I’m safely home from a most enjoyable trip to the Fraser River – our venue for giant sturgeon fishing in British Columbia. It was a thoroughly enjoyable trip, with some memorable, exciting fishing. Those sturgeon are as tough to fight as they are prehistoric to behold!
Our hotel, the Coast Chilliwack, was comfortable, clean and friendly. It served such nice food that we never once ventured out for a meal! The mighty Fraser River was a mere five minutes away, and each morning we were picked up at 7am sharp by Rod, one of the guides. Everything was super convenient and efficient. We were fishing before 8am on most mornings, and the days from then on run like clockwork.
Although fly-fishing is my favourite, it is a non-starter for sturgeon. The water is coloured, fast and between 10 and 40-feet deep. I also understand that the fish have very poor eyesight. The order of the day therefore is much like heavy-duty cod fishing: heavy leads, 150lb braid line, and a 200lb leader attached to a barbless 8/0 hook. The bait varies. We generally used signal crayfish, small bags of salmon roe, or a small baitfish they called ‘squaw-fish’. (This looks a bit like a grayling without the big dorsal fin). The giant fish are located very accurately with state-of-the-art, side-scanning fish-finders, and the guide positions the boat to put the baits upstream of them.
It all sounds pretty simple, but in reality they are not easily fooled. ‘Tap tap tap – nothing’ bites seemed to be the order of the day. Fortunately, occasionally one will make a mistake, and a firm strike results in you being attached to something that feels like a cross between the river bed and a runaway horse!
Giant sturgeon fishing is not for the faint-hearted. It is not unusual for these monsters to run 150 to 200 yards on their first run. This means the anchor frequently has to be lifted in order to chase after them.
The battle is somewhere between 45 and 90 minutes, depending on the size of the fish (and its attitude). And that’s if you are giving it everything you’ve got at the rod end! They are not as devastatingly quick as Giant Trevally, nor as terrifyingly violent as tarpon, but my goodness they really can pull. They are truly dogged in their reluctance to come in. Occasionally they will take to the air in jaw-dropping spectacular leaps – that’s a sight never to be forgotten!
Giant sturgeon in pictures
Fish of 4-to-6 feet are usually unhooked and released at the side of the boat, but anything over 7 feet is routinely beached. This makes for convenient photography. The rules are that the head is not to be lifted above the water for the good of the fish. Of course, that’s a good thing, but it does mean the photos don’t show the awesome girth of the fish. Or does it?!
These are very special creatures. They have not changed in thousands of years, and their wellbeing must come first.
My aim was to catch one big fish for the week, but I was lucky enough to get three on the first day. These included a beauty of 8ft 2″ (at 300lbs). On the second day I followed up with another one of 8ft 7″ (350lbs)! My week was made. If truth be known, I spent much of the remaining time sprawled on the front of the boat. I simply smoked a cigar and took in the breathtaking scenery. From tree-covered, snow-capped mountains, to eagles, deer and the odd seal, this place has everything.
Sadly, on a trip like this, there’s often someone who doesn’t strike gold. My poor fishing companion, Gary, was anxious to get a 7-foot fish, but didn’t quite manage it. In a vain effort to help during the last three days, the other three of us, when it was our turn to accompany him in the boat, didn’t fish. That’s the way it goes unfortunately. I know this only too well from my own visits to Thailand. I’m sure he’ll be back!
All in all it was a terrific week, and one for which I am very grateful. A few of my contemporary pals have recently started to fall by the wayside. You never know how long this will last! I am determined to make the best of it for the rest of my life. Bring it on!