If you’re a passionate freshwater angler looking for your next great feat, you can’t do any better than the mighty Sturgeon. These prehistoric behemoths are your ultimate challenge, providing an adventure that you’ll remember as long as you live.
There are only a few places in North America where you can target these beasts, and British Columbia, Canada is at the top of the list. But what makes Sturgeon fishing in BC so unique?
Well, let’s start with the fact that you don’t need to trudge deep into the wild to find your fish. Fraser River is the place to be! And not only are Sturgeon here abundant, but they’re also huge – often bigger than anglers targeting them. Finally, there are plenty of professionals on the river guiding Sturgeon-oriented fishing trips, which is always a plus.
Take a look at what you can expect when you book a Sturgeon fishing trip in British Columbia.
Sturgeon Species You Can Target
Going after the largest freshwater fish on the continent is one of those amazing moments you’ll talk to your grandkids about. Sturgeon fishing in BC is an intense experience that requires a great amount of strength, and the thrill of the battle is intoxicating.
In British Columbia, Sturgeon are revered and protected, so all the fishing is strictly catch and release. Both White Sturgeon and Green Sturgeon live in the province’s waters, but you’ll fish exclusively for White Sturgeon. Green Sturgeon are considered endangered, so if they’re caught as bycatch, they must be released immediately.
Sturgeon are known for their eggs, which make for the world’s best caviar. What makes it even more coveted is the fact that it’s rare – Sturgeon spawn only once every decade. That’s why many subspecies of this fish have been driven to extinction, and why Sturgeon are now protected by law.
The White Sturgeon is the star of the show in British Columbia. When you hit the water, it’s this fish you’ll be chasing. A unique appearance that hasn’t changed for millions of years, as well as its size, is what sets this fish apart from anything else you’ve ever caught.
They can be anywhere from 4–10 feet long, with the weight in the 50–250-pound ballpark. There are also monsters in the Fraser River that can be as big as 1,000 pounds. Just imagine having something that big pulling on the line, and it’ll get your blood pumping!
There’s no way you’ll mistake White Sturgeon (or any Sturgeon, really) for other fish. Instead of scales, they’re armored with bony plates (scutes) that protrude from the upper part of their bodies. They live along the murky and silty river bottom, using the four barbels around their mouths to smell for food.
When they locate their prey, they’re able to extend their mouths and suck it in. This is why smelly bait works so well for Sturgeon – they can smell it from very far away.
If the Sturgeon’s size and strength aren’t enough to tempt you, then their acrobatic mastery surely will. These giants of the deep are known for their aerial displays and will wow you with their hand-jerking headshakes. You’ll recognize White Sturgeon by their stark white lower bodies. This sets them apart from their cousins.
This ancient species can live up to 100 years, which is a very long life span for a fish. They can move back and forth from freshwater to saltwater, though BC Sturgeon usually stay in the rivers. This is why you can target them all year round.
Different parts of the river have different seasons, so it’s best to talk to your guide before your trip. That way, you’re sure to come during the high season and have a blast.
As we mentioned, in British Columbia, Green Sturgeon are under government protection, and they’re never directly targeted. The two species are quite similar, but if you know where to look, you can easily spot the differences.
While White Sturgeon always have completely white undersides, Green Sturgeon have a visible olive-colored stripe down their bellies. While Greens have scutes around dorsal fin, Whites don’t have any, which is another sure sign of what fish you’re handling. Finally, Green Sturgeon have more scutes on their sides (up to 48), while Whites have fewer (up to 30).
If you hook a Green Sturgeon by accident, you shouldn’t take it out of the water under any circumstances, not even to snap photos. Green Sturgeon have official endangered status, so for their own good, you should release them immediately and as gently as possible. If you’re in the mood to take photos with your prey, you have White Sturgeon to do just that.
Top Spots for Sturgeon Fishing in BC
There are several rivers in British Columbia where Sturgeon live – the Kootenay, Nechako, Columbia, and Fraser Rivers. However, you can only target this fish on the Fraser River.
