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Canada

 

2003

    Onto Canada 2004

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I'd like to thank my little Danish buddy, all round good egg, lucky gonk, David Beckham look-a-like and porn-star (his words, not mine) Morten Vihlmann Jensen for many of the photos in this section, since an incident on arrival at Vancouver Airport left me with only my spare (crappy) camera for the duration of the trip... luckily Morten's was the same model  as the one I broke, so at least I could find where the buttons were when I had to... which was good cos I spent much of the trip photographing him with his boatloads of fish.

"Squeal like a piggy boy!"

The fog clears over the Fraser River.

As the jumbo neared our touchdown in Vancouver, Morten, Johnny and myself gazed down upon the vastness of the Rocky Mountains as the sun set in the far distance, and right then I finally got some idea of just how stunning and just how big Canada really is. Vancouver Airport is also one of the nicest I've ever passed through- it even has a stream running through the middle of it (albeit an artificial one), and that somehow sets the scene for what you are about to be greeted by once you're out and into the country.

Even from the short time we spent there in 2003, you can tell that the Canadian people are understandably proud to live where they do. The way of life, the pace of life, the environment, the food, and not least the fishing, are all right at the very top of the tree. To stand on a boat on the Fraser River as the sun starts to burn away the morning mist, the distant mountains gradually coming into focus, while waiting for a Sturgeon to bite... well all I can say is that it makes you feel very lucky, and very glad to be alive. In fact, I remember as we were driving down through the mountains to the Harrison River one still and misty early-morning with one of our guides, Chris, he suddenly started banging on his steering wheel shouting 'Man! I love my country!!' at the top of his voice. And I personally have never felt like shouting that when driving through the Fens to the Middle Level for a Zander session.


The Gonk with a spectacular Chum Salmon.

The jammy suicidal Coho Salmon.

... and an example of the female of the species.

 

First Sturgeon.

Sturgeon with the roe-bait still in place.

 

Loser & female Pink on a Croc spoon. And this one was actually caught instead of snagged. For once.

 

There were heaps of Pink Salmon rotting on the bars.

 

A lovely sight below the boat. Kind of ugly, but not. If you know what I mean.

Morten in a familar stance for the week.

 

And the result was his first Sturgeon- a big 5ft 11inch slab.

Tony's first fish of the trip. Would you believe that his biggest fish before this was a 2ft long trout?!


The morning fog clears on the Fraser.

The view from the Mission boat ramp. If Dan had got hold of one of these, we'd have all been in trouble.

 

Checking for the digital tag under the skin of Morten's Sturgeon.

 

Dan & Morten waiting for action.

 

Chris & yours with a 'Double-header hook up' brace of 6 foot plussers hooked at the same time. Now that don't happen on the Trent.

 

"Good work Mort!"  One of a boatful with Chris and Morten on our last day in a fishing paradise.

Of all the species I've fished for abroad, and of all the places I've been, in my experience I think that fishing for Sturgeon and Salmon in Beautiful B.C. is one of the few "guaranteed's" out there (well, almost!). Indian Mahseer? Can be difficult. Keys Bonefish? Can be difficult. Mexican Roosterfish? Can be difficult. Spanish Comizo? Can be difficult. Canadian Sturgeon? Yeah- should get some of them. B.C. Salmon? Erm, difficult to avoid catching them mate! Its not exactly subtle... and it sure as hell ain't rocket science, but it's great fun! And that's in the most spectacular of surroundings too.

Morten, Johnny and myself met up with their other friends Thorke & Rasmus, who had already been out there a few days at the motel in Mission- right on the Fraser, and eventually Tony & Soren who would join us a day or so later, and it's safe to say that all of us had some fantastic fishing- and that's each and every day. The weather was perfect too, which really made the trip something special. So although I think I could make a tale out of every day we spent out there having fun with John, Dan and Chris (on the final day Morten and I had 14 Sturgeon in Chris's boat- 7 each, of which I think four were over 6 feet in length- simply out of this world!), it was the first day there which we spent fishing with Oly which really hit the spot- it certainly opened our eyes to what proper fishing should be like anyway. Oh, and I also hooked the biggest fish I think I have ever had on the end of my line- something I'll never, ever forget. So I have just decided to write a short piece about that magical day messing about down the river...

Every 'Odd' year about 9 million Pink Salmon enter the Fraser River to spawn, and here's Captain John Sheriff with a male of the species...

