British Columbia

Massive 'Pig Nose' white sturgeon caught near Lillooet

A young fishing guide based in Lillooet is enjoying some extra attention after he and some friends reeled in a huge white sturgeon known as Pig Nose this week.

'That looks like a 10-footer, so strap on, we’re going to be into at least a 2-hour fight'

Fishing guide Nick McCabe poses with Pig Nose, a locally famous white sturgeon he caught on the Fraser River near Lillooet this week. (River Monster Adventures)

A young fishing guide based in Lillooet is enjoying some extra attention after he and some friends reeled in a huge white sturgeon known as Pig Nose this week.

It happened late on Tuesday on the Fraser River near Lillooet after a long day without much to show for it.

"We had fished all day pretty hard and struggled to get something to a good size for my group of friends that I had out," said Nick McCabe, 19, who's guiding his first season for River Monster Adventures.

"The last hole of the day there, we pulled in and it happened right away," he said. "The fish jumped right out of the river and I said, 'Well, that looks like a 10-footer, so strap on, we're going to be into at least a two-hour fight.' And it ended up being two hours, two hours and 15 minutes."

McCabe and the friends who had chartered the tour took turns with the rod, struggling to keep the huge fish under control.

"At one point he had swam upriver against the current, and I was moving up the river with the boat following him," said McCabe, adding that he likes to keep the line short to avoid snagging any rocks.

"We just kind of do what he does, because a fish that large, he can snap the line, no problem."

Pig Nose, a white sturgeon, got its name because of an old injury that left its snout distinctly pink. (River Monster Adventures)

White sturgeon tagging

Once Pig Nose had been caught, McCabe, who takes part in a voluntary program to monitor the threatened Fraser River white sturgeon population, checked it for a tag.

"I was given a tagging kit with microchips, so every fish I catch, I scan completely, and if it's a recapture I take the length and the girth of the fish and record that and if he's not tagged, I insert a microchip into him," he said.

Pig Nose already had a rice grain-sized microchip implanted several years earlier.

"He's been caught not even a handful of times since, and the records show he's growing healthy and every time he gets released he's still in the same area and he's getting bigger and bigger and things are going good for him. So it's good to see a big fish like that doing well," said McCabe

The monitoring program is organized by the Fraser River Sturgeon Conservation Society, and the guide-volunteers are essential to its success, according to Executive Director Sarah Schreier.

"In almost 20 years we've collected over 130,000 samples. We've deployed over 64,000 tags, and with a kind of a large sample size for a research study like this, it allows us to have a very, very high confidence level in our reporting on the population estimates, the abundance estimates for the area that we sample," said Schreier.

McCabe was only aware of a few times Pig Nose had been caught and guides will go entire seasons without spotting the local legend. Schreier says it can vary wildly how frequently individual sturgeons are recaptured.

"Some fish in the study have been encountered upwards of 20 times, others ... we saw when they were first tagged in the early days in 2000, and we haven't seen them since," she said.

"We know they travel. We know there's a huge life span. This is a fish that can live to be up to 200 years old. They can be six metres in length. This is a dinosaur."

McCabe figures he and his brother, who also takes part in Schreier's program, have tagged about 500 fish this summer. 

"The way I kind of look at it is I'm doing it to help out, so I don't mind," he said. "I'd like to see this fishery keep on growing and getting better and better every year."

Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker