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Battling With White Sturgeon
By Doug Summers
2003
130lb of sheer muscle a beautiful White Sturgeon
One hundred and thirty pounds of white sturgeon for Doug

On Sunday afternoon 1st June 2003 Sue, my wife, and I flew into Vancouver Airport in Canada’s British Columbia to start our six day holiday to fish for the White Sturgeon that inhabit the Fraser River. This was the first time we had been to Canada and we were looking forward to the challenges in front of us - we hoped!

We were met at the airport by Verne, our guide’s stepfather, who is a real character. We chatted with Verne and got a feel for the place while he drove us for the one and a half hours through some beautiful countryside to our hotel in a place called Chilliwack.

The boat and rig
Marc Laynes pride and joy – a jet-powered, custom-built all aluminum boat
This is a lovely small town right by the Fraser River and where our guide Marc Laynes of Cascade Fishing Adventures lives. Verne told us that Marc would come to the hotel in the morning to collect us at 08.30hrs for our first day on the river. So all that was left for us to do was to have a shower, go for a meal and get a good night’s sleep and contemplate the days to come.

Marc promptly arrived the next morning to collect us and he too is a great character, making us very welcome and making sure that we had everything we need for the trip ahead. He picked us up in his 8 litre Ford diesel pickup truck with his pride and joy behind; a custom-built all aluminum jet boat powered with a V8 engine. These boats don’t have a propeller, they suck water in underneath and pump a large jet out of the back to power them along, it is absolutely amazing the speed they can travel at, but it also has very comfortable seating for the passengers which is as well as you spend approximately 8 hours a day on the boat.

Going up river surrounded by beautiful scenery
We headed upriver
As he drove the short distance to the boat launch we chatted away getting to know one another. He has done a lot of work for the fisheries department, studying the White Sturgeon in great detail and is a leading authority on these fantastic fish. He is also an angler himself and has caught many of them up to 800lbs in weight whilst doing the survey. He is also a conservationist, caring very much for the river and its inhabitants. These fish are totally protected and every fish that is caught is measured and tagged (if not tagged already). The tags used are inserted under the skin behind the head and are the same type that we use for tagging our pet dogs and cats. Once in they are there forever. The White Sturgeon can grow to a length of 18 to 20 feet and weigh as much as 1800lbs.

We arrived at the boat launch and launched the boat and it was only now that we realised what a big powerful river the Fraser is. As we headed up river a short distance to our first spot of the day Marc started to tell us about the way we would fish and what to expect on the day. When we arrived he dropped the anchor and told us about the tackle we would be using.

Tackle

Looking back. WOW!!!
and only then realised what a big, powerful river the Fraser is
Rods are 9ft long with a test curve of approximately six pounds, similar to an uptide rod but with an all-through action. The reels were large multipliers backed with heavy nylon and topped off with 300 metres of 160lb breaking strain braided main line. This might seem very heavy but when you actually fish the river and catch some of these fish you can understand why such line strength is necessary. The terminal tackle is very simple, being a link swivel running on the line to clip the leads onto, which allows the leads to be removed easily before lifting a fish into the boat. The link swivel is stopped by a bead against the swivel that joins the mainline to the hook trace which is 80lb breaking strain nylon. At the end of this is a 7/0 stainless steel barbless hook. The leads vary in weight from a few ounces up to 1lb, depending where on the river you fish and how fast the current is, because the Fraser is a very fast river in places.

Bait – and a ball game……

The bait was Brook Lamprey, usually three were put on the hook and then tied round the shank of the hook with some thin cotton. We also used sections of Sea Lamprey and also Salmon roe; the latter was placed into a piece cut off a pair of black tights, made into a small ball about the size of a golf ball, put on the hook and then some roe was tied around this with cotton to secure it in place. Now that caused a few frowns and laughs when Marc pulled a pair of these out. “Hang on a minute, I’m not into that game!” I said.

Now, would the sturgeon be interested?

A special fish my first White Sturgeon
Not the biggest I was to catch, but my first, which made it special
The hooks were baited and finally put out to the spots and the rods placed in the holders. All we could do now was wait to see if the sturgeon were interested. While we were waiting Marc explained how a bite would look and I was surprised how delicately these fish bite, showing only very gentle taps on the rod tip.

One of many we were to catch
A nice one at 4½ft long
Marc explained that when this happens you have to take the rod out of the holder and lower the rod slightly to take the tension out of the line, and then the Sturgeon should start to move off with the bait. When this happens you don’t strike in the usual accepted manner but sweep the rod back and hook into the fish. However, if the fish swims towards you, then you reel into it, only pulling the rod round when you actually feel the fish.

The best of day 1 at 55lb
The biggest of Day 1 at 55lb
We did not have to wait long for the tell-tale taps to appear on one of the rods, so I lifted it out of the holder and waited to feel the rod go over. I then pulled into the fish, which shot off on a short run at an alarming rate, but within a few minutes I had landed my first White Sturgeon. Although only a small one it gave a good account of itself and its colours were absolutely stunning. They looked like an opal in the sunlight with all the colours of the rainbow from different angles and I could not wait to play another one. Marc told us that on average we should catch five fish a day but we would have to wait to see how things panned out. But sure enough, by the end of the first day we had boated five fish with the biggest at 55lbs. This fish took some 80yds of line on its first run and came right out of the water twice, which was an awesome sight. We hooked several other fish during the day but they are experts at getting rid of the hooks. Marc said he was disappointed with the result and could not understand why so many fish picked the bait up only to drop it within seconds, but apparently this is what they sometimes do so you just have to persevere and be patient, which was very easy to do when fishing in such beautiful surroundings.

