Dateline: May 8, 2015 – Doha, Qatar
For unknown reasons, my pants failed. It was not a simple tear that I could patch with duct tape – the entire right seat of my Columbia travel pants had burst open, taking all the mystery out of whether I wear boxers or briefs. This might not play well in a conservative Muslim country, and was certainly not an auspicious beginning to the trip.
The Pants of Doha.
And how was it that I found myself with my rear end exposed, floating a few miles off of Qatar? Per usual, it started with a short notice business trip. The nature of my job is such that I can be sitting at my desk on a Thursday evening, looking forward to a weekend of Marta putting my things in the garage, when the phone will ring. The conversation is always the same. “Steve, we have an emergency in (FILL IN NAME OF “EXOTIC” TRAVEL DESTINATION HERE.) We would like you to come and fight with the customer, who we are expecting to pay us (FILL IN WILDLY OPTIMISTIC AMOUNT AND DATE HERE.)”
I always check three sources before I travel somewhere – the CIA Factbook on the country (to make sure there isn’t a rebellion going on,) my travel doctor (to make sure there isn’t a nasty epidemic going on,) and IGFA.org (to make sure there is fishing.) Qatar passed with flying colors, and so I was off.
My flight landed in the evening, and I got to walk around Doha a bit – this is a major, first-world metropolis with beautiful buildings and landscapes, something like Dubai without all the craziness. (Dubai adventure HERE.)
Doha at twilight.
Playing tourist near the main mosque.
The place is clean and safe and jammed with high-end shopping, my favorite being a Carrefour supermarket because they had fresh shrimp I could bring for bait. Marta, although she was 8000 miles away, managed to find jewelry stores in the same mall and direct me to them.
Oh yes she did. Now do you see why she likes it when I travel?
Why couldn’t she have asked for this? Spoiler alert – her birthday is coming up.
Fishing-wise, I had found a reasonably reputable-looking tour company that offered charters – QIA. (WWW.qia-qatar.com or email@example.com.) This is not an inexpensive destination – the folks in the oil business must make a lot of money, but I was here and I had to give it a shot. My first day would be a short one, as I had to get to some meetings, but on my last day I was free until late afternoon and would make a more concentrated effort. Between the two, I hoped I could scrape up a few Persian Gulf species.
QIA picked me up very early – around four – because even in the more temperate months, the dawn hours are precious – temperatures get over 100 by mid-morning. The driver introduced me to my guide, Hari, pronounced “Harry.” Hari was Nepalese, which was not as surprising as it sounds, because almost no one I met in Qatar was actually from Qatar. They bring in foreign labor for jobs ranging from construction to drivers to senior management at my hotel.
Hari and the boat.
We motored out of the harbor. Qatar is a strangely beautiful place – stark desert rising up out of the Persian Gulf. It looked like two worlds – mosques and old Arabic buildings on one side, but just across the bay was the Doha skyline, as modern as Dubai or Miami.
Downtown as viewed from across the bay. It was something like 5am, and it was already over 90 degrees.
The main point of day one was to catch a fish and add Qatar as my 85th country, and that happened immediately. We set up a few miles offshore, drifting cut baits on sand bottoms in 40-50 feet, and I caught a quick succession of threadfin breams.
This is when my wardrobe malfunction occurred. (Now I can feel Janet Jackson’s pain.) Poor Hari had a terrible time not laughing, but the idea of facing the Intercontinental Hotel lobby in my skivvies had me worried. Doing my best MacGyver impression, I took out some 8# fluoro leader and a small hook, and using one of the zip-off legs as a patch, repaired my trousers enough where I could get through to the elevators later without getting arrested for indecency. I don’t know what it is about me and world records and nudity, but I view the fact I had underwear on as a move in the right direction. (Those of you who have read this blog from the beginning will remember the original naked world record debacle. Those of you who haven’t are probably a lot better off.)
As we moved from spot to spot, I got some bigger hits, then hooked into a nice bream, which looked a lot like the breams from Australia. But this was an Arabian Yellowfin Bream, and at a pound, it was a new world record. But the world record photos still feautured me in my underwear.
The bream. The underwear. For the inquiring minds out there, they’re Polo boxer briefs.
