Report: In search of the mighty sturgeon

SINCE my last report, my family and I have spent two days in the Fraser Valley just east of Vancouver primarily fishing for sturgeon. So here’s my final report from this epic adventure.

We were collected from the cruise ship terminal for a shuttle over to Fraser River Lodge. I had visited this place in 2009 to fish for salmon and sturgeon. I really enjoyed the lodge place and the area, even though the salmon fishing had been very poor that year. I did manage to get some nice sturgeon and my son thought they were cool enough for him to try and get one.

On the trip out our driver advised that the fishing this season had been very quiet. The salmon hadn’t run in their expected numbers and even the ever reliable sturgeon had been very difficult to catch consistently this year. Great!

We arrived at the lodge at lunch with the afternoon to settle in and wind down. Later that day one of the lodge managers, Geoff, took us out to fit us up for some waders and discuss the fishing plan for the next few days. Given the poor fishing in the lower Fraser, it was suggested a wilderness trip into the Pitt River on the first day fishing primarily for bull trout might be a good idea. It involved a pretty cool jet boat ride and very scenic river fishing. I have previously fished for bull trout but because I hadn’t fished the Pitt before and the fact that my wife and son hadn’t caught bull trout before we decided we would do it. The final day we could leave open and decide later.

The next day arrived and we were up early for breakfast before being collected by Frank, the previous owner of the lodge who now primarily guides the remote locations. It was a cloudless, calm and perfect day. We arrived at the outflow of Pitt Lake, launched the boat and took a jet boat ride up its entire 12 mile length. Pitt Lake is a freshwater tidal lake. That didn’t really mean much to me until we were leaving and discovered the water had dropped half a metre exposing a massive mud bank that had stranded at least one boat. Frank said it was a common trap for unfamiliar boaters. The lake was absolutely beautiful with mountains flanking either side.

Once we hit the Pitt River inflow, it got really exciting. If you haven’t been in a jet boat before I can thoroughly recommend it. You need to go fast to get the boat out of the water so you can skim over water that is only ankle deep in places. The river was flanked by cliffs and mountains and was running nice and clear. As we pushed up river, bald eagles feasting on the now dying sockeye salmon which were everywhere. It was a great trip up.

We headed up as far as Frank was prepared to take the jet boat and fished our way down in several great looking pools throughout the day. I was using the fly while my wife used a spinner. My son was happy playing for the most part but had a go with the fly rod and spinner when the fishing was good.

Throughout the day we caught a lot of bull trout that were mainly small, around 20-35cms, a small rainbow trout, two juvenile coho salmon, a dolly varden and some sockeye that were mostly foul hooked. Whilst the fish were quite small it was still a productive day. The river was beautiful and a joy to fish. It was also quite a sobering experience to see all the sockeye in the final days. We have all seen on TV, salmon finishing their spawning and ultimately dying. However, to see it in the flesh, all these large, impressive fish dying on mass all around seems to be such a waste. However, we were constantly reminded during our trip that more life comes from their death than it would should they live and return to the sea as the Atlantic salmon do.

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Patrick jr, with a nice bull trout he caught on the Pitt River.

On the drive back Frank phoned the lodge to see how the other guides had gone in the lower Fraser. The answer was “no good”. However, we decided we would still try for sturgeon the next day, even though the fishing had not been good. As a bit of a change, Frank suggested we fish the Fraser Canyon rather than the lower river as it was very beautiful and just as good a chance as anywhere else.

So, on the last day family fishing of our holiday, we departed the Lodge early and took the 20 minute drive to Hope where we launched and drove a further 30 minutes up river. It was certainly very scenic up in the Fraser Canyon. Yet again, the day was cloudless, mild and calm.

We stopped at a place where there was a large back eddy. Frank set up the lines and cast them out and we were set to wait it out. Frank then went about the messy job of preparing some more bait for the rest of the day. Whilst he was doing that we had a bite. I set the hook and handed the rod to my son Patrick who set about the fight. Out the back a small sturgeon jumped clear from the water. My son got into the routine of fighting the fish. They are a very odd fish but also quite strong. My son had his hands full fighting it. However, after a fairly short fight the baby sturgeon popped up next to the boat and Frank pulled it on board. We measured it at 40 inches before my son released it. That was probably his biggest fish to date. He was pretty happy but openly hoped for something a lot bigger.

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Battling a sturgeon!

However, as the day wore on, we had a few bites but nothing else in the way of definite bites or hook ups. We were, however, consistently entertained by the sight of large sturgeon rolling or jumping clear of the water around us. This, at least, gives you some hope in the knowledge that there are fish about. Finally, we had to call it a day and wind in the lines one last time. Sadly, my wife wasn’t able to catch a sturgeon and my son had to make do with his 40 inch “tiddler”. We got back to Fraser River Lodge, bid our farewells and now sit waiting to make the long flight home.

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Young Patrick looks pretty happy about catching his first ever sturgeon.

Even though this amazing trip has finally come to and end, I promise I will do everything I can to save up the money to head off on another trip so I can send you some more reports! Until then, I can’t wait to get stuck into some bream, flathead and trout closer to home.

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