Oman Trip Report

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2023 Oman Trip Report
Justin Miller – Hosted Trip

My small group of guys and I were super excited for our fly fishing mission to the Middle East. We headed down to Oman, which sits on the Arabian Sea, to target the rarest permit species in the fly fishing targetable slam, the Trachinotus Africanus. We were headed straight to Oman following a week in the Seychelles, so after a last meal in Mahe, we crashed early and caught a taxi to the airport for an 8:00 AM departure to Dubai. We had just a 4-hour layover in Dubai, then hopped a quick 1.5 hour flight to Salalah, Oman.

On arrival in Salalah, Oman, we coasted through customs.
“As-Salamu Alaykum! How long are you staying in Oman?”
“1 week.”
“OK, I’ll give you a 2-week visa!”

Transfer driver stopping for prayer on side of roadOur transfer guy was waiting for us as soon as we exited security, and we hopped in a bus to the Hawana Marina and the Juweira Resort Hotel that we would call home for the next week. On our transfer the driver randomly pulls over on the side of the highway at 7:00 PM sharp. We don’t know what’s going on, but he apologizes and gets out of the van, walks 30 feet off the highway onto a bit of grass, kicks off his shoes, lays down his rug, gets on his knees and starts praying. It was pretty awesome. He apologized again when he got back to the van, but we were all impressed just to have witnessed his devotion. This was my first experience spending meaningful time in the Middle East, not just hubbing through Dubai. It was a very interesting cultural experience. We all absolutely loved every minute. The people were amazing – everyone friendly and smiling and engaging. The country was extremely clean, but not as over the top as Dubai in terms of flashy wealth. It had a lot more culture than the cement jungles to the north, that is for sure!

We got checked into the Juweira Hotel in the Hawana Marina, and headed up to our rooms. We checked in with Clare King on WhatsApp – one of the owners of Arabian Fly – and she told us to meet Brandon, her husband, downstairs in the lobby for a quick orientation. Brandon gave us the rundown of the week. There were four of us, so two would fish with him for Africanus Permit everyday, in the skiff. The other two guys would roll with Clare, either in bluewater for marlin, tuna and dorado, or go hike for Indo-Pacific Permit (Trachinotus Blochii). My boy, BWise, and I chose to go with Clare on day one, so he could get an extra hour of sleep, with an 8:00 AM meet time. The perm guys were getting an alpine start, meeting at 6:00 AM at the boat.

The swimming pool at Juweira Hotel

Arabian Fly, the company name of the outfitters, is a simple but clean little setup. It’s just Brandon and Clare King, married with two little kids, who do all of the guiding themselves. They live in the Juweira Hotel in a little condo, and their two boats are in the Hawana Marina, 100 feet from their condo and our rooms. They put all of their clients up in the Juweira as well, with full meal plans. So we stayed in hotel rooms and ate at the restaurant downstairs every night, all inclusive. We would wake up, carry our rods and bags down the elevator, walk out the back door past the pool and load up in the boats, 100 feet from the doors of the hotel! It is a great setup, and they just walked down too! After fishing, we’d take our stuff to the room, rinse our rods in the shower, and relax for a bit before heading down to dinner whenever we felt like it. We could eat at 6 PM or 9 PM, whatever suited us that night – super easy and convenient, the most seamless operation I’ve been to that didn’t have a traditional “lodge”.

The restaurant has a fixed menu that was included in the package. Cheeseburgers, club sandwiches, pasta, steak, a few soups and salads to choose from, and always a side of fries. The Juweira was dry for the month of Ramadan, so no cocktails or wine were being served at dinner. You could order liquor, wine and beer delivered to your room, though. We could also eat at one of five other restaurants inside the resort complex, but they were not included in the package. We tried a few of them for variety. All were good! One had a dress code, but my golf polo and Skwala flats pants proved worthy. Unfortunately I only brought sandals on the trip and nobody had spare shoes, so I had to wear my wet wading boots to the restaurant! The boys had fun with that…

You could request a golf cart shuttle, for free, to get anywhere inside the complex. There are three different resorts in the complex, the Juweira, the Fanar, and the Rotana. All built around the Hawana Marina. There was only one bar serving drinks (at the Rotana), with Ramadan being observed.

