Fraser River Sturgeon – How to Catch a 50-Year-Old Virgin Sturgeon

“This one’s a virgin!” our guide Chad pronounced as he scanned the body of the 39-kg (86 pound) white sturgeon we had just pulled out of the mighty Fraser River in British Columbia. Fortunately for the fish, he wasn’t referring to sexual status, but to the fact that it had never been caught and tagged before. When I asked him to estimate the age of the massive fish, Chad said he figured it was about 50 years old. Our guide carefully examined the fish, recorded several measurements and then placed a tiny electronic PIT tag just under the skin using a special needle. Then we gently lowered the fish back into the water and watched it swim away.

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Guided Sturgeon Fishing on the Fraser River

Like most fishing expeditions, our day had begun early. Our family had left a comfortable hotel room at around 7:30 AM on a slightly overcast spring morning and headed out to the docks in front of Harrison Hot Springs Resort. From Harrison Lake, you have to travel about 15-km up the Harrison River by motorboat to reach the Fraser River. Wildlife is abundant and as you travel along the river you can spot bald eagles, osprey, herons, harbor seals and black bears. We enjoyed watching the wildlife and reveled in the scenery. 

An image of the scenery along the Fraser River.
The scenery is stunning along the Fraser River. Photo credit: Destination-BC/Michael-Bednar

Eventually, our guide pulled the boat up alongside a log jam in the middle of the river and began baiting our hooks with salmon eggs, eel, and a small smelt known as a “hooligan.”

We then cast out the lines and waited for something to happen. Three hours later, we were still waiting. We were all excited when our son, Kolby set the barbless hook on our first sturgeon and began reeling it in. Sturgeon can be strong fighters that battle you all the way to the boat and after about ten minutes, Kolby landed a 5-kg (11 pound) sturgeon. We weighed and measured it, scanned the PIT tag and recorded the site where it was caught before releasing it back into the water.  

An image of a young man holding a white sturgeon.
We were on the river for three hours before our oldest son, Kolby landed a fish. Photo by Greg Olsen.

It wasn’t long before we had another bite. This time Brady managed to set the hook on our biggest sturgeon yet. We could tell almost immediately that this fish was much bigger than the previous one had been. It took about twenty minutes of hard work to bring it to the boat and each of us took a turn reeling in the river monster.

An image of four children holding a white sturgeon in the Fraser River.
A picture of our fifty-year-old virgin sturgeon. Photo by Greg Olsen.

It wasn’t until we got it onboard that we realized it was a virgin catch, so Chad carefully inserted the microchip and documented the size and place it was caught before we released the fish back into the water. As we watched it swim off, we couldn’t help thinking that our date with a fifty-year-old virgin had been the highlight of our trip to British Columbia. Looking back, it ranks as one of the best fishing adventures we ever had.  

Here’s a short video of four men trying to hang onto a monster sturgeon. Video credit: Tourism British Columbia.

What Exactly is a PIT Tag?

PIT stands for “passive integrated transponder.” Each tag has a unique multi-digit code that can be read when the PIT tag is activated by a PIT tag reader. Tags are used by researchers to identify individual fish and track movements, growth and survival of fish. The Fraser River Sturgeon tagging program was initiated in 1999 by the Fraser River Sturgeon Society, in an effort to monitor and make recommendations to maintain the habitat and restore the sturgeon population. Each fish raised in a hatchery receives a tag before it is released into the wild. When a fish is caught, it is measured for length and girth and tagged before it is released. If it has already been tagged, it is measured and the numbers are recorded as well as the site where it was caught, so that fisheries personal can track the movements of sturgeon.

An image of a sturgeon being tagged with a PIT tag.
Every sturgeon that is caught in the Fraser River is tagged with a PIT device. Photo by Greg Olsen.

More British Columbia Adventures: Read our post, A Historic Holiday in Cranbrook, BC.

About the White Sturgeon

White sturgeon look positively prehistoric and they are. Sturgeon have been called living fossils, because the first evidence of their existence appears in the fossil record about 200 million years ago. The white sturgeon is the largest freshwater fish in North America. Two rows of bony plates run along the back of the fish. Coloring ranges from grey to brownish on the dorsal side and is paler on the ventral side. Barbels are situated near the snout of the fish. Scientists still have much to learn about these fish. We do know that they have long lifespans and they grow very large. The maximum published weight of a white sturgeon was 816 kg (1,799 pounds). The fish was estimated to be 104-years-old.

An image of a white sturgeon up close.
The sturgeon is a prehistoric fish and it looks the part. Photo by Greg Olsen.

Lower Fraser River Sturgeon Conservation Tags

You need a fishing license and a sturgeon conservation tag in order to fish for sturgeon in the Lower Fraser River. Fishing is catch and release only. Sturgeon populations have been declining in the lower Fraser River. Habitat damage from farming and logging operations seems to be a major contributing factor. Controls have been put on catch and release fishing in certain areas to protect spawning habitat and ensure catch and release fishing does not interfere with reproduction. Conservation efforts are helping to ensure the stability of the population of sturgeon in the Lower Fraser River. Taking a guided tour with a responsible operator helps ensure you are fishing with conservation in mind.

Fishing in the Lower Fraser River

The four main species of sport fish in the Lower Fraser River are white sturgeon, steelhead trout, cutthroat trout and salmon. All five species of Pacific salmon can be found on the Fraser River. Each species enters the river at a slightly different time of year. 

An image of a young man fishing.
Fishing for sturgeon on the Fraser River is an experience of a lifetime. Photo by Greg Olsen.

How to Arrange a Guided Sturgeon Fishing Trip on the Fraser River

You can catch sturgeon year round in the Fraser River, but spring and fall are the peak seasons. We stayed at Harrison Hot Springs Resort and arranged our guided fishing trip with Harrison Bay Lodge. Fishing packages vary in price, but Fraser River Day Trips start at $450. You can also purchase packages that include accommodations at the Harrison Hot Springs Resort, breakfast and fishing.

More River Adventures: We took a guided birding tour along a river near San Blas, Mexico and Loved it! Read our post.

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