The day started very early due to the jet lag waking me up at 4am, and as I sat on the threshold of my motel door with a coffee looking at the glow of the streetlights in the thick fog, and listening to the monotonous, seemingly never-ending rumble of the distant freight trains, I was already tearing at the bit to get down to the river and set eyes on the place. However, some three hours later when we finally did get down onto the river, it was so foggy that we couldn't see it anyway! This pattern continued for the duration of our trip- with pea-soupers first thing in the morning, quickly burning away to bright, clear, warm Indian Summers in the afternoons- we were so lucky, because the day I was taxied back to the airport it was lashing down. That makes a change eh? Anyhow, we met up with the boys with the boats, and soon we were launching down at the Mission boat ramp- Morten and I in Oly's aluminium jet-boat, and Johnny, Thorke and Rasmus in Captain John's cruiser. I was amazed at the speed the jet boat took us up river- and we quickly left the others in our wake, heading up to the confluence of the Harrison and Fraser Rivers to start the day with 'a spot of salmon fishing old chap'.

As we took in the scenery on the way upriver, there were fish everywhere- dead ones, nearly dead ones, ones which were rotten but still alive, and of course loads which were very much alive. I have never seen so many salmon in my life!

Once we reached the popular fishing spot, the mist had cleared, and we could finally take in some of the breathtaking surroundings we were fortunate enough to find ourselves in- and there were salmon leaping at every point of the compass! It was incredible, so as Oly set the anchor and buoy, I'd soon grabbed my light spinning rod and was throwing a spoon out into the pacy flow. Morten wasn't many seconds behind me, and there were so many fish leaping that we both expected and instant hook up... but some half a dozen casts each later, neither of us had had so much as a knock- much to our surprise. 'Still, keep trying- they'll have it in the end!' I thought, while behind us Oly was busy setting up a spinning rod of his own. He soon flicked a spoon out into the current, let it drift round to the stern of the boat, put the rod in a holder and then took a seat up front. The rod sat in the holder right next to where I was stood for about a minute, juddering away in the flow as the the spoon did it's thing... when suddenly the rod surged right over to the butt and I had to grab it sharpish to stop it disappearing into the drink! I could hardly believe it, as a not inconsiderable salmon zipped up and down the river with the drag occasionally squealing as it tried to gain it's freedom. A very spirited scrap and some 5 minutes later, a beautiful, silver Coho Salmon of perhaps 12 to 15lbs lay beaten at the side of the boat. My first Canadian fish was swiftly hoisted aboard for a quick picture with yours truly and Oly, and then dropped back into it's watery home after a few seconds. Now how easy is that eh?! You don't even have to spin for them- they'll just attack the lures anyway!! You see, that was where Morten and me were going wrong, 'cos in our naivety we were actually trying.

The morning passed quickly, as we carried on spinning for the salmon, and since it was an 'odd year' there were millions upon millions of Pink Salmon at various stages of life/death or decomposition in the system (they run up river to spawn every second year), so we had no problem in taking our limit of 4 fish for the boat in next to no time- all fish hooked after that having to be returned to continue their journey upstream (if they can avoid the miles of nets spanning the river between here and the spawning grounds!)

 Other than the Coho, all of the fish taken to this point were Pinks... however, Morten soon hooked into a different kind of animal altogether! 'Yeah, Andy- I'm in!' he shouted... and in seconds his reel screamed and the line fizzed downstream following after what was quite obviously a complete lunatic of a fish. I have no idea how long the fight took to finish, but I do remember that Morten's arm was aching by the end of it. The fish ran, ran and ran again, but eventually it tired and was pumped alongside the boat, and there lay perhaps the most grotesque salmon I'd ever seen! As you'll see from the pictures, Morten's Chum (or Dog) Salmon was a really impressive looking fish, with a solid green-ochre body, striped with black and pink, and most imposing of all, a huge hooked-jaw tipped off with large stumpy teeth, very similar to canines (hence the name). And boy do they give good photo!

Morten went on to catch another of these incredible creatures from the shore later in the week- and this time he had to go running off down the shingle after it to keep up... Me? Well I managed to hook two of them (one was foul hooked in the dorsal- hmmm, fat chance with that!!), and the other did me over and broke the line- they really are that awesome! Fish returned (it took less time to recover than Mort did!), we carried on spinning a while longer, as Oly stripped the roe from the stomachs of the Pinks we'd already caught (we only kept females, because we needed the roe for Sturgeon bait), and then wrapped lumps of the bright orange eggs in nylon mesh to make up our bait-balls, ready for serious business of the soon approaching afternoon session...

