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By Ben Smalley

Dubai is famous for many things - gold, luxury hotels, shopping and the world's richest horse race to name a few - but one of its best kept secrets is its game fishing.
The Arabian Gulf is home to a rich variety of marine life and the fishing can be as good as anywhere in the world with shoals of sailfish, kingfish, queenfish, barracuda and even the occasional shark starting to attract sport fishermen from around the world.

The summer is not the best time to go fishing in Dubai, as the sailfish - the ultimate Gulf fishing prize - migrate around the Gulf and only return to the waters of the UAE in the cooler months between September and April.
"But you can catch fish all year round," assures Richard Forrester, the South African skipper of The Bounty as we power out of the harbour of the Dubai International Marine Club in his 36 ft fishing boat, hoping he will be proved right.
It is 5am - a time when I am normally fast asleep - but if we have any chance of catching fish in the warm summer months, this is the best time to do it.
"In the summer, the salinity increases in the water because it is so hot and many of the fish move off," Richard explains. "The fish that do stay are very lethargic at this time and don't each much which is why you really have to fish from 4am to 6am when it is cooler as that is when they are feeding. The rest of the day, when the temperature in the water gets up, they just aren't interested, but when the cooler months come in September and October the fishing starts to get much better."
We head out to sea, past Dubal and the Jebel Ali Power Station on the shoreline in the distance, and after cruising for around 25 minutes, Richard brings the boat to a stop as he joins us in the back of the boat to prepare the lines. Adding bait to the hooks and using downriggers - rods with an appendage with a 10lb lead weight attached to it to keep the bait near the bottom of the sea - he rigs up five rods around the boat with bait at different depths in the water.

Richard puts the boat back into gear and we move off slowly - this is trawl fishing. The bait is slowly pulled behind the boat and now we just have to wait to see if the fish are biting.
It doesn't take too long before we get our first bite. One of the reels on the rods is whirring as the fish takes the bait on the other end and the line goes out. One of our group has been nominated to go first and he takes the rod and starts to fight the fish.

