x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

That rare catch, the urban fisherman, has few options in Dubai

If I ever tell people I go fishing at JBR, I can guarantee the responses I'll get: 'Do you catch anything?' or 'Isn't it boring?' or my personal favourite, 'Why?'

If I ever tell people that I occasionally spend Saturday sundown fishing out on the breakwater at the end of JBR in Dubai, I can almost guarantee the response I'll get.

It's either: "Do you catch anything?" (Of course I catch fish, otherwise why would I go?), or "Isn't it boring? (Yes, of course it is, because I like to fill my time doing boring things) and, my personal favourite: "Why?"

Why? It's a good question, one that's often come to my mind as I've sat there in a lull of action (I add here, as I tell those who half-heartedly suggest they'd like to come along, that fishing off a breakwater never really gets that much "action"). But why do anything, why read? Why go to the cinema, why spend an afternoon watching strangers play pranks on each other on YouTube?

Yet the idea of going fishing is clearly seen as something very novel to people here in Dubai. I'm not entirely sure why that is. For instance, when I head down to the said patch of water with my rod and gear, people are literally stopping to have a look at what I'm up to as if I were carrying a crowbar and a big bag labelled "swag".

Just last week, I was strolling down The Walk and cafe-goers were pointing at my rod and reel. A tourist took a photograph of me. When I stopped to cross the road, someone in a car shouted out: "Are you going fishing?"

No. I'm going gardening, can't you tell?

I do wonder if my fellow fisherfolk, who I share this little hunk of jagged rocks with, also find themselves the source of much amusement back in civvy life.

I've started to wonder if it's not because we're so hidden away. If you go to Beirut, for instance, the corniche is lined with fishermen who cast their lines out into the wide open, swirling Mediterranean. Over in Istanbul, the fishermen who stand on the city's great bridges will haul out their catch and gut, fry and serve in a bun to anyone with a few lira to spare.

But here in Dubai, any bit of water where people might happen to be strolling is very much out-of-bounds for fishing. Crowding on to the isolated breakwater, then, with the steaming industrial pipes of Jebel Ali as a backdrop, is the only option you have if you don't fancy driving out of town.

City fishermen, I think, make a city look great. They become as much part of the street furniture as the sun-bleached palms and shaded benches. Being welcomed into the Marina would bring a little element of normality on to the pavement of that glittering waterway.

But there does remain one plus to our somewhat isolated status: dodging the awkward question often fielded by smiling inquisitive families: "Have you caught anything yet?"

To which the answer will usually, resolutely be - no.

Why, indeed.