The river of white sturgeons


August 2012 .  Canada  .  British Columbia . Fraser River

Martin Sack

The Fraser River is perhaps the last ecological system of the world in which survived a sustainable reproducing population of sturgeons with a natural population pyramid. Since 1994 all sturgeons are protected and every caught fish has to be removed to the water. Although the white sturgeon has his natural habitat at the complete west coast of North America the Fraser is today the last river which has no dams. Therefore it´s also one of the richest waters of salmons. Every year millions of up to five salmon species move from the pacific upstream the Fraser system, die after spawning and drift back as food for the sturgeons. They generate a rich food source from the ocean which the cold, but oxygenic water from the mountains never could supply by own resources.

For the sturgeons themselves the river is not passable on total length. Natural blockings and spacious passages with shallow rapids are natural barriers for sturgeons moving upstream. Therefore five different genetically groups of white sturgeons are living in the river, so called “stock groups”. Two of them are in the upper Fraser system, small and protected. The other three ones are interesting for angling with fishes much more than 4m and 500kg. We followed on our journey the course of the river in pursuit of the big white giants…

The river delta at Vancouver is formed by the industrial landscape of a big city. Afterwards the Fraser moves on dammed like a canal up to Mission until splitting nearby Chilliwack in wide meander into several main branches and backwaters. At this point stops the industrial shipping and floating of wood. The river landscape is getting richer in structure. Rapids alternate with deep holes and backflows, on the sand bank are laying washed up trees. Upstream of Chilliwack the mountains move closer to the river and narrow him finally to a single river bed again, which digs his way through the canyon. Up to this point lives the biggest genetically sturgeon population of the first group – the only one with access to the Pacific.

In august the sturgeons are very active in feeding mode and adapt their preferences always to the natural food in the water. We caught them with fresh and rotten salmon meat, pieces of lamprey, baitfish and raw of salmon as bait. Our fishing strategy was keenly flexible. We could scan wide stretches of the river in short time with a 300hp Jetboat. We cast the simple ground rigs with leads around 500g just behind the boat. Mostly the heavy current forced us to spread the baits not too far – more than three rods made no sense. If we did not get a bite after a while, we moved on.

When sturgeons were on the place they tasted the bait carefully and generated small twitches at the rod tops. Now we had to stay very patience until the fish inhaled the bait completely, closed its mouth and turned to the side. Then the rod top moved slowly, but constant down. Now was the right moment to set the hook! What started also at big fishes restrained mostly discharged in short time into an explosion. Just the sturgeons more than 2m rushed at the beginning of the fight to the surface and jumped several times with the complete length out of the water. The fishes performed in the fast water an agile resistance, changed quickly the escape direction or let the drag scream. Amazingly they had less water resistance in the heavy current when they were weak. So we fought against muscular strength and not lazy mass in the water, that was a real fun!

Our fishing tackle made a great work and we could transfer many experience and rigs from our wels catfish angling. The parabolic rods were perfect to cast heavy leds, recognize gently bites, fight hard on short distance and absorb the fast jumps and escapes. Especially the combination of 0.50mm braided mainline with three meter of 0.90mm braided line at the end reduced the resistance of current and protected for abrasion by snags and the sharp plates of the sturgeons.

But now back into the Fraser-Canyon. The slopes got more steeply and were timbered with dense conifer and broad-leaf trees. We moved further upstream through cloudy canyons, the river bed became smaller and was interrupted more often by fast rapids. Somewhat upstream was the “Hells Gate”, a rocky barrier of the Fraser with heavy white water and border to the second genetically sturgeon group.

Beyond the “hells gate” began “wild land”. Whereas the lower Fraser was fished usually by many angler the fishing pressure of the middle Fraser was lesser or not existing. Here lives the third “stock group” with the longer nooses. As we drove along the river the streets with more and more gravel we had a feeling: This is the place we wanted to go! The boat ride through brutal rapids, whirls and frightening current courses between narrow canyons was without doubt the highlight of our trip. Here it was advisable to wear a life vest! The green landscape changed upstream the “hells gate” into dry desert scenery with pine woods. The hot summers and cold winters eroded the rocks in addition. The panorama was such overwhelming as being on another planet!

At the end we could catch sturgeons of all three “stock groups”. The effort of planning and organization before and during the journey was enormous, we spent besides fishing up to six hours per day in the car. Thereby we worked together with six different fishing guides to get to the remoted places. In secret we wished for more and especially some of the really big sturgeons. But every one of us caught three fishes more than 2m and we had a great look over the river system. Altogether we had a big adventure and unforgettable impressions! And if we should come back, than not without tent and outdoor equipment to stay 24 hours at the water.



Angler: Björn , Martin

Sturgeons: 27

Sturgeons more than 2m (TL): 6

1.Day:                                                                                                                                                               1,09

2.Day:                                                                                                                                                                2,10                                                                    

3.Day:                                                                                                                                                               1,75 – 1,50 – 1,50 – 1,35 – 0,91

4.Day:                                                                                                                                                              2,05

5.Day:                                                                                                                                                                   2,22

6.Day:                                                                                                                                                               1,62 – 1,45 – 1,35 – 1,27 – 0,60

7.Day:                                                                                                                                                               1,86 – 1,28 – 0,72

8.Day:                                                                                                                                                                  2,182,14 – 0,81

9.Day:                                                                                                                                                                  2,06 -1,62 – 1,12 – 0,83

10.Day:                                                                                                                                                              1,55 – 1,05 – 1,03

11.Day:                                                                                                                                                              No fish