We recently had the chance to fish with repeat guests Peter & Peter, a father and son duo from Europe that really love the sturgeon fishery. This year, they invited a 3rd and new member to the party…Radek. For Radek, an experienced angler himself, this was his first holiday to the Fraser River. Hearing of big fish stories from the Peters, and seeing pictures of their previous nice catches, he couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to join them on their 2014 sturgeon fishing escape.
We had already fished for 5 days, with really good sturgeon fishing results. We were fortunate to land lots of quality fish in the 6ft range, and several in the mid to high 7’ range as well. It was Day 6, and our last day together on the river. The weather was terrible. Strong winds and rain made for unpleasant and tough fishing conditions, but this crew wasn’t fazed by what mother nature threw at them. We were fishing an area where, from the previous day’s results, we knew that there were some BIG fish around. Although the action wasn’t as consistent as the previous day, we stuck it out in hopes of finding a BIG sturgeon.
Having landed an awesome 7’10” fish earlier in the day, along with a few smaller ones, the day was already a success. It was cloudy, raining, and we were quickly starting to lose our daylight. We were down to our last 5 minutes before we called it quits for the day, when all of a sudden 2 rods went off within several seconds of each other. Peter Jr.’s fish started taking some line down river, while Radek’s fish threw some big head shakes before starting to cut to the surface for a jump. We knew Radek hooked a good fish, but when it breached the surface, we quickly realized it was time to get serious….it was BIG……REALLY BIG! One jump, then a second jump, and a third jump….absolutely epic!…and all within close proximity of the boat. We quickly unbuttoned Peter’s smaller fish so that we could focus on the trophy fish that Radek had hooked into.
As a side note, for the past 2 days, Radek had watched from the side as both Peters hooked and landed multiple fish over 6 and 7 ft, while his rod produced only a few smaller fish. He was due for a nice one and man did he ever get rewarded for his patience.
The big sturgeon was cooperating and hung around the area, BUT, our light was fading fast. I knew that if we were going to land this fish, it would have to be in the dark. We had already pulled the anchor and were on the motor, trying to stay over top of the fish at all times. And then…..an unexpected 4th jump, right behind the boat…..amazing sight when you see a large fish like that right out of the water, that close!
Radek gave it all he had for as long as he could but eventually, just before it got dark, he passed up the rod to Peter Jr. so that we could get some fresh arms and heavy pressure on the fish.
With each passing minute we were losing light and then…..darkness. Complete darkness with the sound of fast moving water. There is something to be said about being on a fast moving river in complete darkness, with a 500-600+ pound fish at the end of the line. It’s a freaky and uneasy feeling. If you’ve experienced it before, you will know what I mean….if you haven’t, I wouldn’t recommend it :o). With your sense of sight gone, your body adjusts and your other senses kick in to another level. You start relying on feel and hearing. Everything becomes more focused.
Although I could visualize the river in my head and knew the area we were in, all we could make out was the dark silhouette of the shoreline without any features. Peter’s headlamp threw out a small beam of light, but not strong enough to see what was on shore. Radek used the lamp to shine on the rod and line, so that we can have an idea of where the fish was in relation to the boat. We tried to stay as close as possible to shore to avoid the fast moving water and from drifting further downriver. The depth on the sounder read 4-5 ft, and then….. all of a sudden…. banging on the hull! Realizing that we were bottoming out on a gravel bar that extended from shore, I tried to add some gas, but to no avail…we were bottomed out. I didn’t want to add too much throttle incase we sucked up rocks and plugged up the intake…then we would have no power at all. The anchor was dropped and the engine turned off. This was not good. Not good at all!
While Peter Jr. and Radek continued to work hard on the fish, I checked the depth with the paddle and hopped out to see if I could move the boat. I was expecting the worst, but, somehow, I was able to swing the back end out into the deeper water, jump back into the boat, fire it up, and drift off into deeper water safely. Now I was just hoping that the intake wasn’t plugged up.
Realizing that we had just escaped a close call, I was very concerned about drifting any further down river and potentially jeopardizing everyone’s safety. Drifting aimlessly could potentially lead to problems, so I took the risk and decided to drop the anchor in the shallows and play the fish from that spot. The fish was getting tired and it’s runs were getting shorter and shorter, but we still couldn’t break it away from the fast current…..just too heavy….but it was cooperating and hanging around our immediate area.
As time passed, we were starting to win the battle. We were able to swing the fish closer to the boat, before it would run off again into the current. Back and forth it went, but with each passing attempt, we were able to gain a bit more….but still not enough. We, somehow, needed to get that fish to shore, without drifting downriver.
Seeing how close we got the fish to the boat on several occasions, I decided we should take the risk and head for shore immediately, and try to play the fish from shore. Radek used the headlamp to guide me in to a safe spot. Knowing the area we were in, we had about 200 meters of shoreline to play the fish from…..this was our chance…..our ONLY chance. If we didn’t get it here, we wouldn’t get it all. I didn’t want to risk drifting blind any further.
Peter Jr. jumped out of the boat, Radek and Peter Sr. right behind him. Adrenaline was at a max. The rod can pull only so much, so I decided to assist by hand lining whenever the opportunity arose, all the time thinking to myself “you better not get off now!” We were gaining. On several occasions we could see the fish roll in the shallower water, only to pump its tail once or twice and disappear again and drift downriver, with all of us in quick pursuit.
With every attempt, we were able to swing the fish in closer and closer. Peter Jr. on the rod, Radek on the lamp, myself hand lining, and Peter Sr. with the camera….all working our way down the shoreline patiently, praying that the fish wouldn’t take off again.
Finally, after 2+ hours, the fish surrendered in the shallows, exposing it’s massive body about 100m downstream of where we parked the boat. I couldn’t believe it, we actually got it! Cheers, yells, and high fives from all….it was a huge relief for everyone, myself included. We would have landed it a lot sooner, but without daylight and inability to drift with the fish, we were extremely limited to options and had to play it safe.
Peter Sr. tried to take some pictures, but the camera lens kept on fogging up and after only a few picture attempts, the battery died. I stumbled my way back to the boat to grab my camera. Less than a dozen attempts at pictures, the flash ate what was left on the battery and it too died. “What are the chances” I thought to myself. “After all this, a trophy fish on shore and no cameras for pictures?!” Now all we could hope for was that some of those pics turned out, because in the dark, you can’t even see what you’re taking pictures of :o).
We quickly measured the fish several times to get an accurate measurement…….could it crack the magic 10’ mark’?….unfortunately just a bit shy…..9’8” fork length x 51” girth. A Fraser trophy nevertheless! After a few more looks, we watched in amazement as the massive fish slowly disappeared into the depths of the Fraser. Back home it swam to where it belongs.
We stumbled our way back to the boat over the rocks. Landing the fish in the dark was a huge success in itself, but we still needed to get back to the boat launch safely in complete darkness. Although having years of experience in navigating the river and following a GPS route certainly helps, you can’t see any debris coming down the river. In the end, we took our time and made it back safely without any mishaps….but definitely an interesting ride back, that is for sure.
This will go down as one of my most memorable BIG sturgeon battles in 14 years of guiding. Not just because of the size of the fish, but more so of the conditions we faced and the challenges we endured throughout the entire night time battle. It was an absolutely freaky, crazy, and hair raising experience and I hope I don’t have to do that again any time soon :o).
A HUGE congratulations to Radek, Peter Jr. and Peter Sr. for landing this one…..you guys deserve it. Well done guys!!