Q&A: Fishipedia Meets Oman Fly-Fishing Pioneer, Ray Montoya

March 21st, 2013| 3 Comments

The Fishipedia Q&A: Ray Montoya - Oman Fly-Fishing Pioneer

How many of us can state with authority that we were the first person to catch a particular species on the fly in any particular country? Ray Montoya can – over the last 11 years, he has pioneered fly-fishing the flats of Oman for permit, painstakingly exploring the country’s vast southern flats in search of elusive sickle tails.

Scanning the flats of southern Oman for permitHe’s graduated from catching one or two a season to regular success, and happily for the rest of us, has documented his exploits on the Arabian Peninsula in a series of beautifully atmospheric GoPro videos on YouTube and Vimeo. Pretty much single-handedly, Ray has put Oman in the spotlight as a potential fly-fishing destination – the Omani government should probably consider giving him a bonus for services to tourism. We thought it was about time we tracked him down for a chat.

 

You’ve made something of a name for yourself with your YouTube videos documenting permit fishing in Oman. Is it safe to say you’re one of the only people out there doing it? 

In 11 years, I’ve only come across two or three fly-fishermen; a Brit from UAE and a crazy Scotsman. Both these guys caught a permit, but I’m pretty sure that I was the first person to actually score a permit on the fly. The Scotsman, a man named Colin, flew to Oman on his own based solely on my blog posts. My fishing buddy, Kamal, and I found him on a remote beach living on local Arabic bread and fish. We treated him that evening to local lobster (we dove for it that afternoon), steaks and cold beer – it was the first beer he’d had in more than a week. Needless to say, we are now lifelong friends. Colin is obviously an exceptional fly-fisherman given that he managed, on his own, to find permit and catch and release at least two fish.

Here’s a quick synopsis of the permit situation in Oman. In 2002 I discovered that there were permit being caught commercially by Bedouin fisherman off the beaches of Oman. In 2003 I caught my first permit on the fly. It would take another three years to get my next permit. After that, I sort of figured them out and began catching them consistently, but never more than a couple each season. This year has been the exception, as I’ve already released seven and the best part of the season is upon us.

In past years I’ve hosted a few South Africans, and most recently two very keen fishermen from North America. I do know for a fact that only seven fly-fishermen have successfully caught permit in Oman – actually in all of the Arabian Peninsula and Middle East.

Yeah, I guess with the exception of a few visitors in the past 10 years, my mate Kamal and I are the only ones out here doing this.

Perm

For the uninitiated, can you give us a brief snapshot of the fishing in Oman? 

Honestly? Eleven years ago it was like stepping into a time machine and going back a few hundred years. The coastline was literally thick with sardines and every species of predatory fish indigenous to this region – kingfish, yellowfin tuna averaging 50-75 kilos, many species of trevally, bream, emperors, queenfish, and amazingly, world record bluefish averaging 8-10 kilos! Back in the early years, releasing a few dozen fish a day was the norm, many of which were well into double digits.

Today, one has to work hard and know specifically where to look to find a few fish. Instead of 20 or 30 fish on a weekend, we manage just a few. Unregulated commercial fishing has seriously impacted the fish populations and the environment. The beaches near the local fishing villages are pretty ugly. That said, for the adventurous travel angler, Oman is still a great place to explore, especially its more remote southern region between Salalah and Shuwaymiyah. There’s a lot of beach down there I’ve yet to get to. While you will not see another fly-fishermen, you will see lots of locals netting. Of the two, I’d rather see a few other fly-fishermen than all those boats netting fish.

How does it compare to other places you’ve fished? 

It’s a hell of a lot more remote than people may think. Once you get out of the capital, Muscat, it feels like the Wild West. Aside from small food shops and a few petrol stations, there is not much out here but desert, goats, camels, Bedouin villages and camps. As for the coastal fishing, it reminds me a lot of fishing Baja Mexico – that sort of desert-meets-the-sea thing. I’ve been SWFF for 30 years and have fished throughout the South Pacific, Australia, New Zealand, Cuba, Venezuela, Belize and, of course, Mexico. Many of these places – well, all of them – have incredible fishing, but none compare to Oman if you’re looking for something new and unusual.

The Fishipedia Q&A: Ray Montoya - Oman Fly-Fishing Pioneer

It looks like there’s miles of remote coastline to explore – how did you find the permit? Was it just a case of trial and error? 

Over the past 11 years, I’ve put in hundreds of days and thousands of hours exploring – ya, it’s mostly been trial and error. But the permit puzzle took some time to solve. These indo-pacific perms are very interesting. On deep flats they behave like all permit, tailing and generally being cautious if not downright rude. But on some of our shallow beaches, they feed on their sides in just a few inches of water. These are the fish that are the most vulnerable as you can approach them very close and get multiple shots off. In deep water, the ticket is to go with long fluoro leaders. My first perm this season was very wary fish in deep water that I had stalked all morning. It’s actually the video you recently posted.