We then took a meal break. I brought some sandwich makings with me, and just as I was preparing lunch, I realized it was May 5th. And so, to celebrate, I threw the mayonnaise overboard. You know, to Sinko the Mayo.
We fished hard for a few hours. I got endless threadfin breams, a few small catfish, and one other new species, the Gulf Herring.
The savage Gulf Herring.
With two species and a record, it was a great start, and I was looking forward to the full day I had scheduled later in the week.
Day two started well. Since we had so much more time without the distraction of meetings, we could go much further out into the Gulf. The fishing was mostly drifting, in anywhere from 40 to 90 feet of water. Like Dubai, the water was shallow a long way out and the bottom was very barren – rockpiles were few and far between.
We got our first species of the day while registering with the Coast Guard. I pulled out a sabiki while they were checking my passport, and hooked a wide-banded hardyhead. Hari was bewildered at my joy over a fish this small, but he was pleased that I was happy.
Hardyhead on right, hardhead on left.
We headed well offshore this time, at least 15 miles, and set to it. We spent the time talking as best we could – his English was certainly better than my Nepalese. There had just been a devastating earthquake in Nepal, but luckily, his village and family were OK.
On our first drop offshore, I got another Arabian yellowfin bream, which was bigger than the earlier bream, and therefore was another record. This pleased me.
A record with my pants on! What a relief for us all.
Just as I was measuring this fish, one of my sabiki rigs got hit, and I pulled up a ballyhoo-like Sind halfbeak, another species.
The hemiramphidae are a favorite of mine.
Hari knew the area very well, and could find small rockpiles by visual reference, even miles from land – the guy was good. On one of these small piles – which felt about the size of a compact car, I got a yellowfin hind, a type of grouper common in the Persian Gulf.
One of the few rocky-bottom fish I would see all day.
Moving back onto deeper sand patches for a few hours, we got four more new species – deep flounder, bartail flathead, gilded goatfish, and Gulf lizardfish. I was absolutely thrilled that the numbers were piling up – I attribute this to the structural integrity of my backup pants. There is nothing that hurts focus like exposed buttocks – especially if they’re mine.
Deep flounder. It was in shallow water.
This is why they are called flathead.
Goatfish always seem to be beautiful. More examples HERE.
Gulf lizardfish. Another ID nightmare.
We caught loads of marine catfish throughout the day – they fought hard and filled in the slow spots nicely, but this family is tough to identify. But one of them was big enough – over four pounds – to give it a shot as a world record. After weeks of drama on the ID, Dr. Patricia Kailola pinned this one down as a giant sea catfish, Netuma thalissina, and the trip had three (unexpected) records.
Thanks also to Mark McGrouther of the Australian Museum for facilitating yet another tough ID.
Late in the day, as Hari moved us to try some inshore spots, we saw some fish hitting bait on the surface. Hari expertly maneuvered the boat to drift through them, and I got to cast poppers and jigs through the school – they turned out to be queenfish, aggressive strikers on artificials and a great way to mix things up. You game and (gasp) fly anglers could make a nice day here chasing these around.
A nod to those of you who insist on using lures.
Just before we pulled up for the day, I pulled up a beautiful prawn goby on a sabiki. These gobies exist in a symbiotic relationship with a prawn in the same burrow. I read that in the ID book and am not exactly sure what that means, but I don’t think the church would approve.
It’s called Luther’s Prawn Goby, which makes me suspect the Protestants would give at least a tacit nod.
I said my goodbyes to Hari in the harbor, and I tipped him well for the extra effort, for gutting it out for two days with me, for tolerating me in my underwear for three hours, and to make sure he had something to send home to his family.
Hari and Steve – the selfie.
The final count was eight new species in a day – 10 for the trip. Eight is an epic day anywhere for me. The three world records were a bonus, but they started me thinking … these would put me at seven for the year. I figured I needed to have at least 20 to have a shot at the IGFA Men’s Saltwater title for 2015 …
I mentioned this to Marta and was greeted with a supportive chorus of “No, no, no, no, no. I thought you were through your ‘Big Year’ phase. For the avoidance of doubt, if you win another trophy, it’s going in the garage – right next to the Lifetime Achievement Award.”