Following on from last year’s trip to Canada we had to return in an effort to get one of those big sturgeons that did not show for us at the time. The group comprised of John Found, David Cook and me and we would be traveling with Cascade Fishing Adventures under Marc Laynes. His organisation is located in Chilliwack in the province of British Columbia and we would fish for the sturgeon in the Frazer River.
The 9 hour flight from Gatwick to Vancouver is bit of a trek and then we are picked up for the 1hr 30min trip to the hotel in Chilliwack arriving about 3pm local time after allowing for the minus 8 hour time difference between UK and the extreme west of Canada. Since we will not fish until the following morning there is plenty of time to sort out the suit case and get cleaned up for a trip out to a local restaurant for a proper meal. One thing I do see here is the apparent lack of cooked greens on the meals, nice meat but vegetables come mostly braised assuming you can get any. Still after the meal we made our way back to the hotel and by 9pm I was in bed ready for the morning and our start at 8am.
We met up with Clayton Jones who would be our guide for the day and after a 20 minute drive we were at the boat launch along with a number of other boats setting for the day on the river. Within a very short space of time we were travelling off to a nearby spot to catch bait in the form of a fish known as pike-minnow. These are a pretty fish of about 6inch long and were to prove our most successful bait, the other being pink salmon in either a small fillet or just half the head form. Tackle comprise 9ft rods with Shimano reels carrying lots of 130lb braid going to a wedge shaped leger weight of about 16oz to 20oz, the hooks are barbless size 10.0’s.
Once we had a supply of minnow it was off on the jet boat that seems standard transport for the guides with speeds of up to 30mph and the ability to travel over 6 inch of water. It was not too long after stopping that Dave was into the first fish of the trip, a sturgeon of about 40lb and as such a real baby, shortly after this I had an even smaller fish of perhaps 20lb but at least we were off the mark. It seemed that John was playing it crafty since the next two small fish that he caught both came off quite quickly so he stayed on his rod. Meanwhile on the last chance of the day Dave went on to catch a real beauty. At 7ft-9in and a girth of 40in it was put at 290lb. This, using the time proven formula for converting length to weigh by using both length and a girth measurement taken directly behind the pelvic fins. Using this ‘pelvic girth’ position means the measurement will remain constant and does not vary with spawn, hence it is a more reliable figure to give an estimated weight. The fight was spectacular and we had to follow the fish downstream before it finally gave up the scrap and allowed us to take a couple of photos.
1st of the big fish at 290lb to Dave.
Pike-minnow bait ready to cast out.
Pink salmon chunks.
Back out the following morning, we went through a similar routine of getting bait then off to one of Marc’s known hotspots. It did not take too long before John had taken a 5ft-7in fish soon followed by me with a 6ft-2in specimen. Although medium fish by the standards of this river they do give one hell of a fight and both of these would take 15mins to land. Then at about 11am John struck into a fish that really did fight and it would 45 minutes before this fish thought it would be ok to have his photo taken. At 8ft-5in and a 40in girth, it was estimated at 340lb, one hell of a beast and it prove such when after one very poor photo on my camera and one other better shot on another camera it broke free of our hold and disappeared back into the deeps. Three other sturgeon followed that before close of play, but with the best at 5ft-10in to me they were comparatively small.
At 6ft-2in a little powerhouse.
A poor shot of John's 340lb. Better one later I hope.
Clayton Jones our guide for three days.
The evenings had settled into a nice easy routine of wash and brush-up then out at 7.00pm for a visit to one of the many restaurants in the area. With the weather holding at a very comfortable level of around 25C maximum the fishing was great. Meet up with the guide at 8.00am and fish all day through to 4.00pm when the rods would come in and we would head back to the boat launch area. Each day was different and today we had Mark Laynes as our guide and he headed right upstream to one of his favourite spots on the river. With fishing being what we all know we moved several times in the immediate area and saw sturgeon roll, but not one fish took bait despite our best efforts.
Moving downstream and dropping into other good swims I took the first fish of the day, one of about 4ft but that was eclipsed by the next taken by John yet again. This fish truly gave a fight worthy of one 50lb heavier and when it finally gave up it was measured at 7lb-9in length and a girth of 36.5in. Again using the formula we got an estimated weight of 260lb a very worthwhile specimen to the growing list. Just before close of play I latched into another hard fighting specimen that was eventually measured at 6ft-1oz to give a very pleasing end to our days sport.
John's 260lb with Clayton & I holding it.
Last fish of the day at 6ft-1in to me.
We were now at Friday and all along the forecast had been for rain to begin at that time and then to stay over our remaining days. Fortunately for this day at least we only had the occasional shower and with four fish going to 6ft it was yet another good sporting day.
John with his 6ft specimen.