Breakfast was served at 7:00 AM downstairs, a nice little buffet with an omelet and waffle station. Clare and Brandon had amazing lunches in the boat everyday…seriously, like the best lunches ever! Super simple, with a fresh salad everyday – lettuce, feta, baby tomatoes, nuts and seeds and pomegranate – and a honey mustard dressing that you’d add yourself. Then there was some form of chicken, all cut up small in a wrap – there was a curry chicken one day, a sweet Asian recipe another, something new each afternoon. They both also had a little container with cashew-stuffed dates for snacks. Everything was fantastic!

Juweira Hotel in the Hawana Marina

Most days, both boats met at the dock at 8:00 AM, returning around 5:00 PM. For the Africanus tide is ultra important, so Brendon started at 6:00 AM the first day, 7:00 AM the second day, then he was on the 8:00 AM program the rest of the week.

They only book anglers around the spring tides for the permit. They want the “full moon” and “no moon” phases as they need the big high tides to get the water up on the rocks where the permit feed. The permit fishing only happens during these bigger tides from 3 hours before high tide to 3 hours after high tide, then it shuts off completely. It is incredible, you can set your watch to it! During the neaps it doesn’t happen at all. You see permit free swimming off of the rocks and Brandon won’t even let you cast at them! 0.00% chance of an eat! They have to be up feeding on the rocks, period. Full moon was on day two for us, so we were dialed! Their fishing season runs from October through May, avoiding the monsoon.

When we were on the permit boat with Brandon, we were set up with 10 weight rods with intermediate sink tips. Brandon didn’t like tapered leaders – he made his own custom leaders with a 9-foot stretch of 30-pound fluorocarbon, with a Bimini loop on the back. Then he tied on his own secret weapon, a fly he ties himself for every client! It was literally the only fly we cast at Africanus all week! Basically, it is like a shrimpy/mussely/crittery pattern… It definitely worked!

The skiff is a center console with a spacious deck on the bow and a lean bar that is absolutely mandatory in this fishery. Brandon just idles along beneath the cliffs and everyone’s eyes are constantly peeled, looking for one of two things – either to see the permit actually tailing between swells, doing headstands, flapping their tails ridiculously hard out of the water trying to rip mussels off of the rocks that cave in off the cliff faces; or to see them flashing silver, feeding subsurface, but doing the same thing, ripping their prey free from the rocks. Usually there would be multiple fish feeding together, sometimes as many as 30 of them! We were each taking shots at “two shoals” before changing casters… and most times we were changing every 15-20 minutes, after getting shots at two good shoals. Sometimes it felt like there was a school on every other rock! We’d spot some fish working and Brandon would expertly navigate the skiff into position. It isn’t like permit fishing in the Caribbean, at all –  these fish were locked in, feeding hard on a particular rock, not going anywhere. You’d think it would be easier, casting at stationary targets, but you’d be wrong! Once in position, you have to maintain your balance in a pretty serious swell, pressed into the lean bar, 35 ft. from where the waves smashed against the cliffs! Brandon is constantly repositioning the skiff, reverse, forward, pivot, trying to keep you in a comfortable casting range, only a couple of meters from total destruction smashing the skiff against the cliffs. It was exciting, to say the least!

Feeding permit at Arabian Fly

On each cast he wanted you to throw past the fish, right over the top of them…they were not spooky as there was too much noise and commotion around them in the crashing waves. Then let the fly sink for 3-5 seconds, tighten up, and kind of give and take slack with the surge. If it was 6 inches left or right, or short, you were out of the game. Strip it in quickly and fire another shot in there! Often even a good cast got flushed out of the zone by the receding wave. If you got it over them and got it sunk and tight, you’d give it a super slow strip to get it into the feeding fish, keeping it tight at all times. And if all of that came together and the fly got in front of feeding fish, it was going to get eaten. You’d feel a proper tug, strip set, then instantly you had to strip the fish out of the rocks when hooked up. If you let him run, he was going deeper into the rocks and you were going to get sawed off on the razor sharp mussels and jagged rocks. If you got the fish out of the crash zone, Brandon would have it in reverse and get you to safety in the deep water, away from any obstacles. Then just let them do their thing, and they did it. They were hard-fighting sons of guns! 15-plus minutes of stress…

