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Wednesday, 16 December 2009 10:47

Sturgeon and Salmon fishing, Fraser River, British Columbia

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One and a half hours east of Vancouver, on the edge of the Canadian Rockies, is the Town of Chilliwack. Because of its fertile agricultural land, miners heading for the gold rush in the Fraser River canyon, settled the area in the mid nineteenth century. Today the region has become famous for a treasure of a different kind, the mighty white sturgeon and an incredible abundance of salmon.

Devasted by commercial fishing and dam programs in the once great sturgeon rivers of the US, the angler seeking a virtually guaranteed trophy photo of one these prehistoric creatures, should head to the Fraser River, British Columbia. Here they are strictly protected and can be found in both large numbers and impressive size. Sturgeon take a long time to reach maturity, twenty to twenty five years infact, so it is vital they are looked after.

Also, they will only spawn every four to seven years. The upsides are that they law eggs in vast numbers and can live to an enviable age of 150 years.

Arriving in mid October I was concerned about the onset of a Canadian winter and how it might make fishing uncomfortable. As it turned out the temperature for much of my week there was 60-74f. Whilst snow blanketed Toronto further east, the deflecting effect of the Rocky Mountain range and the temperate maritime climate of the Vancouver region combined to give me an added bonus to the fishing.

Boat LaunchI was booked in at the Rhombus Hotel, the meeting point for anglers and their guides every morning. I was to fish four days, two for salmon and two for sturgeon. On my first day I was collected by Mike Barnes, a genial giant with a lumberjack's handshake. The huge pick-up truck towed the jet boat to the launch point just a mile or so away. The launch area is a bit of a free for all as keen guides and ever keener anglers are eager to start fishing.

We positioned ourselves at the mouth of the Harrison River which flows into the Fraser. Two rods were rigged with spoons set on downriggers in the hope of a King (Chinook) Salmon. These fish are immense, in both size and power.
They have been caught up to 100lb in the Fraser River, although the average is around 30lb. Sadly we did not manage to boat one of these mighty fish, two escaped from the barbless hook but we did manage a fair few chum salmon, prevelant at this time of year, sharp toothed, mean, aggressive and powerful in their own right. Sitting quietly in the boat, with salmon leaping all around us and eagles circling overhead, this was a truly memorable first day.

Day two was a sturgeon day. My guide was Matt Molloy, a slim, friendly fisherholic. Matt keeps a photo album on his boat which would make any fly angler green with envy. Inside are pictures of huge steelhead caught in winter and pristine, wild rainbows of impressive size caught further up in the Rockies, all on the fly. His tales of black widow spiders frequenting the banks of his hidden lakes, made me think that perhaps the winter steelhead might be the better option personally. Either that or use a float tube!

Stout rods, multipliers and heavy leads to keep the bait static in the fast current were now the armoury. A mesh bag of salmon eggs dipped in a secret formula was the menu du jour. We didn't have to wait long before the ratchet started to click and a sturgeon slowly moved off with the bait. My strike was met with solid resistance as the rod hooped over and line worked its way off the spool. The line rose in the water and the fish created a knee wobbling swirl just beneath the surface. After a ten minute tussle, my first ever sturgeon was ready to be brought into the boat. Estimated at around 50-60lb, this wasn't a big fish by Fraser River standards but I was more than pleased. The fish is unlike anything else that swims, a total throwback to a prehistoric time. Tiny eyes, huge barbules, and armour plating along its lateral line and the centre of the back. Another 4 sturgeon at regular intervals took us into the afternoon. Then it happened, what we were waiting for, the big one. This time, when the hook was set, the rod was nearly wrenched from my arms. Lined poured off the reel at an unstoppable pace, a huge displacement of water silenced us both. Then, in a second, the line went solid. The fish had found one of the many submerged trees, dragged into the water by floods. I felt distraught. Judging by the movement of water created by the fish, Matt reckoned it could have been 10ft plus.

sturgeonWe fished on and was rewarded by four more sturgeon, including a wonderful fish measuring 6' 6" (sturgeon are measured, not weighed here prior to release). Stories of monster sturgeon hooked in the Fraser canyon but completely impossible to move, now seemed much more believable.

By the end of the day my groin was feeling more than a little sore. Matt reserves the butt pad for the monsters and makes you feel like a big girl if you request one on anything else. This is Canada.

Day three was a flyfishing for salmon day. Once again, the Harrison River played host to guide Glenn, originally from L.A. and myself. If you ever want to practise your casting as well as guarantee catching salmon on the fly, there can be few places finer. As with all fishing here, it is done with barbless hooks. On one cast I managed to hook three consecutive salmon.
Each one escaped. You are actually standing in amongst the salmon, there are that many. Once every two years they also get a run of pink salmon to add to the bounty. This river system is too incredible to describe.

My final days fishing was to be with Matt again, heading downstream this time. The use of a electronic equipment enable fishing locations to be found and recorded and are invaluable when paying customers need their fill of sturgeon. Matt's use of this equipment was invaluable. Surprisingly, for such a massive waterway, we were only fishing in water averaging depths of around 16ft. The eggs and secret formula were once again irresistible to the sturgeon. I notched up ten good sized sturgeon before Matt decided, for the last hour, to try another mark. One that had produced some big fish in the past but had not come up with the goods recently.

ChumThe sun was dipping between the mountains, still bathing us in warmth, the air was completely still as Matt picked up three very large fish on the sounder. Almost shaking with hope rather than anticipation, would we get one last chance at a big girl?

We launched the baits and settled down, transfixed on the rod tips and not muttering a sound. We did not want to risk disturbing the fish by any vibration through the aluminium hull. No more than five minutes had passed when the right hand rod nodded then pulled over. Once again the hook set was met with huge resistance. The line rose as the fish surged towards the surface. It cleared the water with an acrobatic leap, silhouetted against the setting sun it was an unforgettable sight. I gave everything, not wanting the fish to find a sunken tree. It was all I could think about. Matt was grinning and seeing a different side to me as I gave no quarter. I lost track of time throughout the tug of war and when the fish finally succumbed, the feeling of relief suddenly lurched into jubilation. Matt had been on his mobile to a friend and his partner who were fishing nearby. They motored over to us and helped with measuring, weighing and photographs. I could barely lift its head! It measured 7ft 2". Each year, fish much larger than mine are caught but that doesn't matter to me. I got what I came for, and then some. Nineteen sturgeon in two days and more salmon than I could count.

I have been forunate in that I have fished in many places around the world, so far this tops the lot.


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