Published on Monday, October 25th, 2010
Just two hours of driving from Vancouver, Harrison Hot Springs Resort is a destination where couples can enjoy a luxurious getaway while being surrounded by breathtaking nature. Our first visit to the resort was in 2004 and the experience impressed us so much that we have chosen to return once every couple of years.
When the opportunity to return arose last week, Nina and I did not hesitate to take it. Beside enjoying what the resort has to offer, our stay was combined with a four hour white sturgeon fishing trip on the Harrison River. After all, this is a world class sport fishing destination for salmon, trout and sturgeon. It would be a pity if fishing was not included.
We arrived in early afternoon. With over 300 rooms available, visitors have several different accommodation types to choose from. Our stay was a two-room deluxe suite with a full view of Harrison Lake.
Once settling in, it was time to enjoy our relaxing afternoon. While Nina was enjoying her relaxation massage at the Healing Springs Spa, I sat on the balcony and watched boats returning from their fishing trip to the dock. The view excited me even more about the following day’s outing.
One of the highlights at Harrison Hot Springs Resort is its afternoon tea for guests. After Nina returned from her one-hour pampering at the spa, we were treated with tea and cake, followed by a trip to the hot spring pools. These reminded us why this is one of our favorite places to visit in BC.
Our dinner was served at the historic Copper Room. It is a classy venue that is full of vibrance. The centre dance floor was well occupied while the Jones Boys entertained the evening guests. Our culinary selection of the night included halibut and crab cakes, pea soup with asparagus, ribeye steak. This was finished off with a chocolate-hazelnut dessert that Nina could not stop talking about afterwards.
The following morning began early with a buffet breakfast at Lakeside Cafe. Sitting by the window, we could watch fog lifting above Harrison Lake while fueling up for the trip.
Our guide Lucas Brooks from BC Sportfishing Group greeted us at 8:00am on the dock just outside the resort. Our companions for the outing included Rebecca Bolwitt from Miss 604, Adam Trinh from Up! Magazine and Cassandra Anderton from Good Life Vancouver. All three of them had little or no fishing experience, so we were excited to show them what BC fishing is all about.
Once the jet boat was fired up, we were off to the Harrison River. Several boats were already out fishing in the mist and some already found a tug or two. Salmon return by the thousands to Harrison River each fall. This fall, chinook, coho and chum salmon can be found in the system. Migration of these spawning fish also attract white sturgeon from the Fraser River as they feed on eggs and flesh of spawned out salmon.
As we approached the lower reaches of the river, bald eagles could be seen congregating on bars. It is a sighting that us regular river anglers take for granted, but a natural wonder for visitors.
Lucas anchored at a spot where he thought where fish may be. He informed us that fishing was good the day before, which was very motivating. The bait was chum salmon roe, which were tied into mesh bags.
Once all four rods were cast out and placed in the holders, Lucas explained to his guests how bites would be detected. He numbered each rod for easier reference. Rather than calling out “first rod on the left”, it would be much more simple to yell out “number one!”
The waiting game began when everyone was clear on what to do. Being someone who has done sturgeon fishing a few times, I knew that the wait can be painfully long at times. On the other hand, the fishing can be hot at times if there are sturgeon nearby where the boat is anchored. Sturgeon fishing is unpredictable, so I had no expectations.
The anticipation did not last long when Lucas yelled out, “Number three! Number three!” I turned my eyes away from rod number one and two, only to see rod number three bending down in the holder. That was not a bite, the fish was already on! I quickly reached out for the rod and set the hook. The medium sized sturgeon immediately surfaced for a leap before darting for the deep. I held on with great excitement while screams were coming from the other guests, who were seeing a live sturgeon for the first time.
This fish was not too big, but it was causing some brief chaos on the boat. As it approached us, it dove deeply and swam below other lines. This was short lived, I was able to hold on and eventually kept it on the surface. Lucas reached out with his cradle and the first sturgeon was on board 30 minutes into the trip.
After a scan for the tag and a quick photo session, we sent it back to the water. Lower Fraser River’s white sturgeon fishery has been strictly catch and release since the mid 90s. Although the population is not endangered, scientists are concerned by the lower abundance of certain size classes. By removing harvest pressure and using guides to tag fish, we are getting a better understanding on this species and how it should be conserve.
Once I showed the others how it was done, Lucas rigged up all the rods again. This time we wanted to hook a fish and pass it onto either Adam, Rebecca or Cassandra so they could experience the thrill too. That was just an excuse really, because I did not want to bring in another fish. One sturgeon per day is exhausting enough sometimes.