The other guys had already headed off back downstream to begin their Sturgeon session further towards Mission by the time we upped anchor and left for a favourite spot that Oly had in mind. We drifted along, and soon Oly dropped anchor close to an area where a small tributary entered the main river. The sounder read 8 feet under the boat: "People say that Sturgeon don't go feeding in shallow water" he said "... but I know different!" Three rods were rigged up with the bait balls, 100lb B.S. Braid, 8/0 hooks and huge flat leads to counteract the heavy flow, and they were positioned at different points behind the stern. "I'll have this rod Mort" I said, "you have that one, and we'll do straws for the other". We did and he won it, but it mattered not, because within minutes my allotted rod tip was rattling away. 

Captain John tying up his roe-balls.

 And a demo of the finished article.

Morten strikes gold with another big Chum that had him running downriver after it!

The Lucky Gonk with a male Pink caught on a tuft of his own haircut.

Oly instructed me to lift the rod out of the holder and feel for the bite- and as I did so, a much more solid pull transmitted down the rod; 'Hit that one!' shouted our guide, so I did.. and I found myself attached to something heavy that was heading for Chilliwack! Due to the amount of debris, tree branches and other flotsam that had been left in the area by the tributary. Oly quickly unclipped the anchor and buoy, and we followed the Sturgeon out into the relatively clear water of the main flow. A couple of strong runs later, and after several leaps clear of the water in a vain attempt to shake free the hook, the fish was circling the boat doggedly, and soon a burst of bubbles on the surface indicated that it had finally tired, before rolling on the surface and being hoisted from the water. The fish was placed in a cradle in the boat, and measured at just over five feet, if I remember rightly. Only a small one really- but my first ever Sturgeon, and I was left to wonder just what damage a really big one would do to us! The prehistoric kipper was checked and found to be free of tags, so Oly carefully recorded the details of the capture, then inserted a tiny digital tag under the skin on the back of it's head- all part of the ongoing conservation and study programmes going on out there- before dropping it over the side to disappear back into the murky Fraser. 
Handshakes all round, and back upstream we went- with the distinct feeling that life doesn't get much better than this!

Back and clipped up to the buoy and anchor again; "All Rods are yours now Morten- well, til you get one anyway". 


They can even be kinda cute from this angle.


And if the scenery wasn't pretty enough, the Canadians would just change it around for us. Nice touch you guys.

He was only too pleased to get in the chariot, so to speak, and again we didn't have to wait too long for action. One of the rods started trembling, then pulled over, and another big fish was stuck on the end of the line. This one was bigger than the one we had released only a few moments ago, and Morten hung on to the doubled-over rod as a big lump of fish just exploded from the water some 40 or 50 metres from the boat, leaving the both of us struck with awe! Again we drifted down river as the Gonk battled it out with his powerful, stubborn adversary. Alongside the boat, it became clear that the fish was too big to lift aboard, so it was gently towed to a nearby sandy-bank while still on the line, and we jumped ashore to do all the necessary photos and records... 

Our Sturgeon friend had other plans. And as Mort stood ankle deep in the margins, the fish did an about turn- freshened by a second wind no doubt- and struck off out for the centre of the river; and all he could do was watch the line leave the spool again! I think it must have taken him another 15 minutes to beach the fish eventually, and, if I remember rightly the length was recorded at 5 feet 11 inches- a nice fish, Oly informed us- but not a 'mamoot'! As far as we were concerned though, it was quite big enough to keep us contented! We did all the photos and science stuff in the edge of the river, before it was dragged back out to deeper water and released unharmed- and Morten's grin stretched from ear to ear. 

Excellent- you know, that really is what it's all about. A perfect start to the Sturgeon career... but the day was far from over yet, and we quickly motored the boat back to clip up on the buoy to the anchor rope again.

A short while later the baits were all out in position and we sat back with a beer to await developments...

But only very briefly. One of the rods suddenly began to tremble again, so I removed it from the holder, and waited tensely for some 'commitment', as they call it out there. A moment or so later, we got 'committed', and as I pulled the rod back to set the hook, I could only feel a fairly lightweight resistance at the other end, and I looked up to notice a small disturbance on the surface;
"It's only a small one", I said.
"You sure?" said Oly
"Think so......" I replied. And then suddenly the rod arched right over to the corks, the reel started emptying of line, and the biggest fish I have ever hooked exploded from the water some 40 metres back from the boat!
"Shiiiiit!" shouted our guide, "That's over 8 feet! Morten - get the other rods in, we're gonna have to follow this one!!!" As Oly went to the bow to unclip from the buoy again, my legs had turned to mush as the heavy braid simply melted from the reel.

Bright sunshine and a big fish in the boat. British Columbia is great.

But they're bloody heavy.

But if things weren't hairy enough, well, they then took a turn for the worse, because straight after reeling in rod number two Morten just grabbed and struck in time as rod three threatened to disappear into the Fraser! So we now had two on at the same time, and Mort's proved it was no puppy either by heading straight out for mid-river, but at about 90 degrees to the direction in which the monster was heading. Problem time...

We were soon adrift in the powerful, oily flow of the river and it became apparent that my lump had managed to get the line under one of the many trees littering the river bed in the area, and I could feel the heavy braid sawing against the obstruction. I was convinced it was going to break at any second. Meanwhile Morten's was behaving itself quite nicely by just chugging around under the boat. Now, I was taking not-a-lot of notice of what the other fish was doing, since I was more worried about getting the one on my line out of the tree and up to the boat. But soon I was aware that Oly and Morten had, between them, lifted his fish into the boat at some point, and it was quickly laid into the stretcher like cradle on the boat and bucketed down with water. At this point we slowly slid the boat back upstream until we were over the snag... and then suddenly, with a sharp jerk on the rod, the line sprung free. A wave of relief swept over me:
"We're back in" I said, suddenly confident that maybe this could just turn out ok in the end.

Oly looked at his watch. 'Ok man, you've been with this one 40 minutes, so I reckon you got at least another hour to hour and half with her. We got one safe and sound, now lets just make sure we get this one'.
"No problem', I replied. 'As long as it takes..."

Then suddenly, not 20 yards from the stern of the boat, the fish crashed from the surface again, making a huge, slow-motion arc as it fell back with a crash through the surface in a similar fashion to those breaching whales I've seen on Discovery Channel. The fish was enormous- maybe- and I'm only guessing here - 18 inches across the back. I'll never forget that sight for as long as I live, and for literally seconds I just stood with my mouth aghast at what we'd just seen.

The fish sounded down deep, and we drifted across until we were right above the top of it. The line was almost all back onto the reel, and although I was a bit worried at the state that some areas of it was in cos it resembled wool rather than fishing line, I was just getting dug in for the war of attrition; feeling confident that the battle could now be won.
"As long as it takes... As long as it takes....."

And then the rod slapped back, the line fell limp and fluttered through the air, and I felt that hollow, sick feeling in the pit of the stomach that only the loss of a huge fish can bring. The line had worn through and finally given away... nothing that could be helped or done about it- just plain bad luck. What can you say when you've just hooked the biggest fish you've ever seen in your life?

We photographed and recorded the science for Morten's fish again (which was over 5 feet in length- again), and all was a little quiet for a while as we made our way back to the spot way back upstream to start fishing again. Suffice to say, we caught some more smaller Sturgeon from the same spot for an hour or so before the bites tailed off. So at this point we started to head back in the direction of the boat ramp, but with the aim of dropping in at one last spot to finish the day- another of Oly's favourites.

Sure enough, within 20 minutes of dropping anchor we were in action again, and went on to catch yet more Sturgeon- another three- all of them nice fish in the 5 feet sort of range which scrapped all the way to the boat, and by now I remember we had become so accustomed to them we were dragging them into the boat ourselves without the need for help from our guide, giving him more time for a smoke his tabs and knock back Smirnoff Ice. Just how cocky can you get in one day's Sturgeon fishing?

As Morten said "That was on roe, yes? I thought so, because in my Sturgeon experience roe is always the best bait..."

At the end of the day, two happy anglers headed back to shore (even despite the lost monster). We met up with Johnny and the other boys, and everyone had caught some great fish. The sun had shone non-stop, the fish had bitten non-stop and the crack had been top drawer. Perfect.
"Today," said Morten as we pulled up at the jetty, "Was the best day fishing I have had in my life".

John, Chris, Oly and Dan were great fun to fish with- albeit that the local customs took a little getting used to for us cultured Europeans. I think it must have had something to do with being raised out there in the wilderness, hand in hand with Mother Nature and Grizzly Adams as their therapist. Those poor, poor Sturgeon.

If the first day was great, the rest of the week was just as good... and the final day on the water saw Morten and I teamed up with Chris on a hectic day that saw Sturgeon after Sturgeon messing up the immaculate deck of his boat and double-header-hook-ups occurring regularly as the sun beat down from a cloudless sky. Just the best.

Needless to say, before we'd even got the taxi out of Mission we were straight onto the plans for a return trip in 2004.  After all, it's just plain rude not to ain't it purdy boy?

Johnny plays out a Sturgeon...

...and with the fruits of his toils.

Dan chucks out the drogues to steady the boat in the flow.

Up in the wilderness, all the while you have the feeling you're being watched...

Which is not surprising in the Backwoods of BC...

Dan with his little pet. It good that the guides think of the fish with such affection.

But there's a line...

... and Dan crossed it by bloody yards...

...and finally homed in for the kill with Morten. Scary shit!

Onto Canada 2004 Return To Home
 

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