the side of the boat, so shade or no shade I got a bit burned on my wrist and lower arms.

This turned out to be a much better spot however, and the first catch of the day came to Ray after only about five minutes.

Ray reeling in his first fish.

It's a Catfish, about 5lbs.

After this the action was non-stop, with one of us shouting, "I've got one!" every few minutes.

Tom was next to hook a fish, and Dad Adrian had to help him bring it in, it was fighting so hard.

Another Catfish...

...bigger than Ray's! Well done Tom!

About ten minutes later it was Elliot's turn.

He puffed and panted but managed to bring his first fish in unaided.

Another Catfish, and another whopper!

Not wanting to feel left out I was glad when, a couple of minutes later, I felt a sharp quiver on my rod and struck, feeling a strong tugging force on the line. My turn: "I've got one!"

This place is "Catfish City", or "City Catfish" as Ali called it.

I was starting to feel a bit sorry for Adrian. After all he is the keenest fisherman in the group but had had little chance to do any real fishing of his own because he'd spent all the time helping us newbies and Tom. But all was soon well, as he pulled in his first catch.

The haul was mostly Catfish, but we did get a couple of other types too, including a Red Hammour and a nice browny-gold fish I can't name (not because it's a secret -- I just can't remember it).

Ali and Rahman caught a couple of nice Catfish too, only they didn't need fancy gear like rods and reels, they just used a hand-line. Show-offs!

Most unusual catch of the day went to Yours Truly!

This is a Remora, also known as a Suckerfish.

It has a flat suction cup area on top of its head, which it uses to attach itself to the underbelly of larger fish like sharks and Manta Rays.

Here's another view of the Remora's peculiar dorsal feature (courtesy Wikipedia)

We started back about four hours after we'd set off. The sun was getting to us a bit and we needed to get back to meet up with families. Our catch totalled about 25 fish in all, a really good day.

"Home James, and don't spare the horses!"

Elliot and Tom feeling pleased with themselves.

Elliot reflecting on his first real fishing experience (the Trout farm in Norfolk when he was eight didn't count. I was leading that expedition and we caught bugger-all.)

Bit of an arty shot to finish up with.

As we neared the city we noticed dozens of white blobs floating in the water. They were Jellyfish, and the water was full of them.

...Even in the Marina.

A really enjoyable day out. Elliot keeps asking when we can go again!

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