Last summer my family and I tried fishing up in Northern Saskatchewan. We had a great weekend, but we caught nothing. I wasn't too disappointed though, as I have never actually caught a fish. After 25 years of fishing and failing, I have officially given up on the sport.
That is until I was invited to visit Medicine Hat, Alberta and go sturgeon fishing on the South Saskatchewan River. I was hesitant, but I said yes. I really didn't want to spend eight hours out on the water just to come home empty-handed, but I figured to give it one more shot.
My guide for the day, Brent Thorimbert, picked me up at my hotel around 8:30 a.m. and drove us to a valley located just outside of Medicine Hat. We got out on the water about 9 a.m. and arrived at our fishing spot twenty minutes later. Brent explained that sturgeon fish are "bottom feeders" so they swim along the bottom of the riverbed and eat up bugs and small fish. Our fishing lines were weighted for this very reason. The bait should sit on the riverbed and would get sucked up by an unsuspecting sturgeon.
Even if we caught a sturgeon, we wouldn't be able to keep it. Years ago, the provincial policy was "one sturgeon per Albertan", but as time passed, the sturgeon population started to decline. A law was then enacted nationwide that all sturgeon that are caught were to be released, and the population has since recovered.
After a half hour of nothing but mooneyes and goldeyes stealing our bait, we got our first major bite. Before Brent could pull up the rest of our lines, we got a second bite too. Suddenly we had two sturgeon hooked! Brent talked me through it as he wrestled with his own fish. He explained that the trick when fishing for sturgeon is to tire them out. Sturgeon fish don't give up easily and will fight you until they exhaust themselves. You can fight back by keeping the rod bent and by constantly pulling them towards the boat. The fish will then swim around the boat, trying to unhook themselves – and occasionally get tangled in the fishing line. A few times I maneuvered my rod to "roll" the fish over to get them untangled; only to have them start fighting all over again.
I'm not sure how long it took to tire the fish out, but I think it was close to half an hour. This was both because of my inexperience with the fish sturgeon, and fish of that size. When we finally got the fish out of the water and weighed it, I discovered it was 36 pounds!
As this was my first ever fish, I was amazed by it, and a little grossed out. I knew fish were slimy, but I didn't realise just how much they were until I got some of their slime on me. Once I cleaned up, I had to get back to work and go after Brent's fish.
His fish ended up only being 30 pounds. After my 36 pounder, I figured I had caught my best fish of the day and the remaining six hours would be full of chum. But shortly after that, we caught another sturgeon! It got away while we were trying to get it into the boat, but within 20 minutes we had another one on the line. After about our fifth fish, we took a break for lunch.
While eating, I mentioned to Brent that I had a strange rash on my arm from where I was holding the fish. Although Brent told me to hold the fish under its fins, I couldn't get my hand wrapped around its girth so I used my forearm. Brent explained that the rash was caused by the abrasive underbelly of the sturgeon. With a similar texture to sandpaper, the bottom of the fish kicks up dirt and rocks while searching the riverbed for food. When the fish's underbelly comes in contact with human skin, it leaves a rash and very small cuts.
Shortly after lunch we caught another sturgeon. When I saw it in the water, I knew it was bigger than my 36 pounder. We fought for a few minutes before I finally got it on board. Brent weighted it and saw it was only slightly heavier, at 40 pounds. He asked if I wanted a picture of it but I declined.
A couple hours later and our fishing adventure was wrapping up. Brent asked if I wanted to go over where we heard splashing (sturgeon occasionally jump out of the water to knock jelly-like parasites off their body) or over to where he caught his biggest fish of the season a few months ago. I chose the location of the biggest fish since I figured nothing would top my 40 pounder.
We cast out our lines and waited. Not much happened at first. Brent said he'd caught an 87 pound sturgeon out here in June, but that it was possible they'd already swam towards Manitoba. About a half hour later we cast our lines again and gave it one last try. Suddenly, one rod jerked to the left. Something big had taken the bait! When I grabbed the rod, I felt how powerful this fish was by the way it was stealing our line. Brent saw this too, so he unanchored the boat, turned on the engine and went after it. We only had 100 feet of fishing line to work with and the fish was quickly eating it up.
This fight took over a half hour. By the time I saw the fish, I was getting tired myself. This fish was the largest yet and totally dwarfed the 40 pounder. After a few more times of turning on the engine and going after the fish, we finally pulled it into the boat and weighed it. This monster of a fish was 47 pounds!
First Brent took pictures with his camera, and then he took some with mine. By this time I was exhausted, hot, sunburnt and my arms had been all torn up by past sturgeons. Brent started recording a video of the fish, but I told him I needed his help or the fish was going to fall. We switched positions and I took the video before we released the fish back into the water.
I was beyond tired on our way back to shore. I had never caught a single fish before, let alone over a dozen, with some upwards to 50 pounds. Before I left, I joked I'd catch a 40 pound fish, and I had actually done it! Fishing for sturgeon was an incredibly fun, but exhausting experience.
Sturgeon fish are the largest landlocked fish in Canada. They can grow up to over 100 pounds and can be several feet long. The 47 pound fish I caught was a baby compared to them, but it was still a very large fish. I understand now why they were such a sought after commodity back in the day. If you ate a pound of fish a day, a 47 pound sturgeon would last you a month and a half.
Going in I didn't know what to expect, but I couldn't have had a better haul. Brent said he's been taking people out fishing for almost a decade, and he has never had somebody go home without catching a fish. If you're interested in trying your luck fishing for sturgeon, visit Alberta Sturgeon Fishing Adventures' website for details on full day or overnight camping trips. As somebody who has never caught a fish before, I don't think I can top this fishing experience in the Canadian Badlands.
Have you ever caught a sturgeon? How big was yours? Tell me all about it in the comments below!
And, as always, a big thank you to my sweetheart Jessica Nuttall for proof reading a countless number of my articles. I couldn't do any of this without you. I love you.