The main reason why fishing is closed on other rivers is that the White Sturgeon population has been overfished in the past. Also, the dams that sprung up all over the rivers have made it difficult for Sturgeon to move and survive.
Thanks to the regulations and attention of local guides, Fraser River’s Sturgeon remain strong and thriving. This allows for excellent recreational fishing all year for the incredible fish that roam the river’s waters.
The Lower and Middle sections of the Fraser River are open for Sturgeon fishing in BC, and this is also the stretch where the action is at its best. Here, sustainable recreational fishing has been flourishing for over 25 years and there’s no sign of it slowing down.
The Lower Fraser area is divided into tidal and non-tidal portions of the river. You can find Whites in the middle section all the way up to Prince George. This gives anglers hundreds of miles of river to explore, and every part of it requires a different approach.
The Lower Fraser River
The lower section of the Fraser stretches from the Strait of Georgia in Vancouver to Hope, and this is the “more civilized” part of the river.
You can cast your line in the tidal area, nestled between the ocean estuaries and Mission. Here, the fishing grounds could be a short walk from one of the area’s sights. One crucial thing to remember is that you should fish either during an incoming or outgoing tide. This is important because you need moving water to carry the smell of your bait that’ll tickle the Sturgeon’s fancy.
The non-tidal Fraser River flows from Mission all the way to Hope, giving aspiring anglers over 55 miles of water to prowl. Chilliwack is one of the most popular destinations where fishermen like to gather, find their guides, and start their Sturgeon hunt.
There are spots where you can fish from land, but the river is mostly inaccessible because of the steep shores. If you want to have a productive trip here, going fishing with a charter captain is practically a must.
The Middle Fraser River
The middle part of the river hides some of the richest fishing spots, but it’s also the most unpredictable part. The mid-section is over 100 miles long, with Hope and Lillooet as its end markers.
Here, you can expect fast running waters, treacherous terrain, and a lot of hungry and huge Sturgeon. Fishing on the middle section isn’t for the faint of heart, because the river will take you for an exciting – if sometimes terrifying – ride. Cutting its way through the wilderness, the Fraser is surrounded by canyons and unstable shores. While this means it’s difficult to reach the water, it makes for fantastic fishing, because the pressure is off.
However, getting to the best grounds usually requires whitewater boating and maneuvering your way around rapids. This makes the middle Fraser perfect for adrenaline junkies, but it’s a far cry from a quiet day of fishing. Still, the scenery is awe-inspiring and the fish are voracious, so if you crave the adrenaline rush, you’re going to love it here.
One of the best fishing spots on the whole river is the Fraser River Canyon, with its turbulent current and steep gorges. Because fishing here can be challenging, there aren’t as many guides that run trips in the area. Make sure you find an experienced professional that can keep you safe and put you on your next great catch.
Exploring the Holes of the Fraser River
This might seem like a strange title, but let us elaborate! White Sturgeon are mostly bottom dwellers, so the deeper and darker the water, the better. This is why the many holes along the bottom of the Fraser River serve as Sturgeon habitats.
That’s not to say that these living fossils don’t change their surroundings. On the contrary, Sturgeon move around, and you can find them on all levels of the water column. However, they prefer a murky domain for spawning and congregating. That’s why there are some holes along the river’s bottom that are worth mentioning – they also make for the best fishing grounds.
You can find a good number of holes around Mission, both in the tidal and non-tidal parts. Cast your lines around Fort Langley hole and Stave River confluence – the bite will not disappoint.
Head east out of Mission, and you won’t travel long before you hit Catermoles, Mossy Rocks, and MacDonald’s landing, among many others. You can find Sturgeon in some of these holes year-round, so whenever you go, chances are you’re going to have fun.
Hatzic Hole is probably the best known Sturgeon hangout spot, and it also happens to be one of the deepest holes in the river. If you decide to fish here, you could land a lunker or a juvenile specimen, depending on your luck.
A lot of Whites spend their winters here, away from the cold. During the rest of the year, you can find as many anglers on the water as there are Sturgeon in the water!
