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Sturgeon Release From The Boat

Sturgeon Release From The Boat

The Fraser river’s iconic white sturgeon have seen their popularity grow considerably in the last 30 years, especially for anglers locally and from abroad.  Having a photograph with these living dinosaurs is an incredible experience.  With current Provincial Ministry handling guidelines recommending how to look after these fish during photographs and during the fish’s release, we are doing everything we can to ensure these fish remain healthy by reducing unnecessary handling.

Taking a fish to shore is necessary for any fish that is 150 cm fork length or longer if you wish to tag and/or photograph the sturgeon.  This is for the safety of the fish.  However, this can become quite time consuming.  It can unnecessarily lengthen the angling time for the sturgeon,  and you have to find the right spot to land.  In some cases, the fish can be moved considerable distance from where it was hooked to accomplish the requirements of tagging and measuring the fish for the data base that is overseen by the Fraser River White Sturgeon Conservation Study (FRSCS), and for a photograph.  In terms of tagging the sturgeon, please follow the guidelines outlined by the FRSCS.   As for a photograph from the side of the boat, you can become quite creative with boatside release photographs and get interesting results and perspectives.  A little experimentation goes a long way.

The shape of the sturgeon is perfectly suited to be in the Fraser river’s powerful flow, and holding a sturgeon by the side of the boat is easier than you may think.  Holding the lower lip of the sturgeon with your “upstream” hand while they are rolled over on their back works very well.  The secret is to keep the snout of the sturgeon on the water line and let the softer current gently lift the fish as it glides on the water like an airplane wing on the wind.  Lifting the head  or the tail creates a curl in the fish’s body and greatly increases resistance to the flow, making it difficult to hold the fish so keep the fish’s head down on the waterline and you will feel virtually no pull on the fish as the water glides over its body.  While the fish is upside down, you will quickly notice how calm the sturgeon becomes – this is common.  Watch the operculum (gill plates) of the fish at the side of the boat, and you will notice them moving in and out while the fish replenishes oxygen and regains strength.  Roll the fish towards you by using your downstream hand to grab the pectoral fin.  You will sense the increasing strength of the fish and feel the fish ready to pull away from you.  Ensure the fish is truly ready to leave under its own steam.  Being in moderately moving water that is smooth and steady, and not too fast will improve the sturgeon’s release time and its ability to recuperate.  If I am “off anchor” and I feel the river current is a bit too slow, or there is wind moving the boat in a direction where the fish is not facing into the river’s current, I often use my kicker motor on the back of the boat to straighten the boat out or to offer some suitable current for the fish to respirate in.  Anytime during this process is a perfect time for a photograph, which is usually taken from the transom of the boat facing the bow.  With new camera sticks and GoPro adapters, the sky is the limit.  Drone shots are amazing!  Release videos are certainly my favorite – it’s great to watch them power off!

The advantage of boat releases are obvious and favour the fish by shortening the angling time, and avoiding excessive handling.  The question really boils down to “how many sturgeon pictures does an angler need?”.  The adventure is in the fishing for them and being in the Fraser’s surroundings, and the catching is also an amazing experience.  Try a limit of pictures by taking a picture of a good representative fish, or your first, or your biggest at the shore if need be.  Give the rest of the fish a break and release them by the gunnels.  Boatside releases are amazing experiences, too!

Sturgeon Release on the Fraser river

Thanks to Carla Marie for this great shot of a 7 1/2 footer at the side of the boat.

Fraser River Sturgeon Drone Shot

A terrific shot of a boat side release from Paul G’s drone.


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