Day Two

The second day was much like the first. We fished a different area of the river and landed a few fish and lost a few but they were still being very finicky. At the end of day two Marc said he would take us to his favourite part of the river the next day and hopefully the Sturgeon there would be more obliging.

The symbol of the beautiful town of Hope
The symbol of Hope the town’s Prospector and Mule
Day Three and some spectacular scenery and wildlife

Marc picked us up at 8.00am and we set off for a town called Hope further up the Fraser valley. This town was the start of the Gold Rush in this part of Canada and is portrayed with a wood carving showing a prospector and his mule. We arrived at the boat launch about thirty minutes later and set off up river, which was surrounded by some of the most spectacular scenery I have seen in my life, with snow-capped mountains rolling right down to the riverbank. There was also a lot of different wildlife, including seals, otters, deer, bald eagles and osprey, which made the day even more interesting.

Spectacular scenery on the Fraser river
Spectacular scenery above the town of Hope
We caught one or two fish in different spots going upriver and saw Sturgeon to about 300lbs rolling through the surface, which is an awesome sight when a fish of that size lazily rolls a few feet away from the boat. Unfortunately it happened so quickly we couldn’t get any photographs of it and the fish were still being very finicky.

We arrived at our final spot for the day, put the rods out and sat back, waiting, and in the meantime watching a few fish roll. Eventually I had a good take and was into a fish that just tried to pull my arms out of their sockets. It took about 70yds of line on its way up river, came back and then set off again. Marc couldn’t understand why it hadn’t jumped clear of the water as they generally do very soon after being hooked. He was beginning to wonder if it was foul hooked.

The fight was a dogged affair but the power of these fish is unbelievable. But after 20 minutes I managed to get it to the surface and we could see that it was cleanly hooked in the mouth. Marc removed the lead and told me what to do to get the fish into the boat and safely into the stretcher that he carries to put the fish into. The fish was checked for tags and it had an old tail tag in it from 1997 and had not been caught since. So Marc duly measured the fish and inserted a new tag behind its head and then after a few pictures she was released none the worse for her experience. She was a beautiful long nose specimen and weighed 90lbs.

A visit to a rare spot on day four

A long nose White Sturgeon of 90lbs
The long nose 90-pounder
We fished some of the spots we had fished previously and caught a few and lost a few fish during the day but no big fish put in an appearance apart from rolling near the boat, much to our frustration. To end the day Marc decided as a last ditch effort to go to a spot he only fishes on rare occasions. We arrived and anchored the boat in about 25ft of water and put the rods out. Within minutes the tell-tale knocks started and stopped just as quickly. After about half an hour we decided to call it a day so I picked the left hand rod up and, remembering what Marc had told me on day one, not to just pick the rod up but pull it round just in case a fish was sitting with a bait in its mouth, which apparently is quite a common occurrence. As I pulled the rod round everything was solid. I told Marc I was snagged, which he said was odd because there were no snags there. “Pull hard,” he said. “It must be a fish sitting with the bait in its mouth.”

Returning the 90 pounder
The head of the 90-pounder
I did as I was told and then all hell broke lose as the fish came straight to the surface like a dolphin and then proceeded to power across the river, taking nearly 300yds of line off the reel in under 60 seconds. Marc was frantically pulling the anchor up, asking me all the time what was happening and just before the knot that joins the braid to the nylon went out he got the boat engine fired up and in reverse and chased after the fish.

The stunningly beautiful 6feet 3 inch 130lb White Sturgeon
The stunningly beautiful short nose, 6ft 3in, 130lb sturgeon
I slowly gained the line back that the fish had taken on the first run when off it went again and jumped clean out of the water. Then it headed back upstream. At one stage it was swimming upstream so fast against the current Marc had to speed the boat up quite a lot to stop it overtaking us. Marc asked how big I thought it was because he had not seen it so I told him I thought it was bigger than the one I caught yesterday. After some 25 minutes the fish eventually surfaced and Marc managed to remove the lead but, because the current in the river where we were was so strong, we had to tow the fish across the river to the slacker water. It was 35 minutes later when the fish was boated. It was a short nose fish that measured 191cm (six feet three and three eighths inches long). The sturgeon had never been tagged before, which meant it had never been caught before that day, so I was a very lucky angler in more ways than one. The fish weighed 130lbs and was absolutely awesome and stunningly beautiful, with amazing markings. After a few pictures she was returned to the river and then the emotions of what had happened set in. Anyone who has caught something that they have really been hoping for and determined to catch will know what I mean.

My wife Sue with her first White Sturgeon
Sue’s first sturgeon
The last two days we fished hard and managed to catch some more fish up to nearly five feet long. I had 24 Sturgeon in all but Marc was disappointed that I did not catch a fish over 250lbs. Maybe next time - yes I will be going back and have already booked to return next year.

It was a wonderful holiday in beautiful surroundings with a great guide and if anyone reading this would like to go and try and catch this wonderful fish contact Marc Layne's (the best guide on the Fraser River) the web site is www.cascadefishingadventures.com and I can highly recommend it.

Doug Summers




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