We were getting probably 10-15 shoals each, every day, and sometimes you’d get 25 casts into a school before they buggered off. It was a target-rich environment, but definitely not easy! Accurate casting with tight loops is required, really accurate. Like I said, six inches off is a wasted shot. And then you are rocking and rolling up on the bow. I hooked three fish, fought two and landed one in two days of fishing, and I probably took 100 good shots! It’s crazy, they are right there, and Brandon is constantly quarterbacking from the captain’s chair, “Short! Go again! Too far left! More right this time! Short! Go again!” The fish I landed was in a tight spot, with about fifteen of them feeding. There was an overhang on the cliff, and a rock point they were just behind. So I needed a tight laser to turn over past them and under the cliff. An open loop hit the overhanging rock, one inch right and it hit the rock point. I must have made twenty casts in there. Finally the fly landed right where we wanted it as the wave was pulling out, with the fish tailing hard. We knew it was the shot, Brandon saying “that one is getting eaten!” The water had flushed, 15-plus fish were tailing like crazy, out of the water, and my fly was sitting just beyond them. I slowly stripped it, maybe a foot, to get it into them…and sure enough, we came tight before the next wave blew my fly out of there. We got him out of the rocks quickly, no mess at all, then a long battle. I was stressed right out, I just wanted to hold one! It was a big boy, around 20 pounds, and I was so stoked when it finally went in the net! After we celebrated and got some great pics we went back in and sure as hell, the school was feeding again on the same spot! My partner spent an hour trying to get the fly in there, literally driving him crazy… “They are right there!” It is technical fishing for sure.

There was also the chance of running across a Giant Trevally hunting the surf zone along the beach breaks, between the cliffs. Brandon said there aren’t many of them, but the ones that are there are stompers, over 100 cm! That’s a hell of a GT! We always had a 12-weight ready to roll with a 130-pound leader and a Brush Fly, just like in the Seychelles. Two of the guys got a fleeting shot at one the first day, but couldn’t get it in front of him…it was just too fast. We’d look for them after the tide fell and the permit stopped feeding, but never saw anymore from the skiff.

Everyone was going to get three days of Africanus permit fishing from the skiff with Brandon and three days with Clare. She captained the bluewater boat solo, no crew, and she slays marlin and giant tuna! She is an absolute beast! You could also opt to walk and wade for Indo-Pacific Permit (T. Blochii) on a few white sand beaches with Clare. I wanted to chase permit more than marlin and tuna for three full days, so we planned on hiking for two of our days with Clare, and bluewater for one of the days.

The first day I was in the bluewater with my partner BWise, we caught a couple dorado on flies, keeping one for bait. We were optimistic and wanted to only fly fish. Clare rigged the teaser with the dorado belly and we headed out for marlin with a 12-weight! Nothing going on, we never rose a thing, no birds, no dolphins, no fish. The other boys blanked on perms from the skiff, too, but they had seen tons of Africanus Permit, so we were all super excited about that!

BWise holding a permit

I permit fished from the skiff on day two with BWise. On the falling tide, towards the end of the session, Bwise hooked into and landed a nice Africanus around 18 lbs. We were so stoked! He was worried sick the entire fight, stressing right out! Pure relief and joy when we got it in the net! We had the first Africanus of the group to hand! We were pumped! And it was Brandon’s 70th fish of his season, which was his personal best so far! I had a quick eat and spit, but couldn’t come tight that first day on the skiff… But we saw so many fish and had tons of shots! We knew the game now!

