I think most people who know me around the base know that I’d probably rather be fishing at any given time throughout the day than doing what I was doing when they posed the question. There are other activities I prefer over the fishing, and even certain types of
fishing I prefer over others, but generally I subscribe to the adage “A bad day of fishing is better than a good day at the office.” I’m surprised it’s taken me so long to start an entry dedicated to my favorite hobby.
The plans for a fishing trip in the Persian Gulf started weeks before we left the comforts of home for the discomforts of a life deployed. A couple of the young bucks sniffing around the base for ideas to keep us occupied over here asked if I’d be interested in a base sponsored/endorsed charter trip once we arrived. My trepidation over pirates, terrorists and the great unknown of the Middle East culture and environment created an internal impasse between the fishing ego and the self-preservationist id within my psyche.
Sure I wanted to add another country, another body of water, another species of fish to my list of meager piscatorial conquests, but I didn’t want to end up bobbing along in the middle of the ocean hoping the SEAL team snipers had timed the swells just right to squeeze off a shot at the enterprising pirates who would certainly be plying the waters off Doha in search of Air Force personnel to hold for ransom. An implausible fear to be sure, but the mind wanders when it’s bored.
I was reluctant to go down town a month ago as you might recall from a previous entry here. Once I was convinced, I ventured out and was glad I did. I had already decided that I would be going fishing on the next available outing before we returned from town that night. Some of the guys were looking to put together a trip on Halloween, the next available trip that was scheduled to go out. With our schedules coordinated, we signed up at least 6 people at any one time.
Sunday night, we started having the first inklings of a potential epidemic here, at the time it looked like food poisoning from the evening’s Mongolian Bar BQ. The first guy I ran into was stumbling back from the Cadillac and muttered something about don’t eat the beef stir fry. I did some quick backtracking of my evening and remembered I always steer clear of the Mongolian BBQ line because: A) it looks nasty, and B) just like steak and lobster night, there is a huge line.
The guy stumbling back from the Cadillac was the guy who works my shift when I’m off, so that didn’t bode well for me. He had already coordinated with the mid-shift guy, Hot Rod, to stay the whole night so I could go fishing, but he needed me to come in and show him the ropes. I felt a bit like a heel for not working, but ol’ Hot Rod wouldn’t hear of me not going fishing. He’s good people, Hot Rod.
The next issue arose that morning when I heard of the magnitude of people from our squadron who were now DNIF (Duty Not to Include Flying). All the lines would still launch but I offered that we could cancel the trip to the commander since two of our six guys were another kind of DNIF, the kind that didn’t include fishing. Being on a boat in the middle of the ocean is no place to be if you’re, well, if you don’t feel good. The commander gave us the green light and the four of us were off.
We arrived at the harbor after navigating through mid-day traffic, and pulled up next to a dhow tied off next to the parking area. A dhow is sort of a catch-all term for a boat over here. Although a quick internet search on Wikipedia would have you believe these are traditional sailing vessels with one or more masts with lateen sails, the advent of the modern, internal combustion engine combined with the ridiculously low price of gas here has rendered the sails useless. The shape of the boats is the same today as it was a thousand years ago when slave trading seemed like a good idea, only the sails have been removed and replaced by a very nice, upper sun deck which provides a lot of nice shade in the lower fishing and eating deck. Each of us was a little concerned we might have to ask where the poop deck was located, but we persevered.
Our crew this day was made up of 3 gentlemen from India, and they were as happy to see us as we were them. They greeted us with a laurel and hearty handshake, smiling all the while as they brought our gear on board. OK, they didn’t have a laurel when they greeted us, but Mel Brooks is funny and you gotta incorporate a Blazing Saddles quote any chance you get, especially one that isn’t offensive to anyone.
The first thing I noticed about our dhow is that it in no way resembled a boat off of which I’d ever fished. There is no aft fighting chair, no outriggers or downriggers, no nets, no casting hull, no beer, just a railing going all the way around the lower deck, which was covered in that green, fake grass. Please don’t take this as snobbery, because it might start to sound a lot worse as I continue in my descriptions. I was truly happy to be stepping aboard this boat, and extremely grateful to our hosts for anything they did for us that day.
The next thing I noticed was the fishing gear resting against the railings, not exactly what I imagined, but about what I expected, heavy weight spinning reels attached to short, solid rods with thick line that foretold stories of massive fish being hauled from the depths. From the fishing rods, my eyes moved to the center, aft portion of the deck where a table with a giant spread of food was waiting for us. There was a lovely fruit basket which contained apples, oranges and the dreaded banana. As soon as my eyes saw the bananas I knew the day did not hold in store great tales of massive fish being hauled from the depths. I actually didn’t think we’d catch a thing.