"It's a big one," he says, pulling back on the rod before reeling quickly as the rod comes back down. An air of excitement fills the boat at the thought of our first catch of the day, but our hopes are dashed after a few minutes of reeling as the line goes slack - the line is fully reeled in and the whole hook has disappeared.
"Baraccuda," says Richard. "It has bitten through the line in an attempt to escape - but that's fishing for you."
It is barely a minute before the whirring sound of another rod indicates we have another bite. This time we are more successful and after a few minutes of frantic reeling we have our first fish in the boat - a four feet barracuda. The eel-like fish looks vicious with sharp teeth, but Richard assures us it tastes great marinated in butter and garlic and cooked on the barbeque.
We spend a further two hours fishing after which all four of us have reeled in a barracuda each - a further two got away which we assure ourselves were huge, in the way fishermen do - and we are happy with our day's catch.
Richard started his fishing company, Bounty Charters, quite by accident after moving to Dubai from Saudi Arabia with his wife four years ago.
"I have fished all my life in South Africa and when I moved to Dubai a friend took me fishing one day," he explains. "We caught 11 sailfish, 17 kingfish and I don't know how many barracuda all in one day. At one stage we got tired of catching sailfish and we kept chopping and changing the fish we were going for. We had an awesome day and when I got home I thought 'there's a real fishery here.'
"Even if the punters aren't here, there are people around the world who will pay money to come and do this which got me thinking. I decided to start my own company, had a boat built locally and started doing it."
Richard received the backing of the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) to promote fishing in Dubai and bring sport fishermen to the emirate.
"I went and did a lot of marketing in Germany, Switzerland, France and England and went to the different fishing travel agents and said: look this is what we have got to offer," he says. "I brought a few of the travel agents out, which was supported by the DTCM, and the interest began to grow. It started off quite slowly but it has now snowballed. The word has got out about Dubai as a fishing destination and we are getting people from as far away as the USA and Australia which is quite phenomenal because the fishing in those areas is so good. For them to come to places like this means we must have something special."
The summer months are a slow time for fishing but there are still bookings from tourists and residents who fancy spending a morning at sea. Richard recommends a maximum of four hours during the summer, but in the peak season it is best to take the boat for the whole day.
"At this time of the year you mainly get tourists who want to go out fishing with the wife and kids but they don't want to leave until 8am or 9am by which time the fish have already stopped feeding. What you need to do is go out about 5am and be back by 8am and then you will have had the best chance of catching a fish."
But when the sailfish season starts it is a completely different story, with groups of serious fishermen coming in from overseas to spend up to five days on the boat.
"Dubai is becoming a big fishing destination," Richard says. "It's affordable for a lot of people to come out here and, what generally happens is that you will get three or four guys that will come over and split the costs, which makes it very affordable. A fisherman can also bring his wife and kids over here with him and doesn't have to worry because there is lots for them to do in Dubai while he goes fishing for five days."
However, you do not need to be a professional fisherman to enjoy the sport.
"From beginners to experienced, from young to old, everyone can fish," Richard says. "The youngest I have had was a five year-old who caught a sailfish. Obviously we help youngsters a lot - we put them in the 'fighting chair' and put the rod in what we call a gimblet (a holder to put the rod in) and help them that way. You don't have to be experienced or strong to pull the fish in, it's a question of the skipper doing his job and the crew helping him out, working the boat and having some fun.
"It's open to all sizes, all ages and all sexes. To this day I have never not caught a fish with a woman on my boat. I think they are a good omen. They tend to sit back sunbathing and reading, but when the fishing heats up they jump right in there and catch the most fish."
The sailfish is the ultimate prize for game fishermen in the Gulf with the size of the fish ranging from 20lbs-240lbs - the majority being around 50-60 lbs - with a 25-30lb sailfish measuring about four feet long and the biggest up to12 ft long.
"The good thing about the game fish is that they spend a lot of time on the surface jumping so you get a lot of 'airtime', which is visual and very exciting," Richard says. "When most people go game fishing, it is the anticipation of catching a big fish that is more exciting than anything else - and obviously the banter on the boat is all part of that. In the Gulf the excitement is with the sailfish - they are the most energetic and visual fish to catch when you hook them.
"When you go fishing in Kenya, off the African coast or in Florida, the guys are using 120lb breaking strain line which is pretty heavy duty and they get strapped into big chairs. But here you are using light rods so you are doing more of the work yourself which makes it a lot more exciting as you get a lot more involved."
Richard promotes the 'catch and release philosophy' when fishing for sailfish - they are a very oily fish and not too great to eat - it is fishing for the sport of fishing.
"If you are going to eat the fish that you catch then we have no problem with that, but if you are going to catch fish, bring them back to the jetty, take a photograph and then throw them away then we are against that - although we are never going to deplete the fish resources with a rod and line," he says.
"The barracuda, kingfish and other 'bottom fish' we tend to keep because people enjoy eating them, but we don't encourage people to keep the whole catch. A lot of people will keep the whole lot and get to the jetty and say we can't possibly eat this amount of fish. It's better to say we need two or three for a barbeque and then throw the rest back, which in general people are happy with."
Our three hours at sea have been a rollercoaster of emotions - excitement when the fish bites, the thrill of reeling them in and the disappointment if they get away. It has been a great morning despite the time of year and, as I head home with a couple of barracuda for the barbeque, I can't wait to do it all again when the sailfish season begins.
To hire The Bounty for four hours costs Dh 1,500, which includes all the fishing tackle, the bait and soft drinks for a maximum of six people. In peak season the boat costs Dh 2,200 for a 10-hour fishing trip or Dh 2,000 for eight hours. For reservations call Richard on 050 552 6067 or (04) 3483042 or email bountycharters@hotmail.com.

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