Types of Fishing
Like we mentioned before, the Fraser River has a calmer, tamer side, as well as an unpredictable temperamental side. Anglers looking to experience Sturgeon fishing in BC for the first time should get informed and choose their playground wisely before the big day.
Fishing on Your Own
When you’re going after a mammoth that is Sturgeon, fishing on your own can be a bit tricky. Not just because it’ll be harder to find a good angling spot, but also because handling a 6′ White is serious business. It’s highly recommended that you have extensive experience in Sturgeon fishing if you’re coming to the Fraser on your own.
Your best bet is to head to the lower section of the river. The closer you are to the ocean, the more access you’ll have to the river, and the less you’ll have to travel to get there. The river’s estuary in Vancouver boasts some amazing fishing opportunities, both for Sturgeon and other species. Chilliwack, Mission, and even Agassiz further upstream all offer rod-bending action.
Fishing with a Charter
When you decide to go Sturgeon fishing in BC, one thing’s for sure – you’ll have plenty of charters to choose from. The Fraser River is a popular angling destination, so there’s a lot of supply for your demand.
We suggest looking for Sturgeon-oriented guides and trips so that you can fully focus on your prey of choice, and have a highly experienced expert to guide you. There’s usually a wide array of options when it comes to trips, but full day and multi-day trips guarantee a lot of success. Captains often suggest booking several days, so that you have plenty of time to explore different fishing spots.
Some packages are all-inclusive, so you don’t have to worry about lodging or food, while others aren’t. It’s important to communicate with your guide beforehand to set the right expectations and come prepared.
The best destinations to find an excellent charter are Lillooet, Hope, Chilliwack, Mission, and Abbotsford.
Tips About Gear
If you’re a solo angler and you’ve already decided that Fraser River is your next destination, here are some tips that will help you prepare. One of the first things to pack is strong, heavy tackle that will be able to deliver your prey to you without breaking.
Locals usually use 50–80 lb test rods, often even stronger. Braided line is a must, as well as very large hooks that can withstand the strength of a Sturgeon.
Because scutes can be very sharp, you’ll want to have thick gloves with you to handle the fish without hurting it or yourself. Also consider investing in waders, because you’ll have to jump into the water if you want to take photos with your catch.
Now we come to the most important part, bait. Sturgeon love to eat but to have the best result, you should choose your bait wisely. Seasoned local anglers love to talk about “matching the hatch,” AKA using seasonal bait to attract Sturgeon’s attention. It’s very important to know what these fish eat every season of the year, so that you can tempt them with that.
For example, in early spring, eulachon (also known as candlefish) are at the top of the Sturgeon’s menu. Warmer weather announces the arrival of Salmon, and Salmon roe is by far Sturgeon’s favorite food.
In general, Chinook and Chum eggs are the most productive. You should pay attention to which species is in the river when you go fishing and choose eggs accordingly. Be careful when buying Salmon eggs – you want them to be fresh. Sturgeon have a refined sense of smell, and they will not be impressed or enticed by spoiled eggs. In late autumn, switch to smelly Salmon flesh and it will pay off big time.
Fishing Licences and Regulations
Sturgeon fishing in BC is very well regulated in order to preserve and protect the healthy population of Whites. You’re not allowed to fish for Sturgeon anywhere else apart from the Fraser River.
Before the trip, you’re obligated to get a freshwater fishing licence, as well as a White Sturgeon Conservation Licence. Licences usually aren’t included in the price of the fishing trip, so make sure you buy one before the expedition.
Some guides are members of the Fraser River’s Sturgeon Conservation Society. They participate in tagging and then tracking the movement of Sturgeon around the river to better understand and protect them. If you pick one of the conservationist captains, you’ll have the chance to be a part of the process as well, which is a memorable experience in itself.
Sturgeon: A Force to Be Reckoned With
British Columbia is home to some of the most prized fish on the continent, and White Sturgeon is in the top five of that list. Recreational fishermen who are ready for their final sprint to greatness will sooner or later find themselves on the Fraser River. Battling and landing this living dinosaur is a badge of honor among avid fishers, and Sturgeon fishing in BC is your ticket to anglers’ stardom.