Please read Fred Telleen’s wonderful dissertation entitled No Bananas…Seriously. Fred is a tremendous guide in Alaska and took me and a good friend on what to date has been the greatest day on the water either of us had ever experienced.
Shawn, the youngest member of our crew here, immediately grabbed a banana and started scarfing it down like he hadn’t eaten in a week. Before I could warn him about the dangers, he had it fully consumed, and with a mouth full of banana he scoffed at my superstition. Four short hours later, ‘twas I who scoffed at him and his lack of fish brought to hand.
The head mate, who’s name I don’t remember, and couldn’t spell if I did so I’ll just call him Phil, briefed us on the standard safety issues, or at least I think that’s what he briefed us on. We were too busy running around like school kids taking pictures of everything and everybody to pay attention, besides, as flyers we know everything there is to know about stuff like that; we all went through water survival and are blessed with an over abundance of common sense. We did perk our ears up when Phil started saying words like off limits and no picture taking. Apparently, there were a few things we weren’t supposed to photograph, and we figured that was something that might be good to know.
We motored out for about an hour, maybe 10 miles off shore, and the seas were relatively calm, just enough wave action to provide a gentle, calming motion to the boat ride. I could’ve napped for the entire ride out to the fishin’ hole. Our guides asked if we had an MP-3 player, they seemed proud to show off their stereo on the boat. Matt piped up and said he had music on his phone and that’s the last I paid attention to the conversation for the next hour.
An hour into our motoring out to sea, I looked at Matt with a calculated amount of disgust written all over my face. The music had been nothing by 80’s love ballads from REO Speedwagon to Cher and every other song that ever made you switch the station. I was embarrassed for Matt that this is what he listened to, but I couldn’t take it any longer. He looked at me with similar disgust and told me it wasn’t his music. Then I realized it must be our tour guide, Aaron’s music and I didn’t know him well enough to make fun, so I kept my mouth shut. Another hour passed and Aaron piped up with a calculated amount of disgust on his face and asked whose music was playing. It turned out to be our hosts’, and we all begged them to play something different. Aaron had a playlist that satisfied everyone.
We arrived on station and set up to drift with the current. Phil ran around baiting everyone’s two-hook set up with chunks of squid and told us to start fishing. I dropped my line until it hit bottom and sat there waiting for something to happen. This is where I could start sounding real snobby as a fly fisherman, but I think I’ll refrain because, again, I was thankful to just be out on the water, and sometimes it’s not always about the method
as much as the experience and who you’re sharing it with.
Aaron pulled in the first fish with a hand line, he didn’t bother with the whole rod and reel set up. After about 15 minutes he told me the secret to catching them out here was in the using of the hand line. I wasn’t ready for such things, so I pressed on with my more traditional set up. I landed my first fish a little while later, a silvery catfish of about 12 inches. Phil unhooked him and threw him in a bucket and then we just started catching fish, catfish, at a somewhat regular interval of every 10 minutes or so.
Once in a while someone would pull in a snapper, or a minnow, and every time we did, we’d look over at Banana Boy and see if he had any luck. The guys on either side of him didn’t seem to be having any problems bringing fish in, but Shawn couldn’t seem to get a nibble. He did finally catch one, but by the size of it, I’m thinking the thing caught itself when Shawn started reeling in to check his bait. It wasn’t big enough or fast enough to escape the hook coming its way and was thusly snagged during the retrieval process. It wasn’t even heavy enough to outweigh the weight we were using to get our hooks to the bottom.
We broke for lunch about 2 hours into the fishing. The crew had fired up a BBQ grill on the stern and whipped up a tremendous spread for our midday meal. There were skewers of a gyros style meat, possibly lamb, beef and pepper kebobs, a delicious tzatziki sauce made of fresh yogurt and cucumbers that worked just fine by itself, but teamed up nicely with the skewered lamb and kebobs sandwiched between fresh pita slices. Halfway through the meal, Phil walked around with a platter full of catfish steaks fresh off the grill. They were spiced up, deluxe, and when you finally got through the skin and picked aside the bones, they were mighty tasty.
I washed it all down with a fresh bottle of water, which is apparently more expensive than a similar quantity of gas over here by a factor of 2. I shied away from the fresh fruit; bananas for the obvious reason, but the rest of it too because I just get nervous about who
has been handling the stuff and what it’s been soaked in.
When lunch was complete, we all sat around rubbing our bellies as Phil informed us we had just a few more minutes of fishing left before we had to head home. I think a few of us landed fish before it was time to secure the hooks and settle in for the ride back. We all made our way up to the upper sun deck and stretched out on the cushions and pillows against the railings. The conversation tapered off quickly as we each started nodding off. I don’t want to undersell this point, my nap brought on by the warmth of the setting sun, coupled with the refreshing breeze and gentle roll of the boat was the highlight of my day.