Sturgeon Fishing on the Fraser River

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When you think about fishing it may conjure up images in your mind of men in tall waders along the shore of a river, casting their line through the air only to have it gently land in the water. The bait floats, and they wait for hours for the elusive bite on the line. Upon feeling a slight jiggle on the line they begin the process of reeling the fish in, which could take anywhere from 5-10 minutes for a 4-6 kg (10-15 lb) fish.

This is the exact image we had in our minds when we stepped into the Great River Fishing boat along the Fraser River in Chilliwack. However, what we expected and what actually unfolded are two very different tales.

The beautiful Fraser River

We began the guided adventure on the shore of the Fraser River at Island 22 in Chilliwack. Our guide was extremely welcoming and immediately we set off to find the perfect “hot spot.” With the sun shining and the jagged local mountains on the horizon, a trip on the river alone would have made for the perfect day. However, we were here for sturgeon fishing and our guide was determined to give us an adventure we wouldn’t forget.

Great River Fishing boat on the Fraser River in Chilliwack

Our friendly and knowledgeable guide for the day.

Sturgeon: A living fossil

Sturgeon are fish that have undergone little change in the last 200 million years. Their tolerance for temperature, lack of predators due to their size and plated armour, and the abundance of prey in the environments they live in have much to do with their survival through history. Smooth skinned and scaleless with an armour of bony plates running along their spines, they are living dinosaurs that we were privileged enough to interact with. It felt very much like we were stepping back in history.

Sturgeon fishing on the Fraser River in Chilliwack

Getting up close and personal with a living fossil.

Bigger and stronger than we could have imagined

When you are sitting in a boat looking down into the murky waters of the Fraser River, it is hard to imagine that these giants are swimming below. It was only when a line started to move and our guide was quick to grab the rod and pass it to one of us that we realized what exactly was on the other end. Here we were, streams of sweat beading down our face and muscles cramping from the back and forth struggle between us and the ancient titans below the water. Never in our lives could we have imagined wrestling with a fish for nearly half an hour before we could see it surface. When it did finally come near the top of the water, we were in awe of its actual size. Here was a fish the size of a large man, 1.8 metres (6 feet) long, allowing us a glimpse into prehistoric times and the privilege of feeling its immense power.

Sturgeon fishing release on the Fraser River in Chilliwack

Our guide, Istvan, releasing the fish back to the river.

To understand the scale and size of what you can catch on one of these guided fishing adventures, here are a few unbelievable statistics. The largest sturgeon on record was caught in the Fraser River, measuring 3.75 metres (12 feet 4 inches) and weighing 499 kg (1,100 lbs)! They can grow to a maximum of 6.1 metres (20 feet) and weigh up to 816 kg (1,800 lbs). The three sturgeon we caught and released that afternoon ranged from over 1.2 metres (4 feet) all the way to 1.8 metres (6 feet), and these were considered small. The sheer enormity of the fish and the knowledge of their long history gave us a intense respect for these ancient giants of the river.

Passionate fishing guides

Our experience was a thrilling adventure due to the expert guiding of Istvan from the Great River Fishing company. The company has been in the business for more than 24 years, and we could see and hear the passion Istvan has for sturgeon fishing. He moved all the way from his home country of Hungary for the world-class sturgeon fishing in Chilliwack, along the Fraser River. Great River Fishing and its guides say “Guiding is our life. We live, eat and breathe fishing 365 days a year.”

Great River Fishing guide on the Fraser River, Chilliwack

Our guide, Istvan, always alert for any movement.

Watching Istvan continually change the bait on the lines to keep it fresh, chatting with him while watching his eyes darting among the four fishing rods at all times, on alert for the slightest of movements and telling us stories of fishing along the river…this is someone who certainly loves and lives for fishing.

Conservation at the forefront

Being able to interact with the sturgeon as we did is made possible by the conservation work that is currently underway. The sturgeon is a protected species, which means that tagging, measuring and recording, a way to track and conserve the population, is done on every single catch before it is released.

Releasing a sturgeon on the Fraser River in Chilliwack

Catching and releasing in order to monitor the fish population.

Great River Fishing has been involved in tagging and monitoring efforts since 1995, when sturgeon were closed to retention. They have helped to collectively tag more than 46,000 sturgeon and have scanned more than 90,000 sturgeon. To quote Great River Fishing,”These fish are for all the future generations to share and to be amazed by. We must protect them and handle them with respect always.”

Reeling in a sturgeon on the Fraser River in Chilliwack

Reeling in a sturgeon as we float on the beautiful Fraser River.

Next time you think about going fishing, I hope it will conjure up new images for you; images of incredible animals hundreds of millions of years old continuing their ancient life cycle. If you can, take a trip to Chilliwack and book a guided trip with Great River Fishing for an opportunity to interact with these amazing giants of the river, and enjoy an experience of a lifetime.

Fishing boat on the Fraser River in Chilliwack

Enjoying our trip back to shore.