I’ve never, ever fished before. Let’s just get that out there to give some sort of context to this story.
So when I was invited to partake in what I thought was a leisurely fishing trip at the Harrison Hot Springs Resort, I jumped on the chance to try something new. But I had no idea that the fish I was hunting was an ancient behemoth—white sturgeon, the largest freshwater fish in North America.
Before the excursion, I needed to get prepared, at least physically. Located an hour away from Abbotsford, Harrison Hot Springs first opened its doors in 1886, serving as a destination for weary miners looking for some R and R at the mineral hot springs.
Today, the resort still prides itself on its soothing springs, but has added a place for a good night’s sleep and an amazing spa. A back massage followed by a lingering dip in the hot springs made for a very affable Adam.
For dinner, I ate at the legendary Copper Room, the old-timey fine dining restaurant that’s synonymous with cool jazz. Don’t just take my word for it—Foxtrot and the Jones Boys is the live band that’s been playing here for more than 20 years.
The Copper Room
I decided on the wild pacific salmon with artichoke butter sauce for my entree, thinking I could at least eat sturgeon’s brethren before trying out my hand at the rod.
The dish was fresh, surprisingly filling and Ocean Wise, meaning I could eat every bite of it without feeling the least bit guilty.
Couples danced while the Jones Boys played song after song. An elderly duo strutted their stuff, and quite well, I must say. Turns out the couple are dance instructors who’ve been returning to the Copper Room for years to dine and dance.
The Fishing Tour
While getting my one-day license (which is available at the resort), I was glad to find out at least a couple of my fellow participants were experienced in reeling in our goal. One-day licences range are $10 for B.C. residents and $20 for non, plus an another $8 for sturgeon-only fishing trips.
Our fishing tour guide, Lucas Brooks from BC Sportsfishing Group, explained that these waters have been strictly catch and release since the mid-’90s, which better our odds of catching one.
I found out that white sturgeons are heavy—much heavier than they look. The ones in the Fraser Valley River can reach up to 12 feet long and weigh more than a 450 kilograms.
The Waiting Game
As we set off towards the lower reaches of the Fraser River, we passed by flocks of bald eagles perched on driftwood, pecking on salmon. A regular spot for these birds, I’m told, but a unique sight to see for tourists.
We soon anchored, tossed four fishing lines and waited. And waited.
Until—finally—something happened. Rod Hsu, from fishingwithrod.com, dashed to a line, strung it high and held on tight.
As the most experienced (and also the shortest) fisherman in our group, his technique was quick and controlled, although I wasn’t sure if I saw confidence in his eyes, or fear of getting yanked into the water.
It wasn’t the biggest catch—only 124 cm long—but for a fishing newbie like me, it was exciting to watch.
With the bar now set, it was only a matter of time before I was up. Well, more like 10 minutes.
Before I knew it, I was hanging onto a dinky metal stick facing off against a beast older than I.
Its sheer strength and will to fight completely took my by surprise. Lucas strapped a belt cradle on to me, a plastic cup holder for fishing rods, but even that wasn’t enough leverage.
“Let it run,” says Nina, Rod’s wife and videographer. “You can’t fight it.”
Fine by me.
The fish just kept swimming and fighting. I was exhausted. It was nearly the end of the fishing line when Lucas started up the boat to follow it instead.
But as I underestimated it, it overestimated me as a challenger and eventually got free of its hook.
Others that day would win and lose similar battles, and while the victors would assure me that mine must’ve been massive and difficult for anyone, it did not ease the pain of losing out on my white sturgeon.
Harrison Hot Springs Resort will now always remind me of the one that got away.