For anyone who missed it, here’s that video again:

 

Let’s just say we had a week to spend fishing in Oman – what would you recommend we do? 

Oman is not a one-week destination. There are South African and French companies that arrange expensive trips to some outer islands that are famous for GTs and other species. The fishing is world class, but to simply show up and do a DIY requires two weeks. Weather and the remoteness of the coast dictate time and schedules here. The two North Americans who recently fished here fished hard and covered thousands of kilometers, but only managed to get their permit on the final few days. I would not label Oman as a fishing destination, but instead as an adventure.

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It looks like a spectacular country – aside from the fishing, what else would you recommend we see? 

There are many World Heritage sites here, we have incredible mountains, clear cold freshwater pools, spectacular dunes, ruins, old forts, and of course, the Arabic culture here is legendary for its hospitality. All of the visitors I’ve had over the years commented on that aspect of Oman. The people here are some of the most friendly and open in all the world. Sometimes it’s hard to get away. You will receive many invites to stay in local camps and homes. I recommend renting a 4WD and getting out of the capital as quick as possible. Whether you explore the desert, mountains or coast, you will have amazing experiences.

One assumes there aren’t too many other guys out there with a fly rod in hand. You must get some quizzical looks from the locals…

What puzzles the locals the most is not the equipment or how we seem to stalk fish like herons, but the fact that we will spend hours, days, to catch a fish and then simply release it. That’s what boggles their minds.

In your videos, the permit you catch seem to be feeding in almost impossibly shallow water. Is it true they’re lying on their side when they move into to feed on these flats? How else does their behaviour differ from Caribbean permit? 

Other than the side-feeding behavior, they are just like their Caribbean cousins. I think that they may even be more difficult as they are heavily netted here. We have several other species of permit including the africanus which can reach 30 kilos!

What’s your preferred set-up for these Arabian permit? 

I break a lot of rods, so I like the affordable Redingtons – I have several CPX rods and some old wayfarers and they are my workhorses. We use multi-piece 8-weights. I own Sage RPLS and RPLXI rods, as well as Loomis Crosscurrents, but for everyday stuff I use Redingtons. I’ve got a 20-year-old Tibor reel that’s been built twice. Since we are primarily fishing beach flats and gutters that are prone to surf, swell and currents, we do not use floating lines. Instead I like the clear intermediate lines. They are also easy to cast even when they are coated with beach sand. I like to use as long a leader as possible, 12 foot or more, but sometimes will go shorter if it’s very windy. Flies? I pretty much use crabs for all species. There is no fish in the sea that will not eat a crab! Here in Oman you have to keep your patterns very lightly colored. We use very light tan or even white patterns with lots of silli legs and always a pair of mono eyes.

The Fishipedia Q&A: Ray Montoya - Oman Fly-Fishing Pioneer

All photos by Ray Montoya

Fly Fish Guanaja Lodge - Bay Islands, Honduras>>To keep up to date with Ray Montoya’s fly-fishing exploits, check out his blog here and his Vimeo page here

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  1. avatar
    lorenzo says

    You will stop breaking a lot of fly rod if you stop compressing them. The power is in the butt of the rod. Never let the rod get past 45 degrees from the wafers surface. This puts the bottom end of the rod in a position to do the heavy lifting.
    I’m 64 now have had a fly rod in hand since I was five. I suspect that you and I will both die with a rod clutched in our paw. For over thirteen years I fished over 150 days per year. Never could afford to break rods and have been so far from civilization that a replacement would be impossible.
    All this said I have really enjoyed discovering you and your adventures. Makes me miss the old days.
    Keep at it!
    Lorenzo

  2. avatar
    Tony says

    Hi Ray.

    You may have to excuse me as it could be viewed that I’m stalking you, but in all honesty just fascinated in your exploits and indeed hard work in opening up this part of the world to us obsessive fishos.

    Have over recent months considered a DIY trip to Oman chasing those Permit, well not just the Permit, any species that will take a fly or two. Been a passionate flyfisher for more years than I care to remember and always looking for something different.

    Being a hardened DIYer Oman seems to tick a lot of boxes, wonderful fishing, outstanding scenery and a place that seems to be unspoilt to a degree.

    Would be great to get some advice from you Ray or maybe even meet up when I’m out there, haven’t finalised dates yet as still researching the ins and outs, and it is a little difficult to find relevant information, that is until I stumbled upon your videos and blogs.

    Once again Ray, many thanks for sharing your valuable information and hopefully speak soon.

    PS. I’m a Brit with a passion to do something unusual reference flyfishing.

  3. avatar
    fishipedia says

    Hey Tony,

    There’s every chance Ray won’t see the message you left him unless he happens to look at this page again. You might want to get in touch with him via his blog (details for that are at the end of the Q&A).

    Cheers!

    Fishipedia Team

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