You may want to think twice about taking a dip in British Columbia’s Fraser River. This week, it was the site of an exceptionally large catch. Three Calgary men, Alex Kirk, Tom Kirk, and Terry Jacobson, caught an 800 lb. white sturgeon. At 11-feet long, the fish measured about the size of a small car. And with ridge-like spikes lining its back and an extended snout, the fish looked like something dragged out of the Mesozoic Era.
While the details of the story might sound fishy, Steve Kaye, owner and operator of Sturgeon Hunter, the fishing charter that guided the men, says it is unequivocally true. “It was a massive fish in length and overall size,” Kaye says.
About 10 minutes after the men had anchored themselves in the river, the sturgeon exploded from the water 50 feet behind the boat, chomping down on the line. Kaye had used a lamprey eel as bait, drawing the fish in. White sturgeons are predatory creatures, preying on minnows, eels, and whatever other small fish happen to be in the river.
According to Kaye, the men trolled the fish for about eight kilometres, fighting it the entire way. “We had a lot of things go wrong,” he says, “and we had to endure through it.” At one point, the reel of their fishing rod broke, hampering the men from reeling the sturgeon in. “I had to take another rod, cut the line, and splice it [in] to continue on,” Kaye says.
Finally, they got the fish into shallow waters where it calmed down. The men were able to wade into the water with the fish and take pictures before releasing it back into the river.
While a sturgeon of this size is rare, Kaye says the Fraser River is known for its big game fishing. “The Fraser River is now a worldwide destination for anglers,” he says. Kaye gets clients from the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, and all over Canada; each hoping for the opportunity to catch a white sturgeon.
“I’ll catch somewhere between 600 and 1,000 sturgeon a year on my charters,” Kaye says. Of those catches, approximately 40 of them will be eight feet or longer. “Eight feet is sort of a hallmark. That’s a 300-plus pound sturgeon,” he says. “That’s kind of what people are shooting for.”
To handle fish this big, Kaye uses custom-built, aluminum boats, specifically designed for catching sturgeon and navigating river conditions. “You have to deal with debris and shallows and all that kind of stuff,” he says. Not to mention having the horse power to wrestle with hundred-pound fish.
Kaye theorizes that the mind-boggling size of these fish is a trait inherited from ancient ancestors. “I mean these are prehistoric fish,” he says. They have the ability and the genetics to get very big.
While Kaye has caught hundreds of sturgeons throughout his fishing career—he’s been operating since 1994—he has only ever caught two over 10 feet. According to Kaye, the average size of an adult white sturgeon ranges from six to eight feet in length. And the fish can live anywhere between 30 to 80 years, with some growing as old as 150.
Based on the size of the fish the men caught, Kaye estimates that this one has lived a very long life. “That 11-footer was probably 130 to 150 years old,” he says. “A very unique fish.”