The fishing was surprisingly fast. Within minutes, Lucas yelled out, “Number two! Set the hook!” I reached over and grabbed the rod. Again the fish was already on. I turned around and handed the fishing rod to Adam, who was not sure what he was about to get into. Unlike my fish, this fish stayed in the deep. It began stripping line off the reel, really fast! Seeing what was happening, I started retrieving all the other lines while Lucas pulled the anchor so we could head downstream to chase it. The reel was screaming and I could see that line was disappearing fast on the spool. Suddenly excitement was turning into panic.
Meanwhile, Adam was unsure what he should be doing. I told him to hold onto the rod and keep it up. Lucas began moving the jet downstream so I instructed Adam to start reeling to keep the line tension. After a short chase, we reached where the fish had gone but disaster struck. Somehow this beast had tangled the line up with debris on the river bottom. Instead of feeling more movement, there was simply a dead weight. The fish was already lost, so all we could retrieve was a bent hook.
It was a bit disappointing, because this fish was definitely much bigger than the first. We headed back upstream to the original spot and re-anchored. Two hook-ups within a short time span was a great start, but both Nina and I knew that they may also be the only fish we would see. We have been on trips in the past when no fish were caught, so we were cautiously optimistic.
Pikeminnows were hungry as usual. All rod tips were quivering while we chatted and watched them. This is always a challenge in sturgeon fishing. The river bed is populated by small minnows that feed on your offerings, until a big predator swims by. That was exactly what happened awhile later. Among the quick rod taps, I spotted a slower biting motion on rod number three. It was how sturgeon typically bites. Following the scent trail, they suck and spit out food items so the movement on the rod tip is usually slow but larger. I picked up the rod while Lucas also noticed the bites. The tip was being pulled down gradually so I set the hook. Fish number three was now heading downstream like a freight train. “Who’s next?” I said. Just as Rebecca stood up, the fish dropped the hook and freed itself. 30 seconds later, we watched a big sturgeon breaching in front of us. “That must have been your fish.”, Lucas chuckled.
We moved the boat a few times within the same area in the next hour after the bite died off. Sometimes a small move across the river can make a big difference. Sturgeon follow scent trails from your bait so they often creep up from downstream rather than from the side. Shifting 30 feet across a run may bring you to a new school of fish. We did this several times without success.
Lucas decided that we should head downstream to where Harrison River meets the Fraser. Upon our arrival, we could see salmon anglers in their boats lining the shallow waters, hoping to intercept a coho or chum salmon. We anchored in the deeper water column so we would not interfere with them. This was pikeminnow central. All four rod tips were bouncing as they fed vigorously. I did not think that we had a chance of finding a sturgeon, but I could not have been more wrong.
Around ten minutes after we dropped our bait, rod number two’s taps suddenly turned into a bend. None of us were paying attention except Lucas. “Number two! Quick!”, he yelled. I turned away from others and reached for the rod, which did not really need to be set. A sturgeon was already leaping at the end of the line. I held on while asking who would like to bring it in. Nobody responded! I fought for another minute before Rebecca decided that she should give it a go. Strapped on with a fighting belt, she began her morning workout. It was similar in size to the one that I brought in earlier. This fish performed several spectacular jumps in front of us. After being controlled by the fish for a minute or two, Rebecca was getting a hang of it. She lifted the rod and reeled down, gaining a bit of line each time. Eventually, it reached the side of the boat. Lucas dropped the cradle and brought Rebecca’s first ever fish onto the boat so we could capture the moment on camera. It was two inches longer than my catch, not bad for a first catch!
Our last catch of the day met similar fate to Adam’s fish. With only a short amount of time left, Lucas brought us back to the Harrison River by the Highway Seven bridge. I again did not think that another fish was possible. Four fish in one morning already made it a fantastic outing. A few minutes after we anchored, rod number two went for another dive again! It was Cassandra’s turn. Once the hook was set firmly, I passed the rod onto her, who did not realize how big the fish could be. Like Adam’s fish, it headed downstream without looking back. Lucas frantically started the boat so we could chase it, but it was too late. The fish had gone toward a nearby pylon and tangled the line to the submerged part of it.
It was a bitter sweet ending of our excursion, but one could not complain at all with five big fish connected in a short span of time. There are not many freshwater fisheries in the world where this is possible.
We returned to Harrison Hot Springs Resort just in time for lunch at Lakeside Cafe. After parting with our companions, Nina and I headed to Weaver Creek Spawning Channel. Both of us have never been so we did not know what to expect. I was surprised to find this gem hidden deep in the Harrison valley. Spawning sockeye and chum salmon filled the meandering channel, where visitors could get up close and watch one of nature’s wonders.
Our stay at Harrison Hot Springs Resort was only one night, which was way too short to enjoy what this area has to offer. Its location makes this an ideal trip for couples who want the best of both worlds – Pampering and fishing. Both Nina and I will definitely return next fall.