Day 3: Ghio and I teamed up to hike for Indo’s. The first beach we went to we parked on the top of the cliff. There was a trail down to the beach, 600+ vertical feet below! Going down was easy, a 10-minute walk…but I was dreading the hike back out – a vertical cliff in 90°-plus weather. Brandon told us the day before that this beach was the best for the Indo’s, but if there were GT’s around, there would be no permit. About 10 minutes into our march down the beach I see a giant Geet rush in and destroy a bait ball in front of me! I freak out and Ghio and Clare come running with the 12 weight in hand, but the fish was long gone. We hiked a mile down to the end of the beach – where it turned back to cliffs – then back. I saw one permit and got a half-assed shot at it before it slid out to the deep. Brandon cursed our permit fishing with that GT call! HAHA! The hike back up the hill was rough, but not as terrible as I had imagined. I was pounding Gatorade and the legs kept pushing, getting to the top in maybe 20 minutes. We drove to another beach that was super long and you parked basically on the sand, thank goodness. The countryside has camels everywhere when you are driving around. They are domesticated with many of the groups having a shepherd nearby, but tons were just free range. It was pretty awesome seeing them all around. We marched the second beach for maybe three miles – I saw one super freaked out little perm, but I didn’t even get a shot off as it blasted back out into the surf. Awesome day, lots of work. We walked roughly six miles per Ghio’s Apple Watch, mostly in soft sand, or up that bloody cliff! Worth it though, for the chance to catch an Indo from the beach. I’d love to see it when it’s firing and the Indo’s are feeding in the surf! The skiff boys blanked this day, but with plenty of shots again.

Justin Miller holding an Africanus permit

Day four had me absolutely jacked! I was ready for my second go at the Africanus, mentally prepared for what I needed to do. I hooked one on my first good shot, got him out of the rocks and onto the reel and… pop. Off. I was gutted. But it was early, and they were going to eat today. I landed the next one I hooked, right at the peak of the tide, the one I explained earlier. I was so excited to land that fish! It was my first Africanus, and the 20th permit of my life, in total! It felt like the weight of the world had been lifted! I made Ghio stay up for a bunch of extra shots, really wanting him to get it done too. He had a couple eats but couldn’t keep them buttoned. When we got back to the dock, the bluewater crew had gotten into some serious tuna busting! They somehow managed to not hook anything, but had some epic video of birds working over dolphins, with tuna exploding out of the water in the chaos! Clare was super excited and we could tell she was pumped to get back on those tuna tomorrow. Ghio and I were planning on hiking again for Indo’s, but after seeing the videos and seeing how birdy Clare was, we decided to head out into the blue…

Justin Miller holding a yellowfin tuna

Day 5: We told Clare we were down to play dirty and get it done. Get the full bluewater experience with her today. Full gear, no flicking feathers. We headed out towards where they had found them the day before, about 80 km out. Clare had 2 big ol’ popper setups ready to go. About 20 clicks short of our target destination we found the dolphins and some birds, and a few tuna started showing. We started casting and ripping and popping the lures back to the boat. We were in a little rotation where you would cast from the bow, then walk back to the center console as you popped, the other guy sliding up to the bow behind you to make his cast, once you were reeled in, you’d walk around and up to the bow, click open the bail and launch that mudsucking popper again! The action started building around us, more birds, more tuna busting. Clare kept repositioning the boat in front of the dolphins, so they’d swim right through us when we cut the engines. Right as we pulled up and stopped on one move, two tuna exploded out of the water, 30 feet off the port side! Ghio launches one in and starts ripping, but he comes out clean… I cast right over and in front of where they just were and started ripping. This tuna torpedoed the popper, launching itself 10-plus feet in the air with the lure in its mouth on the grab! It was in the air for so long that I was setting the hook with full body swing’s before it even landed back in the water! Then it was on! Clare strapped a belt on me and I started pumping on this thing. It’s not fun. It’s back-breaking work, but I whipped it in about 10 minutes. I would have quit if it took 12! It was about a 30-40 kilo yellowtail she said, maybe 80 lbs?! She said she had two fish over 200 pounds last week that took over an hour to fight. No frigging way, I’m out! We bonked it and put it in a compartment under the deck. We stayed on the tuna for a bit longer, but it died down without any more action. Then we decided to put out the gear for a marlin. We trolled for a couple hours without any action, so we reeled up to go look for the tuna again. As soon as we start running we see a marlin start launching out of the water, jumping probably ten times only a couple hundred yards away. We run over there, get the gear out and start trolling. I ask Clare if she ever gets fish to eat after she sees that happen, she says “sometimes” right as the outrigger pops and the reel starts screaming! Ghio jumps in the harness, we rip in the rest of the gear and strap him in and we’re on! The fish jumps a bunch and he gets it to the boat in under twenty minutes! A striped marlin, 180 cm I think, a couple hundred pounds, maybe?! It was awesome, Ghio was super excited! I was super excited! Clare handled both of those monsters at the boat, by herself. She is an absolute legend! It was the most epic day of bluewater fishing I have ever experienced…

