The white sturgeon is considered the largest freshwater fish in North America. Capable of living for more than a century and growing to 10 feet and longer, white sturgeon are swimming dinosaurs whose biology is thought to have changed little in millions of years.
Found along the Pacific Coast from California to the Aleutian Islands, sturgeon are technically anadromous. They live largely in the saltwater estuaries of coastal rivers but migrate upstream to spawn. Their numbers have been hampered by dams, pollution, commercial overfishing in the 19th century, and illegal poaching for their meat and roe. Yet conservation efforts and strict regulations have helped to rebuild populations in recent years.
Historical records exist of white sturgeon reaching 20 feet, and there are legends of behemoths topping 1,500 and even 2,000 pounds—including a one-ton monster sturgeon said to have been stuffed and displayed at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. Myths aside, these are eight of the largest sturgeon caught in the last decade.
The Father’s Day Gift
A “two-hour straight-up brawl” gave first-timers Steve Ecklund and Mark Boise one of the largest sturgeon ever caught on a 2022 Father’s Day outing on British Columbia’s Fraser River—a famed waterway that has likely produced more giant white sturgeon than any other. The 10-foot-1-inch behemoth Ecklund and Boise caught battled for two hours and sported a 57-inch girth. Guides with River Monster Adventures near Lillooet, British Columbia, who led the trip, estimated the fish weighed more than 700 pounds and was likely more than 100 years old. It was the largest catch in the outfitter’s history.
The C.J. Strike Record
More commonly found in rivers, sturgeon can grow huge in lakes, too. The largest on record at Idaho’s C.J. Strike Reservoir was caught last summer by Greg Poulsen, who reeled in a 10-foot-4-inch whopper on August 5. It surpassed the previous state record, set in 2019, by 4.5 inches. How rare is Poulsen’s catch? Regular surveys of the reservoir by Idaho Fish & Game biologists have netted around 4,000 sturgeon in the past 30 years, but only 10 of those stretched more than 10 feet long.
Longtime Fraser River guide Steve Kaye, aka “The Sturgeon Hunter,” has guided dozens of anglers to big fish, but among the biggest was one he hooked himself during a charter outing in May 2016. Kaye told CTV Vancouver that he struggled for two hours to bring the 11-footer to the boat and nearly lost it when his reel handle broke. He knew he had something special when the fish jumped 200 yards from the boat, but “it was only when I landed it that I realized it was a true monster,” Kaye said. With a 54-inch girth and an 11-foot, 4-inch length, the sturgeon was estimated to weigh 750 pounds.
An Albino Giant
In 2018 Fraser River guide Chad Helmer of Chad’s Fishing Charters landed what he claimed was a world-record albino sturgeon. He may be right: The Helmer family has fished the Fraser for 40 years, and “we’ve never, ever seen one like that before,” Chad told Men’s Journal. He estimated the fish’s weight at 1,000 pounds. It was 11 feet and 2 inches long.
The Fish of a Lifetime
Anglers guided by staff at the Fraser River Lodge caught an 11-foot-6-inch white sturgeon with a 56-inch girth in July 2021. To subdue the giant required an hour-long fight while maneuvering around pilings and avoiding sunken trees. “You don’t catch fish that size very often,” lodge owner Frank Staiger told CCTV News. “In fact, it took our guide well over 20 years of guiding to catch a fish like that.” The sturgeon was estimated to weigh 800 pounds.
A Goalie Scores Big
Retired National Hockey League goalie Pete Peeters helped catch an 11-foot-6-inch sturgeon in August 2021. Peeters, who played for the Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins, and Washington Capitals during his 13-season NHL career, shared the rod with Jake Drieger. It took the duo only 20 minutes to reel in the fish—thanks to a custom rod fitted with a large arbor reel with very heavy drag. “I’m notorious for putting guests through some short-term adversity with my extremely tight drags,” said Kevin Estrada, the owner and operator of Sturgeon Slayers. “This took about 20 to 25 minutes and is a true testament to Pete Peeters and Jake Drieger, who did an exceptional job on the rod. This doesn’t happen without focus and careful angling.” Sporting a girth of 55 inches, the fish was estimated to weigh 890 pounds. Sturgeon Slayers says this was the largest white sturgeon ever caught, though Field & Stream has been unable to confirm the claim.
Stretching 11 feet, 8 inches long with an eye-popping 60-inch girth, this white sturgeon hooked on the Fraser in September 2012 was estimated to weigh 1,000 pounds. You can probably trust the numbers on this one: The charter group that caught the fish was made up of 30 members of a Kamloops accounting firm. This was the second of two world-class sturgeons caught that summer by clients of Great River Fishing—and the first was even larger.
Pushing 12 Feet
While on a sturgeon trip with Great River Fishing in July 2012, Michael Snell, of Salisbury, England, landed one of the largest fish ever caught in a North American river—a 12-foot-4-inch white sturgeon weighing an estimated 1,100 pounds. Snell was fishing with his wife and guide Dean Werk when he hooked the fish, then struggled for 90 minutes to bring it to the boat. “When we picked her head up out of the water, it was almost 3 feet wide,” Snell said in a press release. “I never knew a fish could be that large.”