The Fraser River is home to one of the largest populations of sturgeon in the world. For those of you that are not familiar with this species of fish, here are some quick facts:
Length: in excess of 14 feet
Weight: in excess of 1000lbs.
Life span: in excess of 100 years
Average annual growth: a couple of inches
Length of existence: over two hundred million years
Sturgeon is the largest fresh water fish in North America. They don' have scales. Their skin is more like the one of a shark. Sturgeon are covered with rows of armor, consisting of rows of sharp bony plates, called scutes. They have a toothless sucker like mouth. Their eyes are very small, and are of little use to them. Instead they use their barbells to find food along the bottom of the river. To say the least, these fish are different looking, ugly to some, unique to others.
The Fraser River Sturgeon has quickly become a popular game fish, pursued by anglers from all around the world. Even though by nature, these fish are bottom feeders, once hooked, on many occasions they will come out of the water to show you what they are all about. Even fish of 5-7 feet which are fairly common, will put on quite a show. From my experiences, the warmer the water, the more they jump.
Locally, sturgeon are found primarily in the Fraser and Harrison River systems. However, they can also be found in some of the other tributaries of the Fraser River. White Sturgeon are fished for in the lower river, from Hells Gate, which is between Boston Bar and Hope, right down to the mouth where it enters the ocean.
Sturgeon fishing season on the Fraser is open year round. Like with any other species of fish, certain times of the year produce better than others. Luckily, with sturgeon, the window of opportunity is large. March to November, are the best months to target these beasts. One can target sturgeon in the winter months also, but most of the fish caught are smaller fish that are quite lethargic. We choose not to target them at all from mid November to beginning of March, as the food supply in the river is very limited, consequently giving the fish next to no chance to replenish their energy after the battle.
There are two distinct methods that can be used to fish for sturgeon. Needless to say, now matter where you target these fish, good quality, heavy duty gear is required to land a fish over 5ft.
There are a number of spots in the Fraser Valley, where sturgeon can be targeted from shore. Keep in mind, that there are many spots where one is able to fish from shore, that have not yet been discovered, or are not fished very often. It never hurts to try a new spot, you may think could work. All you got to lose is a little bit of time and maybe some gear. On the other hand, you could be rewarded with a honey hole that produces quality fish. Especially in the more populated areas of the lower Fraser Valley, there are many wharfs, docks, river mouths and other points of access, where sturgeon fishing is very good with fish in the 3-5ft. range. The gear used to fish from shore goes as follows:
Rod: 11-12' two piece bar fishing style rod; main advantage of such long rod is its ability to launch an 18oz. piece of lead a long way. Brands such as The Ugly Stick or Penn will do the trick.
Reel: one can opt for a standard large capacity spin-casting reel such as Diawa or Shimano to properly match the rod, or use a large capacity, deep sea fishing bait casting reel such as Penn 321 or 330. I like to use a bait-casting reel with my shore rod. The bait casters tend to have a much better drag system and are of better quality. The other advantage is that I can simply get away with having one reel. I just switch my bait-casting reel to my boat rod, and I am ready to go.
If you are lucky enough to fish from an anchored boat, your outfit will be a little different.
Rod: 7-8', one-piece rod will do you best. Many people use 6'Halibut rods such as Penn, which I find a little too short and stiff to enjoy a fight with a 4' fish. Much better and just as affordable are rods such as the Quantum Big Cat or Shimano Technium which are 7½-8' in length, with the top 1/3 of the rod very flexible and sensitive and the bottom 2/3 nothing but backbone.
Reel: Like I have mentioned above, a large line capacity, quality bait-casting reel is a must.
Well, you will need a lot of mainline on your reel. One can use either monofilament or braided line. I prefer braided line, as it is lot more durable and does not stretch on the hook set, which is critical. Sturgeon's mouth is made mainly of cartilage, so a good hook set is key. Lets say 100-130lb. braided line will be your best bet for main line. For a leader, use same as above. Some fisherman prefers the braided nylon sturgeon leader. Keep your leader in between 20" to 30" long. You will use a 1/0-2/0 swivel to connect your leader and main line. In between your weight and your knot on the main line, you will add at least a couple of large beads, to allow your weight to free slide nicely and to protect the weight from doing damage to your knot. You will use a California slider or a 1/0 2 way swivel to connect the weight to the main line.