Ghio with the marlin he landedWhen we got back to the marina we took the tuna right up to this restaurant that is built on a little island with a footbridge out to it, fittingly named the Island Bar. We told them we’d be over for dinner to eat some tuna! We showered up, made some cocktails then got a golf cart to swing us over there. They cut sashimi for appetizers, with soy sauce and wasabi, then I got seared tuna for an entree! Pretty amazing. Then I had the cook package up 6 kilos in 3 packages to go. He got to keep the rest. I gave three of the guys at the hotel a package each, the guys that helped us out all of the time. They were super excited about it!

The permit boat had got skunked on day five, their third and last day on the skiff. BWise had his perm, but Stove hadn’t landed one yet. As much as I wanted to get another crack at those perms, I couldn’t do it, having already landed one. So, I gave Stove my skiff spot the last day. He was super stoked, and appreciative.

So day six BWise and I headed back out to the bluewater, hoping to tie him into a tuna or a marlin. Stove and Ghio headed out to get it done on the permit, both still needing one bad, and this was their last chance to dance! The bluewater was silent. No birds, no dolphins, no tuna… we trolled for marlin, had one takedown that released the outrigger, but nothing came tight. We just sat and BS’ed with Clare all day. She has a gift for that, making an actionless day enjoyable. She really is amazing. Back at the dock, the perm boys had struck out, and I knew that stung both of them. They had plenty of shots, even a couple eats, but nothing stuck. Rough go. That’s the permit life…

Next year Arabian Fly will have two skiffs, so four anglers can chase Africanus every day. That is huge. The bluewater is awesome and definitely worth doing – I’d never seen anything like that before, ripping on monsters of the deep – but we are permit junkies! I would definitely still walk the beach for Indo’s a few days too!

Side note, it is illegal to drink beer in a boat in Oman, even outside of Ramadan! Kind of strange not having boat beers! Not a big deal though, you just get used to it. When in Rome…

Water slides at the hotel resortWe all tipped Clare and Brandon at the end of the last day, then settled up the bill at the hotel for our drinks. I was basically packed up by dinner, then we headed down for our last meal, ready to fly home the next day, though our flight to Dubai wasn’t until 6:30 PM! But, the Hawana had a waterslide park inside the complex! I had been dying to get there every day, but it was closing early for Ramadan, and we couldn’t make it in time, after fishing. So, Ghio and I took advantage of it on the last day! We took the bus over, spent an hour on some slides, free if you are staying at the hotel, ate a hot dog and headed back to load up for the airport.

Clare and Brandon came down to see us off. They were absolutely amazing! What a fantastic week! So unique, in an area of the globe you really wouldn’t think about for destination angling. But, I promise you, it is absolutely a destination worth visiting. And it’s super easy to combo with the Seychelles or Africa, anything that hubs through Dubai.

We flew back to Dubai that evening and overnighted before our 8:00 AM direct flight back to SFO. For as far away as it seems, it is easy travel.

This trip was absolutely incredible. Oman is such a unique and exotic destination. Our return to Providence in the Seychelles the week before was amazing as well. I always love returning to a place that I’ve made real connections with, meeting old friends and being armed with the knowledge you gained on the first mission. Yet the highlight for me was spending time on the Arabian Peninsula. Getting to see Dubai, and then really getting immersed in Middle Eastern culture in Oman. It’s kind of funny, though… I caught one fish in Oman, while the Seychelles were absolutely prolific! It was a permit, though, and an Africanus, the rarest of the rare. But ultimately, I think Oman solidified the idea for me that traveling the world isn’t necessarily about the fish – they are just our excuse to wander. It’s the adventure, discovering new places, stepping into the unknown, being out of your comfort zone and thriving there, meeting interesting people, and experiencing different cultures that you had previously only heard stories about, or saw on the news, or maybe checked out on a YouTube clip…but that, really, you knew very little about it. When you actually find yourself there, it changes everything.

Justin Miller
(530) 222-2555 | (800) 669-3474