| Welcome to the latest series of Super, Neighbours blog posts where we highlight incredible travel destinations in British Columbia!
This is the last of 5 posts on our trip out to Harrison Hot Springs, a 90 minute drive from Vancouver. To break it down:
I hinted about the awesomeness of my fishing adventure in almost all of the first 4 posts because it’s such a cool story, far beyond getting out and reeling in a big fish, though I will admit that’s a large part of it. If you look beyond this photo of us holding a 150 pound fish as a trophy (which we let go seconds after this photo was taken) you’ll see a story of conservation and of people coming together to help save a species.
I caught this 150 pound sturgeon. It’s about 75 years old. Wowza!
As a lifelong hobby fisherman of freshwater lakes, over the past three and a half decades I’ve spent what would amount to months of my life with a line in the water. Mostly pulling out rainbow trout that weigh less than a pound, fishing for sturgeon is something I never really put much thought into pursuing. I admit that up until I started researching for this series I didn’t see a point in sturgeon fishing because the white sturgeon of the Fraser (and Harrison) River is an endangered species and if you keep one you go to jail. Hell, not only did I not see a point in it but I saw it as a disservice to these prehistoric beasts; I wondered that why after we’ve pushed this species close to extinction that we now have to add insult to injury and pull them out of the water just to get our pictures taken with them.
Tony Nootebos, the proprietor of the BC Sportfishing Group which has a fleet of 22 fishing vessels, changed this entire perception I had of sturgeon fishing. As one of the many supporters of the Fraser River Sturgeon Conservation Society, along with chairman Rick Hansen (yes, the Man In Motion), he’s not only out on the river to make a livelihood but he’s there for the sake of conserving and restoring this fish stock.
The society is a not-for-profit dedicated to the conservation and restoration of wild Fraser River white sturgeon and it’s made up of charter operators, commercial fishermen, first nations and others. At the heart of what they do is tracking every single sturgeon that they reel in, and they input all of their stats into a database so that they can track their growth, their patterns, and how well they’re doing as a whole. If not for this not-for-profit nobody would be tracking this fish, the fish that is on the top of the food chain which reflects the overall health of the river system itself.
And not only do they track the fish but they build awareness as well: they introduced curriculum into a number of schools in 2005, teaching kids in the Lower Mainland about the history and the importance of the Fraser River white sturgeon. The hard costs of all of their work is paid for by donors and the provincial government and the lions share of work is done by volunteers, those who are basically re-investing in their own future by helping ensure the future of the white sturgeon.
I went along to catch a huge fish but I also went along to help Tony gather data which would then be input into the database. I went there (mostly) on a conservation mission.
So that’s the backstory. Let’s introduce you to the experience now, shall we?
Tony took me out on the boat pictured above, and we went a few miles up the Harrison River which drains out of Harrison Lake not far from the resort. It eventually connects with the Fraser and the sturgeon from both intermingle. They are the same fish. Below you can see outlines of some of them lurking on the bottom of the river on the fishfinder, and on the right a ball of salmon roe we put on our lines to attract them with.
The way it works is that you drop anchor at a good spot (Tony knows all the good spots) and then you cast your line out and let it sink to the bottom. Then you wait.
While you’re waiting there’s no shortage of scenery to take in. At one point these 7 bald eagles were sitting in some trees to our right. So crazy, and apparently this is nothing compared to what it’s like when the salmon are running… but it was 7 more eagles than I usually see on the weekend so it was pretty great.
Before long you might see the tip of your rod go down a bit, at which point you set the hook and reel/haul in. You can’t tell by the look on my face that it took an entire half an hour to reel this thing in, and that it was the most intense battle I have ever fought with another living thing in my entire life. Or can you?
Depending on its size, after you get the sturgeon to the boat you either bring it up into this hoist thing or take it to the shore. The one pictured below is actually a 70 pounder that I caught, the huge one in the first photo is a 150 pounder that we couldn’t haul up so we had to go to shore to measure him. The little guys go in the hoist. That’s where they’re measured, and where they use that fancy white microchip scanner to detect if it has a chip implanted in it yet. Who is responsible for the system in which the chips are implanted in the fish to track them? Why the Fraser River Sturgeon Conservation Society of course.
Here’s all of the data that we collected on the fish that gets turned in. They use it all to cross-reference where and when the fish was previously caught, how much it’s grown, etc.
And had there not been a chip installed in the fish we caught, we would have used the needle pictured below to inject one into them. Both of the fish had chips in them already.
Here’s the microchip close up. It’s about a centimetre long.
Lastly, a peaceful shot of another eagle that I photographed while we were returning from our outing and I was reflecting on what an incredibly positive experience it was. It’s hard to put it all into words but this fishing trips sit really high on the list of “The Best Things I Have Ever Experienced Ever In My Entire Life.”. Just wow.