As far as hook size is concerned, don' be shy. A sharp 7/0 to 9/0 will stick just fine. It is a good idea to match your hook size with the size of bait you are using.
For weight, it really depends on the water you are fishing, and the condition of the river. The faster the current, the more weight is required. I find 14-18 oz. weights work well in just about all conditions, with a 16oz. weight being the most commonly used.
The key to keeping a fish on following a hook set is to keep all your tackle in top shape. There is no room for error. I try to pull my rig out of the water very 20 minutes or so, to ensure that everything is the way it should be. You would be surprised what the Fraser can do to the end of your line.
Well, it all depends what time of the year you are fishing. As funny as this sounds, I look at sturgeon fishing kind of like fly-fishing. Instead of matching the hatch, your goal is to match the food that is floating down the river at the time. You also have your search patterns that will work year round.
The first major food source for sturgeon of each New Year, are Fraser River Eulachon. The migration of these fish takes place in April. Coincidently this is when sturgeon fishing picks up, as a general rule. This is probably the most aggressive feeding period for these fish. Fishing eulachon during April and the 1st part of May is your best bet.
Following the eulachon, the second major part of sturgeon diet is made up of salmon migrating up the Fraser River. As salmon migrate up river into their home streams, they die, following spawning among other causes. Also, anglers will discard remains of salmon they have caught into the river. Various remains of these salmon are the ticket from July to November. Some of the more popular remains anglers like to use include salmon bellies, roe, gills, or any other part of the salmon that will stay on the hook.
During odd years, millions of Pink Salmon migrate through the Fraser River. Anglers use Pink Salmon remains right through the end of September. In October and November, many Coho, and Chum salmon make their way in their spawning grounds. Some don't make it, and again, parts are discarded by sport anglers throughout those months. Remains of these fish, can also be used as Sturgeon bait. Between December and March, there is not very much for Sturgeon to feed on. Consequently, Sturgeon fishing slows down, especially for the bigger fish.
What to use in between all these runs of species of fish migrating through the Fraser? Well these are what I call my search patterns. Ditch Eels, Lampreys and Dew Worms make great sturgeon bait throughout the year. I have found on any given day these can out fish the "what's in season" baits. Your best bet is to pick these up in your local tackle shop. I find the key is to have a variety of baits available in order to find out what works best that day. You would be surprised what difference a day can make in appetite.
Just like with any other fish, finding sturgeon in the river is the key to success. These beasts are bottom feeders. Sturgeon for the most part, tend to concentrate in holes, seams or drop-offs within the river bottom. They also enjoy hanging out in back channels of the Fraser. These places tend to accumulate the food these fish are feeding on.
Besides dropping your bait into these spots, it also pays to fish the flats above and below the deeper spots. As far as the water depth is concerned, it is difficult to make a pattern. We have caught fish in 10 feet of water, and also in 65 feet of water. I find fishing 20 feet to about 40 feet deep to be the most productive.
Some of the other things that play a role during sturgeon fishing are the tide in the lower river, and dropping barometric pressure, which will tend to slow fishing down considerably. It usually does not pay to fish a location for more than 30 minutes. Either they are there and willing, or they are not.
OK, now that you are fishing for sturgeon with the right bait, using the right gear and pounding away at the right location, how do you actually catch one? Well patience is the name of the game. At times, takes can be very subtle. Always make sure your drag is not turned all the way in. The fish should be able to run with your bait if it had to. If it can't, say your good byes to your gear. However, most of the time, there will be a few small pulls before a fish decides to actually take you up on your offering. It can take up to 10 minutes for a fish to actually pick up your bait and run with it. The most common mistake is setting the hook too early. Wait until you feel a steady pull. As the sturgeon is pulling on your line, pick up your rod and point it towards the water. Pick up any slack line, and set the hook with authority.
When fishing for sturgeon from a boat, try to keep your boat as stable as possible. You are bound to hook more fish if you are not moving from side to side. This can be caused by strong wind, current, or the lack there of. Something that will improve the situation without great expense, is a medium size bucket with a hole cut through the center of it, tied to the back of the boat. It will help keep your boat more stable.
Please be careful when navigating yourself throughout the rivers. They are a lot more unpredictable than you may think. Keep in mind that this is a catch and release fishery. When you are out there, give each other a lot of room. These fish can take some long runs. Good luck out there chasing the Fraser River White Sturgeon.
Article by Radek Hanus of Double Header Sport Fishing