John had been on several trips to the region from 1997 onward and in those days twenty fish catches coming to the boat were not unusual. As with most fishing those that arrive early get the best sport and today a catch of say six fish would be slightly above average, between two and four is more the expected normal day
Saturday the weather had certainly come in with a vengeance, heavy rain overnight and early morning was accompanied by very strong winds and considerable damage was caused by falling trees. Fortunately Clayton went upstream to an area that experience had shown him to be a little bit better sheltered in these conditions and it was not until evening when we returned that it was realised how fortunate we had been. Three foot waves coming at us made it necessary to slow the boat almost to a crawl, but in the calm area we made hay while the sun shone. John was first with a fish of 6ft-8in length and 34in girth giving and estimated weight of 180lb. A very hard fight and only different to the larger specimens in that the fish gives up that little bit sooner. That was at 11-15am and at about 1.00pm we were in action again this time with Dave having a good fish on his rod. A very similar fight to John’s followed and eventually he landed an almost identical specimen. This time it came in at 6ft-9in length and 33in girth and again an estimated weight of 180lb.
180lb for John.
180lb for Dave.
With these larger fish coming to both John and Dave I was getting a little concerned that maybe I would miss out, just the rest of this day and one more to go and then it was back to England but I need not of worried. My bait was taken and after an initial twitch the rod bent over and I struck into weight. John and Dave went to bring in the rods positioned behind me whilst Clayton went to the rod to my left, This meant the he saw the fish leap as well as myself, and his comment as the fish came totally clear of the water was ‘that’s a big mother ***.’ One of the best feelings to any fisherman must be holding a rod with a tight clutch that is screaming as the line peels off with a very large fish trying to make his escape. Once the other rods were in we could up-anchor and slowly, but surely, get back into control. Not totally, in that the fish still went off in long runs but each time I could get line back onto the reel until he was just off the back of the boat. At this stage I was tired and I hoped the fish was as weary as I, but Clayton obviously felt not and he powered the boat away from the fish with the reel giving all that hard earned line out again, dam! It was probably another 15min to 20 mins before I got into a similar position as I had previously attained but this time we could take him slowly to the shore for the photos etc. I had come out on this trip hoping for a 7ft plus specimen so I was well pleased when the tape showed it to be exactly 8ft long and a girth of 41in, 320lb of solid muscle and I left Clayton to hold the head for the photo as I was sure the fish could break my grip as John’s fish had done to him in making his escape.
320lb for me.
Along with the rain the temperature had dropped by about 10C and this reflected in our bait catching, where we caught enough in 20 minutes at the start of the week it now took a lot longer and we actually left with less than we had hoped for. Today we suffered a number of dropped takes and dropped fish which did suggest the fish were far more reluctant to take bait. We did take three fish to 5ft-6in over the course of the day to give a final total for the week of 21 sturgeon.
That was the end of the fishing but not the end of the excitement if that was the right word for it. The transport to the airport was arranged for 9.00am for a 1.25pm flight, plenty of time and we got to the airport at about 10.45am. The journey took a little longer than usual due to some work still being carried out in clearing fallen trees and our driver had taken us via some back roads rather than the main highway as usual. Walking through the doors into the airport my mind went to the paperwork etc. I would need and I immediately realised I had left my passport in the room safe back at the hotel, panic stations!
The Coast Hotel - Chilliwack
A quick phone call to the hotel reception and the problem explained, ‘could they get the passport and have a taxi bring it to the airport’ a task that was done very efficiently. Meanwhile we went to the check-in desk and explained the problem only to be told the gates close at 12.25pm on the dot, no exception. In fact the chap said they were overbooked and were looking for three people to agree to stay over. Although I hoped the taxi would make on time I knew it was highly unlikely and already I was prepared for and expensive delay with the need to get another ticket and overnight hotel room. Sure enough the 12.25pm time came and went, John and Dave had already gone through and they wished me luck. I had been in touch with Joe Taylor about my error as he is a well-travelled angler and would be more likely to be able to advise me what to do and I was actually talking to him when the taxi arrived a 12.45pm. Once the passport had been sorted we continued to talk and Joe asked what airline I was on, I could not remember so as we talked I walked down along all the different airline check in desks. I had gone right to the start of in international departures to meet the taxi and the check-in was at the other end so it was a little walk to get back there. It would now be about 25 minutes after the desk had closed but as I spoke to Joe and related what airline it was I realised there were three people checking in, nothing to lose and I went through and put my case on the conveyer expecting to be told ‘go away’ or something like that. Instead the chap started to issue my boarding pass and put the tickets on the suitcase. He explained he had put me through as a priority passenger and explained I could use the express route through to the loading area. Quite amazingly I actually got on the plane before the other two as they waited for the low number seats to be called. Hopefully I will never leave my passport again; though I will never know how I got on that plane the gods were certainly smiling down at me.
I could not close without a couple of the animal shots taken at range. A brown bear that swam across the river behind us and a deer with her fawn.